Maura Harty (SFS ’81), assistant secretary of Consular Affairs for the State Department, praised outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and said that the United States will remain engaged with the world in a speech and subsequent interview Tuesday night.
Powell announced his resignation Monday and President Bush announced his choice of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to replace Powell Tuesday afternoon.
“We have been graced with Secretary Powell’s presence. He’s a tremendous builder of institutional inspiration and as a person and a diplomat, certainly we will miss him,” Harty said. “But we have a fine tradition and one of those is to rally behind our new leader. We will embrace her and work together for the very best for our nation.”
Powell made special efforts to engage the world in dialogue, Harty said, adding that she believed these efforts would continue under Rice.
“We are absolutely engaged in the world right now and I think you will continue to see strong engagement,” she said.
Although she said she recognized that large changes in the makeup of the State Department could occur under new leadership, Hardy emphasized that assistant secretaries “serve under the pleasure of the president.”
Hardy was on campus to speak about the importance of student exchanges in the 21st century. After graduating from Georgetown in 1981, she entered the U.S. Foreign Service and has worked in countries as diverse as Colombia, Lithuania and Spain. As the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, she also helped avert multiple coup attempts.
Since being assigned to her current position in 2002, Harty has attempted to attract more foreign students to the United States.
“It is a critical imperative to be a nation open to foreigners,” she told students gathered in the ICC. “It is in the national interest to encourage students to come here.”
Hardy said that international students contribute more than $12 billion to the United States economy annually and help build bridges between different cultures.
But she emphasized that other countries like Australia and Canada have been able to lure prospective international students with promises of lower tuition fees and easier immigration procedures.
About 2 percent of visa applications need special security checks and waiting times for those visas have been reduced from an average of more than 70 days to 21 days under her leadership.
She also said that the government has installed new software in embassies overseas, further streamlining the visa issuing process.
According to Hardy, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, visa applications trailed off and some federal officials suggested that the borders should be closed temporarily to foreigners.
“We pushed back very seriously against that suggestion,” she said. “If we put a `do not enter’ sign on us that lets the people who crashed the planes into the buildings win.”
Since that time, applications have increased almost to pre-Sept. 11 levels.
“We believe we have turned the corner on a lot of darker days,” she said. “There are positive indicators on traveling to the U.S. People are beginning to come back.”
Hardy also urged American students to study abroad. Saying that Americans abroad “help foster a greater sense of understanding,” she emphasized the importance of remaining visible in the world, even during times of crisis.
Hardy encouraged foreign students at Georgetown to tell people “what Americans are really like.”
“I hope some of you will share what you’ve learned about us when you go home,” she said. “I am here to give you some sense of what the bureaucracy really is and I hope you take from this talk that we are here for you.”
Following the speech, organizers held a short reception for Hardy where she mingled with attendees.
Pakistani citizen Azmyra Kamil (MSB ’06) said she enjoyed the speech and that the climate for international students has improved since she arrived on campus.
“I think it’s a very great opportunity we have that people like this can come and we can see how things are changing,” she said.
The speech was sponsored by Georgetown’s Office of International Programs, the International Student Association, the Office of Federal Relations and the Lecture Fund.