Condoleezza Rice on returning to campus
After serving two terms in the Bush administration—first as national security adviser and then as secretary of state—Condoleezza Rice plans to return to Stanford in the next few months. It's a welcome homecoming for the country's former top diplomat, who started teaching political science at the university in 1981 and also served six years as provost.
But her post-political life won't be entirely Stanford-centric. Her plans include writing books, making lecture appearances and pursuing philanthropic and business activities. She recently signed a deal with the William Morris Agency for representation.
In her first interview since leaving office, she spoke from Washington, D.C., with Stanford Report about her plans to resume her roles as a political science professor and the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution. Just as comfortable discussing professional football as foreign policy, she also talked about the books she plans to write, how she'll handle her critics and her prediction for the Super Bowl.
What was so attractive about returning to Stanford?
I've always assumed I would come back to Stanford. It really seemed like the logical choice for me, and it provides an opportunity for me to put my books together in a good, strong research environment like the Hoover Institution and also to start to reconnect with the academic policy communities that I've been involved with the last 30 years.
How will your political experience translate into academic lessons, and how will you share what you've learned in Washington with the Stanford community?
I may not teach formal classes right away. But when I do, I hope to go back to teaching some of the courses on international politics, with a focus on decision-making and hard choices in decision-making. I taught a lot when I was at Stanford before by the use of decision simulations. I thought decision simulations pressed students really to think about not just the abstraction of policy but the actual operational questions and choices that you have to make.
It's just not the case that there are any perfect policies. You're always trying to balance complicated factors; you're trying to balance competing interests. You're doing it under time pressure. Very often you're doing it with very imperfect information. I found before that the best way to communicate that was to have students participate in simulated decision-making. I expect that any course I teach I would do that.
How hypothetical are those decision simulations?
I did one in 1997 or '98 on Kosovo and Kosovo independence, then I got to participate in bringing Kosovo to independence as secretary of state. So they're not really theoretical at all. I really try to draw from cases that are likely to occur or sometimes go back and actually use a historical case. But I prefer to challenge students with cases that might come on to the horizon.
It would be very interesting to teach a simulation on this past summer's Russian invasion of Georgia and the events that led up to that and the pressures of trying to put together a coalition to resist it, and the imperfect information that we were all dealing with.
How public a presence will you have on campus? Do you think it will be difficult to interact with the community because of security issues or other reasons?
Well, I hope not. I really don't know what to expect, but Stanford is my home. I'm comfortable on the campus. I hope pretty soon to get out among students. I love going over to the houses or the dorms and having dinner and having a question-and-answer session afterward. I think that would be a very good way to re-engage with the campus. Seminars and being able to guest lecture might be another way. I really hope I could do it informally. Stanford has a wonderful tradition of the after-dinner, however-long-it-goes engagement with a faculty member. I used to love those, and I hope to do some of those pretty soon.
Some students and faculty members have criticized your tenure in the Bush administration. Will you engage with your critics on campus and be open to debate surrounding the ideas you promoted and decisions you made in Washington?
Absolutely. It's perfectly legitimate to be critical of what's been a complicated and sometimes controversial and always consequential last eight years. The only thing I ask is that people be respectful of listening to the views and what we faced and how we went about it. But I have no problem with criticism. I'm an academic—debate is natural. Criticism is natural. It won't be the first time that policies we pursued were not popular or were not supported. But that's what academic institutions ought to be about.
From your newly resumed academic perspective, what influence do you expect—or want—to have on how international policy is shaped?
There I'm going to take a pause. My successor and our successors deserve a chance to do this their way now. I have worked very hard for eight years dealing with situations and circumstances that were wholly unforeseen and really unprecedented in American history. We did some things very well. There are certainly a lot of things I would've done differently.
When they would ask me in the press here, "Well, what would you do differently, or what mistakes have you made?" I would say that I'm sure there will be dissertations written on that subject, and many of them I'll oversee at Stanford University.
In terms of commenting on current events unfolding in the Middle East or unfolding in North Korea—no, I'll keep my counsel on those things. I really don't believe it's appropriate for a former secretary of state or someone who just left the job to be in a position that may be viewed to be second-guessing my successor.
As you return from Washington, some Stanford faculty are heading to jobs in the White House. What advice do you have for an academic about to play a role in the new presidential administration?
Stay true to what you believe. Never stop questioning. Academics are given—and almost take an oath—to seek, to know the truth, to really question things and to ask hard questions. That's extremely important in government. The other thing is to realize it's an enormous honor and a privilege to serve in these administrations. It's hard work, but it's an honor and a privilege.
Talk about the books you plan to write.
I will write a book on foreign policy, of course. I think every secretary of state does. But I would hope that it would be a book that tries to put the last eight years into a context that is more of an analytic framework. I don't want to write a book that is just repeating a series of incidents and a series of anecdotes. There will be anecdotes. I'm sure I'm going to tell some of the more interesting stories and discuss the characters I've met over the last eight years.
I also, as an academic, will want to step back and really look at how the international system was impacted by the events of 9/11 and what new constraints and what new opportunities the United States faced as a result. I'm going to try to make this a book that's analytic and not just storytelling.
I also want to write a more personal book about my parents, who were those kinds of extraordinary ordinary people. They were educators. They believed just fundamentally in the value of education. They gave me every opportunity they possibly could. But they also are people who can be situated in the great historic sweep of the civil rights struggle, from their own segregated background all the way through the civil rights movement and moving to Denver, Colorado. In that sense, telling a little bit of the history—the story of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, who didn't let segregation become a millstone around their necks but rather, in a sense, managed to beat the odds—that's the story I want to tell about my parents. People often say to me, "How in the world did you get to be who you are?" Well, the answer is John and Angelena Rice, and I think I want to write about that.
What types of public appearances and endeavors are you planning, and how will you balance that work with your role at Stanford?
I'm going to do some private speaking, but I don't have any public appearances really scheduled yet. That will come. I'm going to try to take a little bit of February off if I can and play the piano and maybe play golf. The job of secretary of state and before that national security adviser—when people say 24/7, they have no idea what it really is like. There isn't a moment when you're not in a position of maximum responsibility. It takes a little while to exhale, and I want to have a little time to exhale.
I'm a good juggler. I'll manage to do it all. I'm being careful in what responsibilities and what obligations I take on, and I think I'll fit it all in.
You join George Shultz and William Perry as a former presidential Cabinet member to settle in at Stanford. Have they given you any tips or advice for your transition back to campus?
I was provost when Bill came back [from serving in the Clinton administration], so I know a little bit about what he faced. George is one of my dearest friends, and I have watched him and worked with him over the years. The most important thing is to spend your time moving on to the next chapter, not trying to live in the past. I've never been a "former" anything, and I don't really plan to be a "former" anything again. I'll be a "future" something else. And that future is at Stanford as a professor at Hoover, writing and speaking.
But also, I started in 1992 with a very strong interest in K-12 education. I started a program in East Palo Alto called Center for a New Generation. There are five of them now in the Bay Area. I'd like to see if that model—which is really a Strivers program for kids who are trying hard but don't really have the opportunities that so many kids do—can give them an after-school and summer academy experience that helps them to reach their full potential educationally.
As an educator, it really does bother me when our children—particularly in public schools—are not getting a good education. As secretary of state, it's really troubling—almost terrifying. If America doesn't really educate its people, then we're going to turn inward and protect. And we won't compete. And we'll also lose what I have come to see as I've represented the United States as our great strength, which is that everybody really believes that America is a place where you could come from humble circumstances and do great things. The key to that is a really good education. I'll return to and extend my activities in support of K-12 education.
You're an accomplished concert pianist. How do you plan to fold that and any other personal interests into your post-political life?
I've had a chamber music group that I've played with here in Washington. We performed at the British Embassy and a couple of other places. I'll look to get into playing chamber music and practicing piano again, maybe with actually a little bit of time to learn new music this time. I've just been playing the same thing over and over again. I also look forward to getting back to playing golf. I learned how to play golf while I was out here, and I'll be back in time to see at least a little Stanford basketball.
Who do you like for next week's Super Bowl?
It's a question of who do I like and who do I think will win. I would love to see the Cardinals win, because what a great story! But unless [wide receiver] Larry Fitzgerald is Superman, I kind of have to go with [safety] Troy Polamalu and the Steelers to win it. But I want to be clear—I would like to see the Cardinals win.