After his Thursday announcement that he will return to Yale next fall to teach, John Kerry ’66 joined a group of prominent government officials who have come to Yale after their terms expire.
Over the past few years, many officials have either returned to the positions they held at Yale prior to their nominations or as fellows and part-time faculty members. At the University, they often work with professional and graduate schools, undergraduates and with the Yale Young Global Scholars program for high school students as their real-life experience serves as a unique backdrop for learning. Among the most recent Washington, D.C. expats are former State Department officials Kerry, Jake Sullivan ’98 LAW ’03, Victoria Nuland and Todd Stern.
“People with different experiences — outside the academy — have a lot to offer us,” said Elizabeth Bradley, director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, which has welcomed many of these illustrious alumni. “They ground our academic thinking, they remind us of practical realities of politics and management, and they inspire us to think about new ways of tackling global pressing problems.”
Howard Dean ’71 — a former governor of Vermont and chair of the Democratic National Committee, and current senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs — echoed this sentiment.
Dean mentioned that although most fellows do not have a theoretical background, their practical knowledge is valuable to the University and its students. Yale, he said, needs both academics and people with hands-on knowledge in their fields.
James Levinsohn, the founding director of the Jackson Institute, also mentioned that, as per student evaluations and his conversations with them, Yale students find that courses taught by both academics and practitioners complement each other well.
“We’re thrilled to have a select few incredibly influential and accomplished folks from [Washington] join us as Jackson senior fellows,” he said. “To a person, they cite the chance to work with Yale students as the biggest draw.”
Law professor Harold Koh, former Yale Law School dean and legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State under President Barack Obama, also stressed the importance of having both theoreticians and practitioners teaching at Yale.
“Having [prominent politicians] on campus gives a reality check to academic theories and allows scholars to test their ideas with real-world problem solvers,” he said.
In his classes, Dean — who taught “The Politics of Foreign Policy” last semester — said he underscores the importance of concise writing and long-term thinking. He said that a tendency among young people is to only think in the short term, which can lead to unforeseen problems in the future.
“I don’t think anybody really thought about the [long-term consequences of Iraq wars],” he said. “So we spend a lot of time examining what happens in the real world and what are the consequences of thinking only short-term. I think that’s something that’s hard to teach unless you’ve actually had hands-on experiences with failure, which we all do in the real world.”
Koh said that interacting with politicians and policymakers in the classroom helps students realize that they may soon have prominent national and international roles of their own someday. He added that this can also help university students and high school students decide to go into politics earlier. Koh lectures at the summer YYGS program.
“I enjoy speaking to talented high school students [who take part in YYGS] in the summer. If I had had such an experience myself, I might have gotten into this line of work earlier,” Koh said, adding that for his first few years of college he planned to study applied physics, only later switching to political science and government.
Dean also noted the importance of collaboration in teaching between the practitioners and more academic faculty members. His class requires students to know more about the history of the country — something that, according to him, they lack today compared to students several decades ago. To that end, he invites guest lecturers who have both an academic and a practical background to his seminar. These include Emma Sky, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute and a former political advisor to U.S. Gen. Raymond Odierno in Iraq, and Sullivan, a lecturer at the Law School as well as a former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Additionally, Stern, who served as U.S. special envoy for climate change from 2009 to 2016, taught a course at the Law School last semester. Sullivan and Victoria Nuland, a previous assistant secretary of state, are also teaching in Grand Strategy this semester.
Levinsohn said that although Jackson’s Senior Fellows program is not going to expand any time soon to accommodate more such people, the fellows usually rotate, opening up new spots. Still, Levinsohn has some ideas as to whom he would like to see as another distinguished fellow for Global Affairs, following the model of Kerry.
“I can always dream,” he said.
The Jackson Institute for Global Affairs was established in 2009.