Ted Widmer, director and librarian of the John Carter Brown Library, earned two new positions yesterday – he will serve as assistant for special projects to President Christina Paxson and as senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to a University news release. Widmer will divide his time between the two roles – advising Paxson on various initiatives, including planning commemorations of the University’s 250th anniversary and providing analysis for the U.S. State Department.
“I would just say that I’m excited to be taking on some new challenges, and proud to be at Brown,” Widmer wrote in an email to The Herald. He could not be reached for a longer comment because of a commitment in Washington.
Widmer will leave his role as director and librarian Sept. 21 but will continue to serve as adjunct professor in the University’s Department of History.
“Professor Widmer is a gifted writer and historian who is attractive to the State Department because he can place current events in a historical context,” Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 told The Herald.
Before assuming his current post at the JCB in 2006, Widmer was the director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College for five years. From 1997 to 2001, he served as a foreign policy speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. Widmer has a long history with the University – his father, Eric Widmer, was a professor of Chinese history as well as the University’s dean of student life and dean of admission in the 1980s and ’90s.
Schlissel said Widmer’s experience as a historian will enable him to aid Paxson’s team by preparing significant written material on the University’s history for the 250th anniversary celebrations in 2014. “President Paxson would like help with messages surrounding Brown’s 250th anniversary,” Schissel said. “We hope Ted contributes significantly to those efforts.”
Widmer will devote a substantial number of hours to working with Hillary Clinton for the next five months before she steps down as secretary of state at the end of President Obama’s first term in office, said Schlissel, who added that Widmer will still remain at the University full-time “at least through the coming years.”
“I presume he’ll be working with the State Department more intensively through the end of the current presidential term,” Schlissel said.
Several of Widmer’s former colleagues in academia and in the Clinton White House praised the historian and said they believe he is well-suited to his new roles.
“Ted is an extraordinary person and extremely generous,” said Adam Goodheart, Widmer’s successor as director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center, who also worked with him in Washington College’s history department. “He’s one of a kind among historians in many ways because he’s really not just studied history, but lived history.”
Goodheart, who said he has known Widmer for over a decade, added that he believes his former colleague will be an effective adviser to Hillary Clinton because of his deep historical perspective. “He’s thinking not just about the George W. Bush era but also the Thomas Jefferson era,” Goodheart said. “I think he’s a person of tremendous intellectual capability and intellectual gift.”
Michael Waldman, former chief White House speechwriter, worked with Widmer under Bill Clinton and said Widmer’s appointment “shows how well-respected he is, not only within the halls of the University, but also nationally.”
The office of press relations at the State Department’s bureau of public affairs and Marisa Quinn, the University’s vice president for public affairs and University relations, could not be reached for comment.