Humphrey’s dean brings in big names

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is among the prominent political leaders who have recently visited the Humphrey School.

Taylor Nachtigal

Just four months after hosting a former president, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs booked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for a public event and an intimate discussion with students.

Albright’s visit last week was one of the many recent appearances of high-profile politicians brought to the University by the Humphrey School. These events are part of a broad effort to increase the school’s national standing, which some credit to its dean’s close ties with well-known political leaders.

“These are people [Dean Eric Schwartz] has worked with in a different capacity over a number of years,” said Larry Jacobs, director for the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance and moderator for Albright’s speech. “He is so well-connected in Washington and around the country with foreign policy leaders.”

Since last spring, the Humphrey School has brought in several other distinguished politicians, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former President Bill Clinton.

Schwartz has also held a number of prominent political roles, including serving under Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state and as the United Nations’ Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery with President Bill Clinton.

Humphrey School Associate Dean Laura Bloomberg said events like this give students the opportunity to speak with major policymakers about the topics discussed in their classes.

“I think it is key that these are people of real substance around the issues our students are focused on,” she said.

On Thursday afternoon, about 75 Humphrey School students had the rare opportunity to pick the brain of the former secretary of state.

Albright gave her perspective on a variety of topics, ranging from encouraging political compromise to gridlock in Congress — an example of what she said is a lack of respect for diverse opinions in politics today.

“I have to say, I completely believe in democracy and I think it is the best system,” she said. “However, it’s not working particularly well at the moment in terms of getting anything done.”

Albright, a Democrat, was also a guest lecturer on Friday in a class taught by former Republican Congressman Vin Weber, whom Albright said she worked closely with during her time as secretary of state.

That type of collaboration between Albright and Weber is exactly what the Humphrey School hopes to expose its students to when it brings in speakers, Jacobs said.

“[Students] don’t need to agree with them, but they need to understand their arguments and reasoning, and that’s what these events allow,” Jacobs said.

Paul Linnell, a second-year Master of Public Policy student, attended Thursday’s event. He also saw Rice speak last spring and said attending both events allowed him to compare the two political leaders.

“I think it’s good to see secretaries of state from two different administrations,” Linnell said.

Along with educating students, high-profile speakers have brought in scholarship opportunities.

In addition to a discussion with students Thursday afternoon, a second event that evening also acted as a fundraiser to create scholarships in Albright’s name for the Humphrey School. The discussion, held at International Market Square, drew a crowd of 350 people who paid $95 for a ticket to hear Albright speak on women’s standing in public policy.

When Bill Clinton came to the school last spring, the Humphrey School created a scholarship in his name with the money raised by his speech. The funds collected will be awarded to two students in the form of tuition scholarships for fall 2015.

Bringing in big-name speakers raises the school’s notoriety and also provides opportunities to fund future students, Jacobs said.

“We are drawing from around the country many students. To continue to do that, we have to offer the financial aid our competitors do. This is a part of a concerted effort on the part of Dean Schwartz to get the best students,” Jacobs said.