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Maxwell School Speakers Through the Years

For nearly a century, VIPs of government and policy have shared their insights with public-minded students and an engaged campus community at Syracuse University.

Portrait of Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered the 2016 Tanner Lecture on Ethics, Citizenship and Public Responsibility.

The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs has hosted more than its share of visiting luminaries in government, politics and public service over the years. When you say “VIP” at Maxwell, thoughts turn to senators, cabinet secretaries, former presidents and the journalists who hold them to account.

The school’s first dedicated home, Maxwell Hall, opened in November 1937, and there for the dedication was Herbert Hoover, just four years removed from the presidency. His topic, “Training for the Public Service,” focused on the school’s role in providing professional training for those seeking careers in government. It was a relatively new kind of undertaking; at the time, many of the publicly employed had been hired as an act of political patronage—the so-called spoils system—with little regard for their capabilities or training. Maxwell, founded in the spirit of the Progressive Era and offering the nation’s first master’s degree in public administration, had “led an endeavor to lift public administration to a profession,” Hoover proclaimed.

President Herbert Hoover speaking at a podium
Former President Herbert Hoover spoke at the dedication of Maxwell Hall in 1937.

To Hoover, that education included more than just administrative skills. “It means the creation of a body of ethics and honesty in professional conduct, together with pride and distinction in a calling,” he said. He then described the impact a Maxwell education would have on not just government workers but the whole of the democratic citizenry—and essentially endorsed the type of citizenship literacy that Maxwell was also pioneering. “A democratic way of life is a participating way of life,” he said. “Self-government exists only in name if the conduct of the parties is turned over entirely to professional politicians.… Intelligent discussion and debate of issues, the constructive criticism of government methods, destructive criticism of government wrong, the search for truth and workable method, is the only road to progress.”

In 1960, another former president, Harry Truman, visited the Maxwell School amid a personal campaign to bolster appreciation for American government by the nation’s young. Truman was that year’s keynote speaker for Maxwell’s annual Citizenship Education Conference, where roughly 2,000 high school students discussed public policy issues and vied for scholarships to Syracuse University. During his visit, he offered insights on the office of the president, commented on political headlines of the day and spoke in support of required citizenship coursework that the school had recently discontinued.

Interdisciplinary Focus Brings Boom of Visiting Experts

In the 1990s, the Maxwell School’s growing emphasis on research—and especially the creation of interdisciplinary centers and institutes—brought a boom in visiting experts and VIPs that continues to this day.

In 1996, for example, the school sponsored a series of speakers to help students prepare for that fall’s elections. The first was House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke on American individualism, public-sector entrepreneurship and the potential for the privatization of many government functions. His remarks were made in Maxwell’s newly opened, high-tech Global Collaboratory, and the lecture was beamed to students at the University of Texas at Austin. Other speakers that year included Colin Powell, at that point former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former U.S. Senators Warren Rudman and Paul Tsongas; and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Moynihan is a special case among Maxwell speakers. As a young scholar, Moynihan had taught at Maxwell (1959-60), and he stayed close to the school, making countless visits over the decades. In fact, when he retired from the Senate in 2001, he returned to Maxwell’s faculty, where he remained until his death in 2003.

Similarly, Donna Shalala ’70 has appeared frequently at Maxwell—as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as head of the Clinton Foundation, and during her stints as a college president. Shalala connects with Maxwell not only as a speaker but as an alumna—she earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in social science at Syracuse University.

A third “celebrity” visitor with special Maxwell connections was Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker (1978-87), who delivered the inaugural Campbell Institute symposium in 1998. Volcker took an interest in the school’s brand of public affairs education and eventually joined the Maxwell School Advisory Board. (His successor as Chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, also spoke at Maxwell in 1998.)

Maxwell’s Institutes Draw Big Names

Perhaps no appearance by a public affairs “star” was more exciting and widely appreciated than one by Hillary Clinton in 2012, while she was secretary of state. Speaking to a full house in Hendricks Chapel, she commented on the challenges and promise of public service, and she also took time to meet with Maxwell students that day. Clinton had made previous appearances at Maxwell: she spoke about health care reform in 1994, while she was first lady; and she presided over the dedication of Maxwell’s Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs in 2005 as a U.S. senator representing New York. That latter occasion was star-studded—among those on hand to honor Senator Moynihan’s legacy were political journalists George Will and Tim Russert, and U.S. Representative Charles Rangel.

Also at the Moynihan Institute dedication was Chuck Schumer, New York’s other U.S. senator, who has made innumerable appearances at Maxwell through the years. In fact, months earlier he had announced the original plans to create the Moynihan Institute.

Christine Todd Whitman speaking at the Maxwell School
Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator and New Jersey governor, spoke about the challenges facing citizenship in 2017.

The list of prominent speakers goes on and on: Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and Senator Paul Simon in 1997 (sponsored by the Campbell Public Affairs Institute’s State of Democracy Lecture); former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, speaking on political partisanship in 2005; former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton in 2007; former U.N. Ambassador and U.S. Representative Andrew Young in 2011; former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley in 2012; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking at the 2016 Tanner Lecture (also sponsored by the Campbell Institute); and former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman in 2017.

VIP speakers supplement the classroom experience, of course, but they also highlight the respect and relevancy Maxwell has earned in the public affairs arena. Maxwell is part of their world, and, when on campus, they are part of Maxwell’s.

Dana Cooke

This story was published on .


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