Ambassador-at-large to lead Dickey Center
By Sharla Grass, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Counterterrorism expert and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Daniel Benjamin will assume the post of director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding on Jan. 1, 2013, a College press release announced on Tuesday. Students and faculty interviewed by The Dartmouth said they are excited for Benjamin to play a role in shaping the future of the Dickey Center and the College’s relationship with the international community.
Benjamin has served as the coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department since his 2009 appointment by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Although he has never worked within an academic institution, Benjamin said in an interview with The Dartmouth that he looks forward to collaborating with the student body, particularly one “renowned” for its talent.
The Dickey Center offers an opportunity to facilitate public debate at the College and foster a relationship with the world beyond Hanover, he said.
“It’s clear that the Dickey Center has a central role in the life of the College,” Benjamin said. “It’s a platform that the College has for showcasing student scholarship and bringing outsiders in.”
A key part of the Dickey Center director’s role includes acting as a “magnet” for leaders in international relations and attracting speakers to visit the College, according to Siddharth Sathe ’14, secretary-general of the Dickey Center student organization Model United Nations.
Benjamin said he hopes his range of acquaintances within the field of international relations will be an asset for the College, as a number of these leaders would “welcome the opportunity to come to Hanover” and speak with members of the community. Benjamin will replace Acting Director of the Dickey Center Christianne Wohlforth, who was preceded by former director Kenneth Yalowitz.
As a former ambassador, Yalowitz, who retired in December 2011, said Benjamin’s experience with policy and think tank environments will benefit the Dickey Center. This background will enable Benjamin to take part in the conversation about the dichotomy between the theories central to academia and the practical stresses faced by policymakers.
“I think one of the key things is to really develop and improve the dialogue between government and the academy,” Yalowitz said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “There’s a real need to improve that dialogue, and that’s something I really hope the Dickey Center will do more of in the future.”
Yalowitz said he hopes Benjamin will further the center’s development and maintain a goal of “bringing the world to Dartmouth students and taking Dartmouth students to the world.”
His expertise will build upon the current abilities of the center while allowing him to work with faculty members to produce innovative goals, Acting Associate Provost for International Affairs Lindsay Whaley said in the release.
Sathe said he hopes the new director will be as accessible to undergraduates and as able to “get students excited” about the field of international relations as Yalowitz was.
“Yalowitz did a great job of interacting with undergraduates and being really approachable and available, so I would hope that the new director would feel the same way,” Sathe said.
Model UN President Sean Donovan ’13 also emphasized the need for the new director to become engaged with students’ lives and intellectual pursuits and to make the opportunities present at schools in the Washington, D.C., area available to Dartmouth students despite Hanover’s “isolated” location.
“Interaction and relationships with individuals like Ambassador Benjamin who have remarkable experiences and the benefit of hindsight in life decisions have the potential to positively shape students in a manner that cannot be replicated by a class or any on-campus programming,” Donovan said.
Although students were not among the members of the selection committee, Sathe said he trusts that the process was carried out effectively and with the Dickey Center’s mission in mind.
Benjamin received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and his master’s degree from Oxford University. At the State Department, Benjamin was involved in the creation of the multilateral Global Counterterrorism Forum, according to the release. He is also the author of a number of books examining the effects and future of terrorism.
During the 1990s, Benjamin spent five years at the National Security Council and worked as a speechwriter for former U.S. President Bill Clinton, according to the release. He has also directed the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe. Benjamin became interested in international affairs at a young age and covered the fall of communism and the unification of Europe as a writer for Time Magazine in the 1980s, he said. He later served as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and was motivated to move to Washington, D.C., by his interest in speechwriting.
The search committee consisted of faculty members from across multiple departments at the College.
Staff writer Michael Riordan contributed reporting to this article.