In Conversation With Rita Hauser

On October 2, 2012 Jonathan Fanton sat down with renowned international lawyer and philanthropist Rita Hauser for a discussion about her life and career.

A Conversation with Rita Hauser
October 2, 2012

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, the FDR Fellow and Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. This historic building, home to Eleanor and Franklin, and Franklin’s mother, Sara, is now the center of Hunter College’s Public Policy program. In addition to teaching and research, Roosevelt House sponsors programs that bring policy makers together with faculty, students, and the general public to discuss issues of the day.

Tonight’s program is a little different. I have long wanted to have a series of public conversations with the most interesting people I know personally, people I have met in my years as President of the New School and the MacArthur Foundation but also through civic activities such as Human Rights Watch.

My first guest was former Mayor Ed Koch. Our conversation, no surprise, focused on the local state and national political scene. Next was a conversation with Agnes Gund, former President of MoMA who is one of our country’s most articulate advocates for the arts and art education, a major collector and a builder of cultural institutions.  And last spring I sat down with Vartan Gregorian, historian, teacher, and writer, as well as a former president of the New York Public Library, Brown University and the new President of the Carnegie Foundation.

Tonight we welcome Rita Hauser, one of Hunter’s own who went on to earn a doctorate in political economy at the University of Strasbourg then studied law at Harvard and earned her law degrees at NYU and the University of Paris. But her higher education started as an undergraduate here and she remains deeply committed to Hunter and serves on the Roosevelt House board.

It would take the better part of our program for me to give her a full introduction so I will mention just a few highlights.

Rita was one of the first women partners of a major New York law firm and was a leader in building the international law department at Stroock, Stroock and Lavan.
There, she strengthened the department through her various foreign networks and contacts, advised and mentored a number of the firm’s female associates and pushed for an increase in the number of women partners in the firm.

She has always had an interest in international affairs. President Nixon, for whom she worked as a speech writer and campaign strategist, appointed her a US representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights 1969-72. While at the UN she advocated for Russian Jews to have the right to emigrate. As her network widened, she became deeply interested in conflict resolution in the Middle East. She was part of a group from the Center for Peace in the Middle East, invited by the Swedish foreign minister, that orchestrated discussions which led Yasir Arafat in 1988 to recognize the State of Israel and to renounce terrorism. These negotiations helped pave the way for the historic 1993 Oslo Accords, an agreement between Yitzhak Rabin, Yaseer Arafat, and Bill Clinton, in which the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization agreed on territorial and self-governing matters and officially agreed to recognize each other.  Her public service continues through her membership on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

While pursuing an active legal practice and public service, Rita Hauser has somehow managed to be a leading member of many not-for-profit boards. To mention just a few: Chair of the International Peace Academy, Co-chair of the Advisory Board for the International Crisis Group, Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), the Rand Corporation, the New American Foundation, the Visiting Committee at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the Advisory Board at the Harvard Law School not to mention the Boards at Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic Society. And this is just a sample.

Eleanor Roosevelt, smiling down on us, would be pleased that we are having this conversation tonight in her house. While she attended Hunter, Rita met Eleanor, a major influence in the creation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and helped her organize her papers up at Hyde Park one summer. Rita Hauser embodies many of the  qualities we so admire in Eleanor Roosevelt: path breaking, loyal, a blend of resilience and principle, courage to challenge conventional wisdom and speak truth to power, and ability to elicit trust from those who do not trust each other, a commitment to opening opportunity to those in need, a fierce opponent of discrimination of any kind, a determination to pursue a more just and peaceful world – and an underlying optimism that humankind’s best instincts will triumph.

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