By Anya Schiffrin
This month’s news that Hillary Clinton is coming to teach at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) stirred excitement on campus, tempered with a dose of wait-and-see caution, as details of her appointment have not yet been released. The January 5 announcement set alight the phones of SIPA faculty, staff, and students, who fielded congratulatory text and Whatsapp messages pouring in from around the world. Many of the messages came from SIPA’s very international community of alumni.
“We are thrilled that Secretary Clinton is joining Columbia as both a professor of practice at SIPA and a presidential fellow at Columbia World Projects,” said SIPA Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo in a statement to West Side Rag. Clinton is scheduled to take up her post February 1, and Yarhi-Milo said she will work on “several new initiatives designed to help solve the world’s toughest policy challenges.”
The hiring was a big get for Yarhi-Milo, a political scientist who took over the dean’s office at SIPA last July. Yarhi-Milo joined the Columbia faculty from Princeton University in 2019. She has pledged to shake up the policy school, founded in 1946, and to focus its work on five key areas: climate and sustainable development, technology and innovation, democratic resilience, geopolitical stability, and inclusive prosperity/macroeconomic stability.
The Clinton appointment still must be approved by Columbia’s University Senate, after which she is expected to co-teach a course – probably in fall semester – with Yarhi-Milo. Clinton is also expected to help bring prominent policy makers to campus. A number of former staffers from the administration of President Bill Clinton are already connected to SIPA, including former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew; former Council of Economic Advisors Chair Joseph E. Stiglitz; and Terry Edmonds, former chief speech writer for President Clinton who is now a freelance speech writer for the SIPA dean.
Yarhi-Milo had spoken frequently about making some big-name hires for the school after she became dean, and there was considerable speculation that Hillary Clinton might be the first to join faculty. SIPA has a history of bringing politicians to campus to teach public policy, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins; former New York State Attorney General Jacob Javits; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia, is currently a professor of professional practice at the school.
“SIPA’s goal is to be a hub that connects research and insights with principals and practitioners,“ said Rachel Szala, head of SIPA’s external affairs, in an email to the Rag. Hillary Clinton, she said, “will be critical to that effort.”
“It’s really exciting. I’m a little surprised the administration was able to keep this under wraps,” Audrey Hatfield, a SIPA second-year student, told the Rag. “Clinton’s losing the presidency was massive for us. That loss felt like it was because she was a woman, considering she was certainly enormously qualified for the role.”
The hiring process was shrouded in secrecy, so there are unanswered questions about Clinton’s contract – including how many years it spans and how much she will be paid. Funding for the appointment comes from the office of outgoing Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and supports a joint appointment with Columbia World Projects, which is tasked with carrying out Bollinger’s “Fourth Purpose” initiative intended to help the university make a difference in the world.
Students and faculty said they are waiting to see whether they will get to meet Hillary Clinton on campus and how she will engage with students. “If she can get beyond giving a stump speech and really provide practical case studies about what she has done, and answer student questions, then it will be really cool,” said one adjunct.
Anya Schiffrin has taught at SIPA for nearly 20 years and is the director of the school’s Technology, Media and Communications specialization. Her husband, Joseph Stiglitz, mentioned in the article, is one of the former Clinton staffers who serves on SIPA faculty.