Georgetown University is still considering a proposal to rename the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) after Madeleine Albright, despite public outcry from faculty and students.
The proposed change, which was first announced at a June 7 SFS Faculty Council meeting, would change the name of the SFS to the Madeleine K. Albright School of Foreign Service. The university is not and has never considered swapping out “foreign service” for “global affairs,” despite a public letter created by professors in opposition to a name change claiming so, SFS Dean Joel Hellman told The Hoya.
“The University is considering proposals to honor the path-breaking legacy of Secretary Albright. Among the proposals being discussed is renaming the school to the ‘Madeleine K. Albright School of Foreign Service.’ There is currently no proposal under consideration to change the ‘Foreign Service’ portion of the school’s name,” Hellman wrote to The Hoya.
One day after the faculty meeting where the name proposal was announced, professors Jeff Anderson, Fida Adely, Kate Chandler, Rochelle Davis, Shareen Joshi, Shiloh Krupar and Marwa Daoudy authored a public letter, which was signed by 1,411 community members before it closed at the end of June.
The letter rejects renaming the school, particularly after Albright, citing Albright’s support of U.S. interventions in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South Eastern Europe and their resulting impacts on civilian populations.
“By moving on with this project, the University would honor a name associated with gross human rights violations, however great a teacher and mentor Madeleine Albright was,” Daoudy wrote to The Hoya.
Following the release of the faculty letter, many students joined in their opposition, with many citing Albright’s policies toward Iraq during her time as ambassador to the United Nations and as secretary of state.
Albright once said she believed that sanctions imposed on Iraq were “worth it,” despite reports at the time that half a million Iraqi children died as a result. Albright later recanted this statement and said she regretted making it.Albright said she did not regret imposing sanctions and said she blamed the deaths on Iraqi leaders who blocked humanitarian aid. Subsequent reports suggest that the death toll was much lower and that the Iraqi government had manipulated these figures.
Albright’s support of sanctions on Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War made the proposed change particularly upsetting to Meriam Ahmad (SFS ’26), who is the child of Iraqi immigrants.
“It seemed like a direct challenge to my place in the school, and I felt unheard, sidelined,” Ahmad told The Hoya.
“I felt, though, the opinions of the students on campus who were directly affected or indirectly affected by Secretary of State Albright’s actions were going unheard,” Ahmad added.
Daoudy said many faculty members were also unaware that a possible name change was taking place.
“I am also deeply concerned by the decision-making process as faculty were informed about the proposal after the school year ended and many colleagues were on summer leave and unable to attend the discussions,” Daoudy added.
Hellman said campus community members have been included in the process of a possible name change.
“The SFS community has been engaged in a community-wide dialogue about how best to honor the extraordinary legacy of Madeleine Albright, who was a vital part of this community for close to 40 years. We want to celebrate her deep commitment and enduring influence on generations of our students,” Hellman told The Hoya.
Cate Howell (SFS ’24, GRD ’25) said she’s indifferent toward the name change but believes Albright’s name has more marketability than Walsh’s.
“I don’t really think most students can name his impact on the world or IR or anything like that. He founded the SFS. But I think, besides that, no one can really name anything he did,” Howell told The Hoya.
Howell said she believes Albright was not the sole decision maker for the State Department’s policies when she was in charge.
“It’s really easy to view the secretary of state as someone who does all this stuff, but really they are just one of a lot of people making these kinds of decisions,” Howell said.
“I think the fact that she recanted a lot of her statements and apologized is really important, which I don’t think a lot of public figures do,” she added.
David Trichler (GRD ’11), a former TA for Albright, sees the renaming as an opportunity to honor Albright’s compassion toward her students and to commemorate a prominent woman in international affairs.
“I think she just remembered where she came from as an immigrant, refugee to the country and started her own career later in life as a working mother. She just really paid attention to what people thought,” Trichler told The Hoya.
Trichler also recalls Albright not being defensive when students questioned her on her policy choices as ambassador to the UN and then secretary of state, especially on her support of sanctions.
“I saw her engage in that dialogue and share her perspective and encourage people to make their own decisions about processes,” Trichler said.
The Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) passed June 25 a resolution 20-1 opposing the proposed renaming after Albright. Introduced by Senators John DiPierri (SFS ’25) and Julian Jimenez (CAS ’24), the resolution points to the impact on Iraqi society of Albright’s sanctions during the Gulf War. The resolution also affirmed that Walsh’s name should remain on the school.
“Replacing the name of a person who increased education in Iraq with a person who supported devastating sanctions on Iraq’s population would be an unacceptable irony,” the resolution read.
Ahmad, who is also a GUSA senator, co-sponsored the resolution.
“I thought that it was important that the organization that represents the voice of the student body also make this publicly available and make this resolution our position on the matter,” Ahmad said.
Many proponents of keeping Walsh’s name on the school also point to his importance as a Jesuit figure and his efforts to protect Russian Catholics from discrimination in the 1920s.
A petition created June 12 by Renato Llontop Calosi (SFS ’24) argues Fr. Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., the namesake of the SFS, deserved to keep his name attached to the school that he founded. The petition, which has over 700 signatures, lauded Walsh’s service to the university.
“Removing Father Walsh as the namesake of the SFS school will erase not only his legacy, but the Catholic ethos, which encouraged the school’s founding,” Llontop Calosi said in an interview with The Hoya.
Llontop Calosi said the university should consider naming other parts of the university or places on campus after Albright.
“I think she should have some sort of recognition,” Llontop Calosi said. “But I do not believe that the whole school should be renamed.”
Hellman said in the case of a renaming, Walsh’s role will be respected.
“The proposed renaming is not motivated by a desire to remove Father Walsh’s name from the school, but to acknowledge Secretary Albright’s legacy and shape the direction of the school for the next century,” Hellman wrote.
“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 said.
This article was updated Aug. 13 to include additional clarifying details about Secretary Albright’s comments about the sanctions on Iraq.