Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81 accepted Yale’s offer to become the new director for the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization on Wednesday, ending weeks of speculation from University administrators and faculty members.
Yale President Richard Levin said he is excited about the prospects of working with Zedillo and having the opportunity for Yale to become a leader in globalization studies.
“He’s a major world leader, a person with deep and serious interest in globalization and tremendous practical experience,” Levin said. “This is a fabulous outcome for Yale. I think it is a real opportunity for Yale to take leadership in this important area.”
Zedillo, the president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, visited New Haven twice in the last month to consider the offer. And after accepting the position on the last day of his recent five-day visit, Zedillo will move, with his wife and five children, to New Haven this summer.
The appointment comes just three months after Strobe Talbott ’68 announced that he would be leaving his post this summer to lead the Brookings Institution, one of the nation’s most prestigious think tanks.
With Zedillo’s arrival, the globalization center will no longer be an independent institution. Instead, it will fall under the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, an umbrella organization that includes councils, research centers and academic programs. An administrative official said the University made the globalization center an independent entity after Talbott had insisted it remain separate from YCIAS.
Talbott, the deputy secretary of state during the presidency of Bill Clinton, said he is happy to see such an internationally renowned figure succeed him.
“I think it’s a superb choice,” Talbott said. “It’s very hard for me to imagine somebody better. He’s someone of extraordinary international standing, not just because he was the head of a state, but because of his reputation for being someone of remarkable intellect and integrity.”
Although Zedillo could not be reached for comment, he told The New York Times that he would like to address the ways in which globalization affects developing countries.
“Globalization is not the problem itself,” Zedillo said. “The problem is that we are lacking effective public policies regarding globalization. We want to make globalization inclusive and its economic consequences — the good ones — sustainable.”
Talbott’s announcement that he would leave the center only a year after initiating it had created much speculation from University officials and outside sources about the center’s future.
“[Talbott’s] departure will remove from the center the driving force behind it, and any institution afflicted in that manner has to be made nervous,” Princeton University professor Richard Ullman said in January.
But recent rumors about a possible Zedillo appointment impressed not only members of the Yale community, but also outside politicians, Talbott said.
Talbott, a Washington insider, said that in recent weeks he had received numerous phone calls about Zedillo from members of Congress, members of the World Bank, and even Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations.
“He tracked me down on a Sunday afternoon at home to tell me that he had met with President Zedillo and had urged him to do it,” Talbott said. “[Annan] just couldn’t imagine a better outcome.”
YCIAS Director Gustav Ranis said he initially told Levin that Zedillo would not be a viable choice because of his prominence.
“I didn’t think the president of another country would normally take on a position of this nature,” Ranis said. “So initially, I did not recommend him because I didn’t think he would be willing to do it.”
But after Zedillo’s first visit to campus in early March, the possibility of hiring Zedillo seemed bright, Ranis said.
“I never had any doubt [after that],” Ranis said. “The only concerns he had were finding a good home for his family and finding good schools for his children. He’s a very family-oriented man.”
Zedillo, who earned a doctorate in economics from Yale, brings with him experience in both academia and government.
When the University started the globalization center last fall, the nature of the center’s relationship with Yale academics was still unclear. Some faculty members even said there were tensions because Talbott was not an academic.
But with Zedillo, the situation is likely to be different.
“He’s punched both credentials,” history professor John Gaddis said. “He’s at the top of the policy world and he has sound academic credentials.”
In addition to earning an advanced degree, Zedillo taught at Mexican universities and also served as the secretary of education in Mexico. Zedillo also received an honorary degree from the University last May.
A senior faculty member said that Zedillo’s academic background may be a key difference between Zedillo and Talbott.
“Strobe did not have a Ph.D., and as far as I know, he’s never taught before,” the professor said. “And I think that makes Zedillo a better bridge-builder.”
Despite the attention Talbott’s departure and Zedillo’s arrival have attracted recently, the globalization center is still just a part of the University’s mission for the next century.
“Rick Levin is really committed to transforming Yale into an outwardly focused, internationally aware university,” said Daniel Esty, a law professor and the director of the World Fellows Program. “This is all part of a broader vision of creating a globalized, international Yale.”