Amid mounting media pressure and speculation throughout England, Yale officials have confirmed that Euan Blair — the son of British Prime Minister Tony Blair — will indeed be making the move this fall from 10 Downing Street to New Haven.
“Euan had many fine offers, and we are pleased he has chosen Yale to pursue his graduate studies,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Tuesday, confirming that Blair will pursue Yale’s two-year master’s degree program in international relations.
Blair’s admittance to Yale’s graduate school has been a subject of interest in Great Britain since it was published that Blair, 22, was admitted to top-rated programs at both Harvard and Yale despite having received average grades at Bristol University and experiencing a much-publicized run-in with the law.
And when newspapers reported that Yale had also awarded Blair a $92,000 full tuition scholarship to study in New Haven, some commentators asked why the financial support was needed by the wealthy Blair family and questioned whether the prime minister had used his position to secure an elite education for his son. But others have argued that Blair’s acceptance was likely for the right reasons — he has a background in politics, performed reasonably well academically, and may add to the diversity and experiences of Yale’s student body.
Though Klasky said it is University policy to never comment on a particular student’s award, she noted that the University Fellowship is given purely on the basis of merit to anywhere from one-third to one-half of the 30 to 35 students admitted to the program each year.
“It is typical for graduate students in IR to receive awards,” she said. “Typical levels of [University Fellowships] are half tuition, full tuition, or full tuition with a stipend. This is the primary source of support for IR students.”
Cheryl Doss, director of graduate studies for the master’s program, which is under the umbrella of Yale’s International Affairs Council, refused to confirm that Blair had been admitted to the University. She only said that in determining who will obtain a scholarship, the faculty considers a student’s “entire application,” not just his or her grades. She refused to elaborate.
A spokeswoman for Norman Baker, a member of the British Parliament and a member of the Liberal-Democrats — one of two major opposition coalitions to Blair’s Labor Party — said Yale should not hide behind student privacy given Blair’s position as the son of one of the world’s most powerful leaders.
“If Euan Blair secured his Yale fellowship, one of only 10 to 12 made available each year, purely on the basis of academic merit, then I don’t see why Yale can’t be a little more open about the particular strengths of his application,” she said. “The refusal to pass any comment on how Euan came to be awarded the £50,000 fellowship just makes it look more and more like the prime minister may have used his name to ensure that his son gets a subsidized, top-class education not available to others.”
But Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said it has and will remain Yale’s policy to protect student privacy above all. He said the extra press generated on one particular student does not justify divulging aspects of his or her application to the general public.
“The fact that there is an interest in a single student does not mean that we therefore violate both our general policy and what we understand to be United States regulations and laws regarding the privacy of all our students,” Butler said.
James Fayne, campaign director of the United Kingdom Taxpayers Alliance, said that although the Blairs are wealthy — they recently bought a $4 million home in preparation for the prime minister’s impending retirement — “money is clearly wearing on their minds” and that any scholarship would therefore legitimately help the family. But he said the news does not sit well with many of Blair’s constituents, who he said are in general increasingly fed up with politicians.
“Many people in Britain certainly believe that strings have been pulled, because certainly the guy’s academic record is not world-class,” Fayne said. “People say, ‘Wow, surprise, surprise. This is what politicians do.'”
A Downing Street spokeswoman said she could not comment on the personal affairs of the Blair family, but she said Blair chose Yale after exploring many options.
“He looked to various universities and chose the one that was the best match for his academic interests,” she said.
George Galloway, an outspoken member of parliament who split with Blair’s Labor Party several years ago to form his own, more left-leaning party, said Blair’s admittance highlights a larger dynamic at play — between Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush ’68.
“This is part of the supposed special relationship between Great Britain and the U.S.,” Galloway said. “We send our troops in support of [American] troops into Iraq to be killed, and Euan Blair gets special entry into Yale.”
The story fits into several categories of criticisms that have been leveled at Tony Blair by some Brits, said JFO McAllister ’77 LAW ’86, the London bureau chief for Time Magazine who has intimately covered the Blair family over the past decade.
“They are more part of the moneyed world then previous prime ministers have been,” McAllister said. “It’s a little bit yuppyish, a little investment bankerish, and that doesn’t always go well with the Labor Party and its stalwarts. … For [Euan Blair] to go off to Yale kind of fits into this concern.”
But “this is Blair’s philosophy,” he said. “Do the best for your children.”
Blair’s admittance to Yale is not the first controversial story on his education to hit the press. In a significantly publicized — and criticized — move, Tony Blair, who has served as prime minister for nearly 12 years, sent his son to a selective state school while also providing tutorage for his son from masters at the privately-funded Westminster College.
He later attended Bristol University — a college traditionally considered one rung below Oxford or Cambridge — where he graduated with a degree in ancient history. At Bristol, Blair earned his degree with a mark of 2:1, known as Upper Second-Class Honours. In England, the majority of students receive second-class degrees, while approximately 10 percent achieve first-class degrees.
“I think there will be interest in how Euan got his scholarship if it is entirely based on merit; he has a 2:1, which is not at the top of the academic league table for what he was trying to accomplish,” McAllister said. “It probably doesn’t disqualify him. Yale is trying to internationalize in many respects, and to have the son of the British prime minister may have other benefits. As long as he can do the work, I think it’s a legitimate reason to consider him.”
Some commentators, in responding to news of the Yale scholarship, rekindled news of six years ago when, in July 2000, Blair was arrested while lying face down on the pavement, covered in vomit and nearly unconscious, for being “drunk and incapable.”
Blair has since showed signs of interest in pursuing a political career, interning for two American members of Congress. Most recently, after only two weeks interning with U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat from California, Blair quit in early May. One congressional insider told the congressional journal Roll Call that Blair was “spoiled,” and the London-based Daily Mail reported that Blair thought the experience was a “waste of time.” But in a statement, Harman said Blair quit because of his academic obligations.
“I’m disappointed Euan’s graduate school plans prevented him from staying on as an intern in my office, and would welcome him back,” Harman said.
No current international relations students were available to comment on the program; one student said she and others in the program had been asked by Doss, the graduate studies director, not to speak with the press.
E-mails sent directly to Blair requesting comment were not returned.