Academics and Research

Condoleezza Rice comes home for an evening at DU

During her time on campus, Condoleezza Rice spoke to a class at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Reflecting on memories ranging from her days as a “wayward and lost music major” at the University of Denver to an awkward meeting with Moammar Gadhafi, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice enthralled a crowd at her alma mater April 2 in conversation with her former employee, Ambassador Christopher Hill.

Rice (BA political science ’74, PhD international studies ’81) is now an author and full-time professor at Stanford University. She returned to DU to teach a class at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and to sit on stage at the Cable Center to talk with Hill, who once worked in her State Department and is now dean of the Korbel School.

Although she came to DU to study music, Rice told some 700 students, faculty, staff and guests that she realized early in her academic career that she faced a lifetime of teaching teenagers piano lessons or playing in department stores. Somehow, she said, there had to be more.

She found her purpose during an elective class in international relations. She changed majors and embarked on a career that saw her guide U.S. foreign policy from the optimistic early moments of the George W. Bush presidency to the crushing sadness of the 9/11 terror attacks and the uncertainty that followed.

“Sept. 11 changed everything,” she said. “Every day after, it was, ‘Don’t let it happen again’ … It was like going into a dark room and there were 12 doors, and someone could jump out of any one.”

The attack trumped her early attempts to guide the administration’s priority of building relationships with Mexico and reshaped foreign policy, she said. It forced hard decisions, created tensions within the White House and put the U.S. in difficult positions the country still struggles with today.

Rice discussed the intricate nature of global negotiations and how there’s never a pat answer that can be applied across the board. While the U.S. occupation of Iraq seems to have left that country in a position to move ahead and develop a stable government, the situation in Afghanistan is vastly different, with an impoverished, fractured country that will continue to need help or risk regressing into chaos.

“Afghanistan is much harder. It was always going to be harder,” she said. “It’s the fifth poorest country in the world. These people have been bequeathed high mountains and rocks and dirt.”

And while there may appear to be similarities between the current situation in Syria and last year’s uprising in Libya, there are differences that make a repeat of U.S. intervention less appealing in Syria, she said.

Syria, Rice said, has things Libya’s leadership did not: a capable military and powerful allies that will resist U.S., European or United Nations intervention.

“Libya was easier,” she said. “Nobody liked Moammar Gadhafi.”

Hill drew hearty laughter from the crowd as he quipped, “But he liked you.”

The remark poked fun at Gadhafi’s reported crush on Rice. When his palace was overrun, unusual scrapbooks filled with photographs of the secretary of state were uncovered. Even going back years, Rice said it was known he had some feelings for her.

When the late ruler invited her to visit him in his tent during her state visit to Libya, Rice said she had to decline the offer.

“I thought, ‘This is going to be a little weird,’” she said.

Looking forward, Rice said she sees herself now as a professor and author. She said she’d have no interest in getting into politics or returning to government service. In the days after 9/11, she worked 16 to 20 hours a day for 39 straight days. Throughout her tenure as national security adviser and secretary of state, she had to set strict rules that ensured she got enough sleep and exercise — and maybe six or seven hours of private time on Sunday afternoons.

“The most important difference [now] is I get out of bed in the morning, I get my cup of coffee, I read my newspaper, and I say, ‘Isn’t that interesting,’” she said.

Rice said she remains engaged and involved. She says she favors immigration reform that attracts the world’s brightest to the U.S. And she believes in education reform that includes work with after-school programs through the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations. She plays benefit piano concerts for music programs in schools, and she works with corporations crafting policies for expansion abroad.

And above all, she is a teacher.

“I love being an academic. I love being at Stanford. As long as they’ll have me, I’ll be there,” she said. “I love my life.”








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