Yale President Richard Levin spent much of the University’s yearlong Tercentennial trumpeting the University’s goal to expand its global influence in its fourth century. The cornerstone of his oft-repeated mission was the newly founded Center for the Study of Globalization, and at the heart of that was Strobe Talbott ’68, who served as deputy secretary of state under former President Bill Clinton.
But yesterday, just a year after he came to Yale, Talbott shocked and disappointed the University by announcing he will head back to Washington, D.C., to run the Brookings Institution, a prestigious think tank.
Talbott’s decision to leave is a major blow to Levin’s global mission and a huge disappointment for Yale. The globalization center has lost more than its director — it has lost its visionary, its driving force, and, by far, its greatest source of diplomatic credibility. In a real way, the center was created by Talbott and for Talbott, with Talbott himself directing everything from the center’s hiring and publications decisions to the details of the renovation plan for the Davies Mansion — the $7.5 million rebuilding project bankrolled from Roland Betts, a Yale Corporation member and Talbott’s former Yale classmate.
Along with the globalization center, the University also launched the World Fellows Program, run by Brooke Shearer, a former director of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. Shearer is Talbott’s wife, and she too will be returning to Washington, where the two kept a home throughout their stay in New Haven.
Talbott seemed an unlikely candidate to jump ship at a time like this — he had seemingly strong ties to Yale, and the University gave him nearly complete authority to mold the center in his image. Of course, the globalization center was not without its problems: the move into Davies Mansion was delayed, and Talbott was forced to work out of a temporary office for his entire tenure. But just when things seemed to be looking better, just after the center had published a new book about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Talbott’s decision to bolt yanked the rug out from under everything the center had accomplished.
The question now is where the center will go from here. Talbott has left no successor for his job at Yale, and while he still has a few months left to serve, the prestige of the center plunged overnight. It is unfortunate that Levin staked so much on one man, whose heart evidently still lies in Washington.
But while the globalization center was built around one person, the goals behind it are far broader and more important. Talbott was a diplomatic star, a rigorous academic and a gifted leader, but his disheartening departure in no way diminishes the vital importance of Yale’s global mission. Levin should do everything he can to find another scholar with the energy and vision to recreate the center and continue the transformation of Yale into a premier world center for international studies.
We just hope he’ll be able to find someone who wants to stick around for a while.