Former U.N. amb. recalls heated times on College Hill

By
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Forty-six years ago, Richard Holbrooke ’62 put an ad on the fourth page of The Brown Daily Herald.

“The Brown Daily Herald presents Malcolm X,” read the ad. “Tickets on sale – Faunce House Office.”

Then an aspiring journalist and editor-in-chief of The Herald, Holbrooke said Monday – on his first visit to campus since he was appointed a professor-at-large in February – that he was drawn into a decades-long career in foreign service because of the national and international issues he faced as a Brown student.

Holbrooke started his on-and-off government career in the Foreign Service in Vietnam just after graduating from Brown. More than 30 years later, at President Bill Clinton’s charge, he helped broker the Dayton peace accords, ending the brutal fighting in Bosnia in the 1990s. He had previously spent a stint as ambassador to Germany and later served as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations.

Appointed to his professor-at-large post at the Watson Institute for International Studies last semester, Holbrooke spoke to about 30 students Monday evening about current foreign policy challenges, such as the war in Iraq. Holbrooke will return to College Hill in October and December to deliver speeches and lead undergraduate seminars.

As a reporter and editor at The Herald, an unsuspecting Holbrooke was thrown into the political turmoil on college campuses and across the nation in the early 1960s. Holbrooke said he butted heads with University administrators on more than one occasion – first when he hired two Pembroke College students as The Herald’s first female reporters, and then when he accepted Malcolm X’s offer to speak on campus during Holbrooke’s junior year, he said in an interview at The Herald’s offices.

Katharine Pierce ’62, one of the two first female Herald staffers, was critical of Malcolm X and the black Muslim movement in a February 1961 article in The Herald’s then-regular magazine supplement. The article angered Malcolm X, who demanded to speak on campus. Holbrooke agreed, without getting approval from University administrators.

Before he knew it, Holbrooke said, officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were patrolling campus, and Malcolm X was advocating for complete racial segregation in Sayles Hall.

“The national world was pouring in on this previously sleepy campus,” Holbrooke said.

Holbrooke said he once traveled to Paris to report for The Herald on the planned 1960 summit between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President Eisenhower, which was halted after a U.S. spy plane was shot down by the Russians over Soviet airspace. He also met civil rights movement leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while at Brown, he said.

Holbrooke decided to take his current five-year appointment with the Watson Institute after a conversation with President Ruth Simmons.

“You can’t say no to Ruth Simmons,” he said.

But Holbrooke said he isn’t ruling out another stint in the political world. The former assistant secretary of state for both Southeast Asia and Europe has worked under four Democratic administrations. Now an adviser to the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., he is considered a prime candidate for secretary of state if she wins the general election.

Holbrooke has agreed to appear on campus about once a month at least through next semester.

Like most professors-at-large, Holbrooke spends most of his time off campus – in his case, in New York City. He is chief executive officer of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which organizes businesses to fight those diseases, and vice chairman of private equity firm Perseus LLC.

Other professors-at-large include the former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso; the former president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos; and Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, said Geoffrey Kirkman ’91, associate director of the Watson Institute.

Professors-at-large and visiting fellows, such as former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee ’75, often conduct not-for-credit study groups, give public talks and advise University administrators and faculty. Holbrooke will continue to advise Simmons as the University works to expand its international clout.