Anne Steen, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Graduate Career Center, remembers the hours professor Howard Schaffer would spend in group sessions or in one-on-one meetings to walk students through the U.S. Foreign Service Officer Test, giving them specific advice on how to pass.
“Bottom line, he seemed to love the Foreign Service and wanted to help the next generation find their place in diplomatic public service,” Steen wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Schaffer, an adjunct professor in the SFS and former director of studies at Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, died Nov. 17 aged 88.
The former ambassador to Bangladesh spent 36 years working in the Foreign Service as a leading specialist on South Asia. After ending his career in diplomacy in 1991, Schaffer worked at Georgetown as an adjunct professor for over two decades.
Schaffer died from congestive heart failure, his son Michael Schaffer told The Washington Post. Schaffer is survived by his wife, Teresita Schaffer, who is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown and former ambassador to Sri Lanka.
Schaffer, who graduated from Harvard University in 1950, joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1955, where he worked as a political and economic officer in India and Pakistan, becoming an expert on South Asian foreign policy. He served two terms as deputy assistant secretary of state of South Asian affairs before his appointment as ambassador.
Schaffer was one of 29 diplomats to sign the 1971 “Blood telegram,” a first-of-its-kind State Department dissent cable that criticized U.S. complicity in a brutal Pakistani crackdown in East Pakistan, which soon became the independent state of Bangladesh, reported The Washington Post on Sept. 23.
Schaffer began his work at the ISD in 1996, where he ran several student programs including the Key Global Issue Seminar, a weekly seminar with speakers on global topics relating to diplomacy for foreign service graduate students and ISD associates. He stepped down from this position in 2011.
Schaffer also wrote two books on U.S.-South Asian foreign policy, as well as two biographies of American ambassadors to India. Acting in his role at the ISD and as an adjunct professor, Schaffer also taught a popular class titled “Practicing Diplomacy Abroad,” which he was slated to teach this fall semester. Schaffer’s wife took over the class when he became ill earlier this fall.
Arsalan Suleman (SFS ’03), one of Schaffer’s former students and current fellow at the ISD, said Schaffer’s expertise made his commitment to his students all the more valuable.
“He was an accomplished diplomat and serious regional expert, but also someone who was very humble and approachable, who appreciated various cultures, including campus cultural events like Rangila, and who took great interest in his students’ development and careers,” Suleman wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Beyond the Classroom
Jim Seevers, the director of studies at the ISD, said Schaffer had a profound influence on the Georgetown community.
“This is really a great loss to Georgetown and the School of Foreign Service,” Seevers said. “Professor Schaffer was a terrific professor, committed to teach his students about the art of diplomacy and foreign policy in South Asia. He was a wonderful colleague and a wonderful teacher, and he’s going to be missed dearly at Georgetown.”
Many of Schaffer’s colleagues and students highlighted his commitment to helping students and training them to pass the FSOT. Anthony Arend, senior associate dean for graduate and faculty affairs in the SFS, also discussed Schaffer’s level of personal investment in seeing his students pass the FSOT.
“He would always contact me afterwards and tell me how well they went, and he would be really excited when these students passed the foreign service exam,” Arend wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I just remember how devoted and how happy he was to work with students to prepare for that exam.”
Casimir Yost, former director of the ISD, also said that Schaffer was known for his positive relationships and interactions with those around him.
“When I think of Ambassador Schaffer, I very much think of the human dimension; he was an incredible people person with a wry sense of humor,” Yost said. “I think there were echoes of that in his class, because every time I spoke to a student and said ‘How’s Ambassador Schaffer’s course going?’ invariably the answer was, ‘It’s just a terrific course, and he’s so invested in it.’”
Arjun Pant (SFS ’09), one of Schaffer’s former research assistants, said the former ambassador truly cared for and believed in his students, even trusting them to help him while he wrote his books.
“He will be remembered as a professor who was truly dedicated to teaching and to his students, and someone who was looked up to as a wise mentor for those aiming to enter the field of diplomacy,” Pant said.