After an eventful decade at 10 Downing Street, former British prime minister Tony Blair is surely entitled to a quiet retirement — and not one filled with transatlantic commutes to, say, New Haven.
But he apparently sees things differently. In addition to serving as an envoy in the Middle East, starting his own foundation and serving as a consultant to two financial giants, Blair will soon add another duty to his growing portfolio: teaching a seminar at Yale.
Blair — whose eldest son, Euan, will graduate this spring a two-year master’s program in international relations at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — has been appointed the Howland Distinguished Fellow for the 2008-’09 academic year, the University announced March 7. In addition to teaching a course in the fall semester, the former head of government will also participate in a number of public events around campus, the University said in a statement.
Blair’s seminar, to be organized by the School of Management and the Divinity School, will focus on issues of faith and globalization. The topic of the seminar reflects one of Blair’s primary interests. The former prime minister, who finished his stint in parliament in June, plans to launch a foundation aimed at fostering interfaith dialogue later this year.
“As the world continues to become increasingly inter-dependent, it is essential that we explore how religious values can be channeled toward reconciliation rather than polarization,” University President Richard Levin said in a statement.
“Mr. Blair has demonstrated outstanding leadership in these areas and is especially qualified to bring his perspective to bear,” Levin continued. “We are honored that he is planning to join the Yale community.”
Blair’s seminar may be structured like the Studies in Grand Strategy program, with a competitive application process, according to a officials involved in the planning process, and the seminar is tentatively planned to be open to students in the graduate and professional schools as well as Yale College.
But that could change, as planning for the seminar is in the early stages; indeed, precise details about Blair’s fellowship and the duties it will carry remain scarce. The announcement of the former prime minister’s appointment was not planned until at least later this spring, but with a British newspaper about to break the story on the eve of spring break, the University rushed out a press release with the announcement, according to reports in the Guardian, a UK newspaper.
Yale officials first reached out to Blair more than a year ago — before he left office — with the suggestion that he come to Yale and teach, said Harold Attridge, the dean of the Divinity School. At that time, Blair was not yet ready to decide on his post-office plans, Yale officials said.
But late this past fall, an aide to Blair contacted the University and said Blair was indeed interested in coming to Yale, Attridge said. In particular, the former prime minister had an interest in issues of religion and contemporary political science — an interest that meshed with work already underway at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, which runs a program focused on the reconciliation of Christians and Muslims.
Levin met with Blair at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, and the former prime minister’s aides have been working out details with the University and the faculty who will teach the course with Blair since then.
University officials said they are overjoyed at his decision to come to Yale.
“In our communications with him, he has indicated a deep interest in issues related to the intersection of religion with society,” Attridge said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing his insights on ethics, values and leadership to bear on life at the Divinity School as we carry out our core mission of preparing leaders for service in church and world.”
Joel Podolny, the dean of the School of Management, also released a statement praising the appointment.
“I anticipate that not only will his course focus on an important dimension of values-based leadership, but he himself has embodied that model of leadership in his life and his career,” Podolny said. “At the Yale School of Management, we put tremendous emphasis on values-based leadership… Therefore, we are doubly thrilled that the former Prime Minister will be joining Yale as a Howland Fellow.”
The Howland Distinguished Fellowship, created in 1915, recognizes a “citizen of any country in recognition of some achievement of marked distinction in the field of literature or fine arts or the science of government.”
Former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi once held the appointment, as did composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and journalist Sir Alistair Cooke.
In addition to his class, Blair — who British media outlets reported in 2006 had expressed interest in setting up a school of government at the London School of Economics — will take part in a number of panels around campus and also will likely deliver a lecture open to the University community, Levin said in a telephone interview this weekend.
Those will be far from Blair’s only responsibilities; since leaving office in June, he has kept busy. Blair is also rumored in the European press to have an interest in becoming the first president of the European Council, the group of leaders of the member states of the European Union.
Even without that job, however, the former prime minister is highly active and has kept a hand in world affairs.
Most notably, Blair serves as the special envoy in the Middle East for the so-called diplomatic quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The former prime minister also serves as an adviser to Rwanda, helping the developing country attract private investment.
Those roles are unpaid, but in several other capacities, Blair has been able to cash in, with consulting roles at the investment bank J.P. Morgan and the Swiss insurer Zurich Financial Services.
Those two jobs, along with a lucrative spot on a lecture circuit frequented by many former world leaders, are expected to pay him several million dollars annually, in addition to the reported $10 million book deal he struck with Random House for his memoirs. University officials declined to release any details about what Blair would be paid for his teaching job, although several news reports said his compensation would exceed $200,000.
The average tenured Yale professor earned $165,000 this year, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
In 2006, Blair’s son, Euan, who will receive his degree this spring, received a fully paid $92,000 scholarship from the University, which was vying with Harvard and Princeton to attract him to campus. That scholarship offer raised controversy at the time, since Euan Blair had middling grades as an undergraduate, and some observers speculated that the free ride might have come with a promise from the elder Blair that he would teach at the University.
Asked whether there was any connection between the scholarship offer and Blair’s appointment, Levin replied: “Absolutely not.”
Blair is not the first world leader whom the University has successfully lured into accepting a teaching job.
Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81 embraced the University’s overtures and is now the director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. Levin said he tried to woo Bill Clinton LAW ’73, too, at the end of his presidency, although the president turned out to be uninterested in a teaching job.
But, still, it never hurts to ask, Levin said.
“It’s my habit,” he said. “Why not?”