By Joseph Williams, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is in discussions to donate her papers to Wellesley College, inspiring the school to create an international studies school in her honor to train a new generation of women for the world stage.
Wellesley officials confirmed this week that the Madeleine K. Albright Institute for Global Affairs will begin classes in January, and Albright, the nation's first female chief diplomat, will be the school's first visiting professor. The program, which will admit between 40 and 50 undergraduates this year, will teach students to think broadly about complex international issues such as war, famine, and climate change.
Along with traditional political science and international affairs classes, students will also take courses in religion, sociology, anthropology, and other academic fields that can help them better understand the root causes of global problems.
"The Albright Institute will be a place where scholars and practitioners can gather to research, to reflect on, and discuss and debate global issues," Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly said in a statement. "It will be a place that brings a focused international perspective to our liberal arts curriculum. It will be a place that will play a critical role in Wellesley’s education of future women leaders across the world."
Albright -- a 1959 Wellesley graduate and the commencement speaker two years ago -- told the Globe that she is "over the moon" with the honor, which she will announce in a keynote speech this weekend at her 50th class reunion. "They actually came to me because they were interested in trying to figure out how to really expand what they already do so well: training young women for leadership in a variety of fields," she said in an interview.
Wellesley spokeswoman Elizabeth Gildersleeve said yesterday that the idea for the institute emerged from discussions between Albright and the college over the working papers Albright accumulated during her career. Because some of Albright's papers contain classified material, the donation is still in the works, Gildersleeve said. Officials are determining which papers can be released immediately, and which cannot be donated because they are secret.
The institute will be established regardless of when or whether the papers are donated. Gildersleeve said Wellesley is establishing a $6 million endowment for the institute, "and, conservatively speaking, we are more than halfway there." Despite the rocky economy, she added, "Our fundraising efforts have been gratifying."
The institute's interdisciplinary approach reflects her own philosophy about the complex dimensions of world affairs, Albright said, but it also is a significant departure from the traditional approach most colleges take on international studies.
As an undergraduate, Albright said, her curriculum was heavy on history and political science, and "it was a really big deal to take economics."
But as a diplomat, Albright said she quickly realized the world's problems are multi-dimensional, and what she learned studying economics, for instance, helped her understand forces at work behind various conflicts. "I have had to understand science," said Albright, who served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 under President Clinton. "I just came back from the Arctic. I now understand global warming."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.