The legacy of Madeleine Albright is a double-edged sword.
Inside the classroom, she was a legendary professor and mentor for nearly 40 years at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS). Albright was also a trailblazer in diplomacy, becoming the first woman named secretary of state under former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68). She was a staunch defender of democracy abroad and a notable example of women in international affairs.
In light of her achievements, this summer Joel Hellman, the dean of the SFS, announced that the administration was considering renaming the SFS to the Madeleine K. Albright School of Foreign Service.
Despite her advocacy for women in foreign service, Albright’s record on human rights and her support of military intervention in the developing world — as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of state — is troubling.
The Editorial Board calls on the SFS to explore other options in honoring Albright and her complicated past, such as a scholars program in her name.
Albright’s tenure saw drastic sanctions placed on Iraq, following its invasion of Kuwait, which may have resulted in the deaths of more than half a million Iraqi children. When asked about this high death toll in a 1996 interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” she replied that “the price is worth it.”
Albright later said that she regretted the comment, blaming the deaths on the failure of Iraqi leaders who blocked humanitarian aid. Reports in recent years suggest that the Iraqi government manipulated the death toll and that it was in fact much lower.
Nonetheless, these concerning remarks are once again relevant, as the SFS considers a name change in her honor.
Hellman announced the name change proposal at a June 7 SFS Faculty Council Meeting and was met by immediate pushback.
One day after the meeting, an open letter to the community, written by professors Jeff Anderson, Fida Adely, Kate Chandler, Rochelle Davis, Shareen Joshi, Shiloh Krupar and Marwa Daoudy, began to circulate online and on social media.
The letter garnered 1,411 signatures in just over three weeks before closing at the end of June. This opposition largely centered around Albright’s human rights errs.
“As a global institution committed to the common good, the university stands by values of social justice, equity, and human rights,” the public letter reads. “By moving ahead with this project, the university would honor a name associated with gross human rights violations, however great a teacher and mentor Madeleine Albright was during her years at Georgetown University.”
Hellman acknowledged this debate, something he believed would have been encouraged by Albright.
“It should not be surprising that in the oldest school of international affairs, there is robust debate about U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era that she had such a critical role in shaping,” Hellman wrote in a statement to The Hoya. “This is a debate that Secretary Albright herself would have relished were she still with us.”
The proposal to rename the SFS after Albright also called into question why Fr. Walsh would be replaced as the namesake of the SFS.
Walsh’s name has been associated with the SFS since 1957, when the university decided to honor his legacy of international leadership and human rights advocacy. Much of his work involved combatting Catholic repression in the Middle East and fighting to secure the rights of religious minorities in the fallout of World War II. Tolerance and human rights advocacy were mainstays of Walsh’s teachings, and his values live on in the spirit of the SFS today.
After the announcement of the proposed name change, students promptly responded with outrage. As of Sept. 21, over 700 students have signed a petition seeking to uphold Walsh’s legacy.
“As a Jesuit institution, emphasis on education, ministry, and outreach to the marginalized are core to our mission, tenets that Fr. Walsh greatly emulated,” the petition reads. “Removing Fr. Walsh as the namesake of the SFS will erase not only his legacy but the Catholic ethos which encouraged the school’s founding.”
The Editorial Board urges the university to rethink possible plans to rename the SFS after Albright. In addition to the enduring importance of Walsh, the harsh reality of her human rights record cannot be ignored.
Instead, the Editorial Board recommends that the SFS honor Albright’s achievements with a scholars program.
The program could offer mentorship to women in the SFS, just as Albright championed during her time at Georgetown. The university must honor her name by furthering the involvement of women in foreign service, a topic Albright was passionate about.
In an effort to gauge campus opinion, The Hoya published a poll on Instagram, open only to Georgetown email addresses, lasting from the night of Sept. 21 to Sept. 22. Of the 108 Georgetown respondents, 67.6% answered that the SFS should not be renamed; 30.6% sided with the proposal. In addition, 1.8% offered alternatives, including the renaming of the Intercultural Center Auditorium to honor Albright.
According to Hellman, the conversation regarding Albright’s legacy is ongoing.
“We are continuing to hold discussions about the most appropriate way to do so that recognizes her enduring impact on our school and in the world,” Hellman wrote.
Albright believed firmly in the importance of women making decisions at the highest level of government. Her desire to further the role of women in international relations cannot be forgotten.
“I believe that societies are better off when women are politically and economically empowered,” Albright said in a 2010 TED Talk. “That values are passed down, the health situation is better, education is better, there is greater economic prosperity.”
The university can further Albright’s mission of female empowerment by investing in female foreign service education.
The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and chaired by the Opinion editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.