Former Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 will return to Yale next year to conduct research and teach a seminar as part of a new interdisciplinary global affairs program called the Kerry Initiative.
According to a Yale statement released Thursday afternoon, the Kerry Initiative will be designed to address global challenges like climate change and violent extremism through teaching and research. Starting in the 2017–18 academic year, Kerry will lead a seminar open to students from across the University and collaborate on research with undergraduates and graduate students as part of the new Kerry Fellows Program.
“It will be exciting to engage with a lot of diverse students from various disciplines within the University complex, and be able to look for fresh thinking … as to how we’re to going to respond to these very tough problems in the world,” Kerry told the News in an interview. “I’m really looking forward to a two-way street in terms of this relationship and my ability to learn from people, to test ideas and to recalibrate some of the judgments I’ve made over the years.”
Kerry added that he will personally select students for the seminar and the research program and may also give guest lectures in other courses next fall.
“Obviously, this is not a full-time job, but I’m going to be present on campus and am going to engage in efforts with each of the graduate schools and the undergraduates,” he said.
Kerry is scheduled to speak at Yale in either March or April to unveil the new program, which will also include an annual conference in New Haven open to students and the general public. According to University President Peter Salovey, Kerry will be on campus “on a regular basis” next year, working alongside students in Yale College, the Law School, the School of Management, the Divinity School, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.
Kerry told the News that the initiative will tackle challenges ranging from sectarian conflict to the threat of authoritarian populism. But he offered few clues about the process for securing a spot in his seminar, saying only that he will look for students “who really are thirsty and hungry to dive into these kinds of things.”
And despite his focus on issues like populism, Kerry added that the initiative is not a response to the ongoing political turbulence in the United States.
“Nothing that I’m doing with Yale for this effort is inspired by, affected by or a reaction to [President] Donald Trump,” he said. “I would’ve been doing this under any circumstances, no matter who was president.”
In an interview with the News, Salovey said the Kerry Initiative is a scholarly project, not “a platform for political activism.”
“Many global problems have a political slant, but the focus here is going to be on education, on scholarly research, including policy research,” Salovey said. “[The initiative] is really about figuring out what can work, rather than generating solutions that are rooted in some ideology.”
Kerry graduated from Yale in 1966 with a degree in political science. He was the Democratic Party nominee in the 2004 presidential election and represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate for nearly 30 years. Most recently, Kerry served as secretary of state in former President Barack Obama’s administration from 2013 until last month’s inauguration.
Kerry said he looks forward to returning to Yale, where he famously did not receive a single “A” during his entire undergraduate career. Still, in the 1960s, he served as president of the Yale Political Union and delivered the senior class oration at commencement.
“I’ve got to find out which one of the old haunts is still there,” he said. “That’ll be part of the exploration.”