An Interview with Condoleezza Rice

By Gregory Hirshman

About Condoleezza Rice:

Condoleezza Rice is a well-known political scientist and diplomat. She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. She was the first African American woman to hold that office. Rice served as National Security Advisor during Bush’s first term and was the first woman to hold that position.Before joining the Bush administration, she was a political science professor and a provost at Stanford University. She also served in the George H. W. Bush administration as the Soviet and East European Affairs Advisor for the National Security Council during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In March 2009, she returned to Stanford. She currently teaches political science and is the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

1. What was the most important lesson you learned during your time as Secretary of State?

Well, I had been in a lot of positions of authority and a manager throughout my career, but I think the most important lesson that I learned is to try and make sure that you have good antennae about what is going on in your organization and to try and get people to bring you news or problems when they are still solvable rather than having them sprung on you late in the game. And I think that is something that every manager learns, that you can’t be surprised. You can fix almost any problem, but surprise is the real problem.

2. Why did you choose to come back to Stanford after serving as Secretary of State?

I have always assumed I would come back to Stanford. It was not really a decision. I just always assumed I would come back. I am a university person. I love being a professor. I always said that it was a kind of detour to go and be a government official. I’m really a university professor at heart, an academic at heart. And I have been at Stanford now for thirty years, which is a really long time, so it was never even a question that I would be coming back here and go back to teaching and doing research and being involved again in the life and the mind of one of the greatest universities on earth.

3. Do you find your time now as a private citizen more or less enjoyable than your time in government?

Well, they are just very different. When you are a government official, when you are Secretary of State, every waking moment is really about your work and about your job. You try to get away. You try to go to a Kennedy Center concert. You try to go see friends for dinner, but it is ever present. There is no such thing as personal time when you are in those positions, and you feel the stress. You try not to, and you try to put it in the back of your mind to keep functioning. As a university professor, there are moments when I am really on, when I am teaching, when I am doing my book, and so forth, but when I go to the basketball game, I am at the basketball game, and it is very different being in those high-powered government jobs.

4. Do you ever hope to serve again as a public official in the future?

I do not know what you would do after you were Secretary of State. It is sort of the best job in government as George Schultz once put. I cannot really see what I would do again.

5. Switching gears, do you believe that Stanford does a good job in promoting ideological diversity on campus?

Well, I do not think it is up to Stanford to promote ideological diversity. Universities are very decentralized places, and I think it is really the responsibility of the university to hire the best faculty in their fields, and then I think it is up to those faculty to give equal weight to different views and political, ideological, historical, whatever you want to call them, views. I think that is really the responsibility of the faculty.

6. What do you think that The Cardinal Principle adds to the Stanford experience by focusing on promoting ideological diversity?

Oh certainly there’s room for improvement, and I do not mean to say that faculty do not have ideological positions, but for instance, in the course that I just taught, I assigned books that were very critical of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and I think that is an obligation because this is supposed to be a place of debate. And I always say to my students if you ever find yourself constantly in the company of those who are saying amen to everything you say, then find other company, and I would say the same thing to faculty.

7. Do you believe that if there were more forums like The Cardinal Principle that there would be less partisan bickering and more genuine debate?

Well, as I understand it, what you try to do is you try to show the breadth of ideological, political, and philosophical thought at Stanford and to make certain that the students are exposed to voices from different parts of those spectrums, and I think that is a very useful thing to do particularly for a student-led publication.

Well there might be partisan bickering anyway. We’ve had partisan bickering in the United States since its founding, but I do think that opportunities for people to speak to issues from different perspectives, political, ideological, and philosophical, in a civilized way is healthy for Stanford and healthy for democracy, and so any effort to make sure people are engaging in a whole range of ideas is very much worth it. And yes, I think our politics would be well served by it.

8. What do you think that other students who are interested in promoting ideological diversity should do to encourage civil political discourse and genuine dialogue at their schools or universities?

Well I think that the students should insist on hearing a variety of views and then taking those views seriously. It is very easy to drown out views that you don’t want to hear, particularly in the age of the internet where you can get on the internet and sort of choose to go to websites that support your own point of view. That is a sure recipe for lacking creativity in your thinking. It is a sure recipe for suddenly being shocked when you do not debate your own position well because you have never actually debated someone before, and it is a sure recipe for being less effective when you go out into the larger world, and so I think that students have to insist on being able to hear a range of views, and then they have to hear them. If you do not think in the classroom you are hearing a range of views, you should bring it up, not in a confrontational way, but talk to the faculty member about it.

If you feel you are in a setting with other students where other views are not being heard, then insist that other views be heard. The university, more than any place, ought to be open to a range of views because it is the only way you hone arguments. It is the only way you test your views and your positions. I would hate to think the first time you heard a compelling argument against what you think would be after you left college. That’s not a very good place to be.

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This entry was posted in Articles for Volume 4, Issue 3, Spring 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

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