Universities as Strategic Partners in National Development, University of Port Harcourt Convocation Lecture

In May 2010, Jonathan Fanton spoke at the 26th convocation of The University of Port Harcourt.

May 2010 Jonathan F. Fanton, President Emeritas John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, His Royal Highness, Oba Akran of Badagr, the Wheno Aholu, Menu Toyi 1, (OFR).  The Chairman of the Governing Council Dr Dan Shere, Vice-Chancellor Dan Baridam, deputy vice-chancellors, and other principal officers of the university, distinguished guests, eminent faculty, students and friends:  All other protocols observed.

Let me begin by thanking the Vice-Chancellor and the Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, for his gracious words of welcome and by expressing my admiration for the strong leadership he is providing for this institution and for higher education in Nigeria.  I also appreciate the kind words of introduction by the University Orator.  Port Harcourt is doubly blessed to have one outstanding leader follow another.  It was my privilege also to work with Professor Nimi Briggs, whose determined vision sparked this University’s renaissance.

To you all, I express my appreciation for your warm welcome.

It is a great pleasure to be back at Port Harcourt and to join you in celebrating the 26th convocation of The University of Port Harcourt, UNIQUE UNIPORT.   The special role of the University is the theme of my remarks today.  I well recall my first visit here in June 2000 as The MacArthur Foundation was considering which universities in Nigeria to support.  Vice Chancellor Nimi Briggs and Professor Mbuk Ebong gave me a full tour including the unfinished library, science labs without equipment, empty fields designated for student dormitories, a computer center and more.  There was no doubt that Port Harcourt, like other universities, had been neglected during years of military rule.

But there was a spirit on this campus that gave me hope that MacArthur’s financial investment would help transform Port Harcourt into a quality university by international standards.  I think back to a meeting with students in the Vice Chancellor’s conference room.  As a former university president, I knew that talking with students was a good reality test.  And so it was.   I heard from students wanting to work in the gas and petroleum industry who were taking courses in labs with no equipment.  They were not complaining, only telling the truth in a mature and thoughtful way.  I was impressed with their spirit, their determination, and their optimism that they would live and work in a better Nigeria.  But to prepare for that future, they needed access to modern laboratories, the internet and faculty trained to international standards.  I came away from that meeting excited by the possibilities at Port Harcourt and convinced that MacArthur should help.  The Foundation made a commitment to the University based on its leadership team, a vision for its future, and its critical importance to the Niger Delta.

The University has used our funds wisely and exceeded our expectations.  I am honored to be here at Vice Chancellor Don Baridam’s final commencement and bear witness to the tremendous improvements on this campus.  He should be justly proud of what has been accomplished here under his outstanding leadership.  His clear vision, high aspirations, practical wisdom, collaborative style, hard work and tenacious pursuit of resources have galvanized our collective financial and spiritual investment in a UNIPORT that is a unique beacon of hope.  Hear his words, “My vision for the University is for it to be ranked one of the best in Africa, renowned for its ground-breaking institutional research, innovation and knowledge transfer.”  Your university is well on its way to meeting that goal.

As I walked around the campus this morning, I saw with my own eyes the most dramatic transformation I have witnessed anywhere.

Among the physical changes I noticed are:

New School of Basic Studies
New Faculty of Management Sciences
New Faculty of Clinical Sciences
New Entrepreneurial Center
New Alumni Hostel
New International Center
New Faculty and Laboratory of Dentistry
New Three Lecture Halls
New Intra-Net Hub
New Senate Building
New Faculty of Social Sciences
New Four Student Hostels
New Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management
New Emerald Energy Center for Petroleum Economics, Policy and Strategic Studies.

The transformation of this campus is truly breathtaking.

We are proud of all this progress made possible by the most sophisticated university advancement program in Nigeria. The Capital Campaign, launched in 2007, has already raised more than $30million and is poised to exceed its $50 million goal.

I recall the critical moment when sights were set high for fundraising.  Egbert Imomoh, then Deputy Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), and I convened a productive meeting at Aristo House that created the Friends of University of Port Harcourt.  That group now includes SPDC,  Schlumberger, Moni Pulo, Chevron Nigeria, Elf Petroleum Nigeria Limited (now Total E &P Nigeria Limited), Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG)  and other leading private sector companies, as well private individuals like Dr. Ebitimi Banigo, Mr. Ferdinand Alabraba, and others who support the University generously today.  I am glad that MacArthur could do its part with four grants worth 5 million dollars to help with the campus fiber optic backbone, the new Senate building, automation of library records and fellowships abroad for 37 faculty to complete their Ph.D.’s and enhance their scholarship.

But it is not only in the area of physical infrastructure that I noticed significant changes.  The quality of academic programs has improved dramatically.  Consider the facts:

  • Faculty who have studied abroad have brought home ideas for improvement. I think of Dr. Ekele [A-kay-Kee] who following training at the University of Kwazula Natal, returned to the University’s Surgery Department to set up a new Endoscopy Unit for non-invasive plastic surgery. Another faculty member, Dr. Ilimalo of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology trained at the University of Cape Town and returned to establish the only In-vitro Fertilization unit in the Niger Delta.
  • All your academic programs in the 52 Departments are fully accredited by the National Universities Commission and the professional bodies.
  • Port Harcourt has consistently been ranked by the NUC as among the best universities in Nigeria, often in the top five and number one in 2003.
  • Your university is the second most sought after institution in Nigeria for admission by prospective students.
  • The University’s College of Health Sciences has been judged to be the top program by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
  • The University’s engineering program has placed second at the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ International Conference in Denver, Colorado.
  • Your Malaria Research Laboratory and the Regional Centre for Biotechnology have received support for new equipment from the World Bank as centers of excellence.
  • And with this recognition of enhanced quality, UNIPORT has been sought after for academic partnerships by institutions around the world and here at home.  Some examples: the IFP School in Paris, Doris Duke Institute for Medical Research, The Universities of Pretoria and of Cape Town and two others in South Africa, and in the U.S. with Pittsburg State, Jackson State, and Louisiana State universities.

And, at home:

The University of Maiduguri; The Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the University of Calabar and the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

UNIPORT is unique.  The story of Port Harcourt’s transformation is a model for all of Nigeria higher education.  And as higher education goes, so goes Nigeria.  I want to talk with you about the importance of higher education for Nigeria’s future.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development.  Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities?  The reverse is also true, as we know all too well:  authoritarian regimes and closed economies are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades.  It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day.

There are many building blocks but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education.  This seems to me undeniable.  For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over.  Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage.  A Nigeria that improves the quality of lives of its citizens can blaze a trail to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) worldwide. A democratic Nigeria that respects human rights at home can encourage, perhaps even compel, higher standards in Africa and beyond.  A Nigeria that fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

With these aspirations in mind, let us reflect on two basic connections.

The first is between higher education and national development.

The second is between higher education and democracy.

The statement of purpose on the University’s website provides the text for our reflection:

“The academic objectives of the University of Port Harcourt shall be to contribute to national development, self-reliance and unity through the advancement and propagation of knowledge and to use such knowledge for service to the community and humanity”.

There was a time a decade or so ago when experts argued that it was better strategy for developing countries to invest in primary and secondary rather than higher education.  Studies were done purporting to prove in dollars (and naira) that it made more sense to invest in early schooling, even if that meant neglecting colleges and universities.

Fortunately, this is one case where the views of experts have changed. Several years ago, an international Task Force on Higher Education pointed out what should have been obvious, which is that primary and secondary education are essential, but not sufficient, to empower people and nations to compete successfully in the global economy.

Now I certainly agree that as many young children as possible should be taught to read and write and make simple calculations.  Nothing matters more.  But we must be careful not to create a false choice between higher education and learning at lower levels.  We must strive for the right mix between the two.  Chronic problems of poverty, ill health, and illiteracy will not be solved without effective programs from first grade all the way through graduate school.

Let us be clear.  First-rate universities are not a luxury; they are a necessity.  It is essential to spend what it takes to establish and maintain them, because great nations grow from great universities, and Nigeria belongs among the great nations of the world.

But why is higher education so central to development and democracy?  Let me begin with the individual.

The numbers vary from country to country and from year to year but a university graduate ordinarily earns 50% to 100% more money on the average than a person who stops at secondary school.# Those with degrees are usually employed under better working conditions, helping them  enjoy better health, avoid disabling injuries, and live longer. They are also more able to reason, communicate, plan, organize their lives, and manage their finances.  Their self-esteem and confidence are higher than those of other people, their interests broader, and their ambitions greater.

And what is good for the individual is also good for society.

Studies show that a person with more education is likely to pay more in taxes and help increase the productivity of the overall work force.  University graduates also tend to have fewer children, with lower maternal and child mortality rates.  They are able to contribute more to society while needing less from government.  Their children are likely to perform better in school, which means those children are more likely to attend universities themselves and thereby multiply the benefits of a higher education down through the years.

Societies also gain from the research that universities help perform, enriching the economy for all by bringing technological advances to industry, communications, and agriculture. There are good examples here at UNIPORT. The Nigerian film industry, the third largest in the world, Nollywood, is incubated by your Department of Theatre Arts. Graduates of the Institute of Petroleum Studies are playing a strategic role in the oil industry. As foreseen by the Ashby Commission, UNIPORT is leading in meeting the human resource needs of the South-South.  Scholars in your Malaria Research Laboratory are poised to make significant contribution to malaria control in this country and Africa. Your intensive care unit has become a model for others.  The sandwich teacher training program of the Faculty of Education attracts students from across the country because of its quality and flexibility.  And these are just a few examples.

It should come as no surprise that studies show a direct and substantial link between improvements in higher education and a rise in national prosperity and health. Such research – whether in medicine or chemistry or engineering – is essential to helping Nigeria mine its most valuable resource: knowledge. That rare essence is not found in the ground, but in its people.  Rivers State should not only be the Treasure Base of the Nation because of oil but also the source of rich human capital educated and trained at UNIPORT.

I have been talking about how higher education is good for development. Just as important is the role a university can play in building and sustaining a democratic society.

A great university is characterized by the democratic values of fairness, transparency, and wide consultation.  It sets the standard by which all other institutions, public and private, should be judged.  It carries within itself the conscience of a society, keeping alive the vision of what a nation at its best can be.

A university also provides practical lessons.  When students are challenged by their instructors to analyze arguments, look for fallacies, and verify facts, they develop skills in critical thinking that are assets to all citizens in a free society.  So, too, when young people rouse their intellectual curiosity to pursue independent research inspired by their own interests and ideas.

Here at the University of Port Harcourt, students conduct campaigns and hold elections.  They serve on committees and develop proposals for change.  They learn how to build coalitions and count votes.  They interact with each other in ways that encourage civility, embrace complexity, and nurture the skill of knowing when to compromise for the greater good.  These are qualities that ignite democratic progress and that burn away the ignorance and self-absorption of bigoted ideologies.

There is, after all, nothing inherent or inevitable about democracy.  Democratic habits must be learned, which means they must be taught.  To understand how important this is, consider that bigotry, intolerance, and violence may also be learned and taught.  No one is born hating anyone else.  That is something we learn when the educational process is perverted and people are taught not how to think, but what to think — not to seek knowledge but to accept false myths and stereotypes as truth.

The finest universities attract talented students from around the world, from every region of a country, from every ethnic and religious group, providing a venue where differences can be understood and respected, where national identity can be forged through shared ideals not at the expense of the other.

As students become more accustomed to democratic ways, they begin to appreciate the truism that living in freedom is not only about the enjoyment of rights; it is also about the fulfillment of responsibilities.  Democracy appeals to our sense of justice because it dares to assert that legitimacy in government comes from the collective whole, not just the privileged few.  However, this thesis falls apart if citizens do not rise to the challenge by exhibiting restraint, tolerance and sound judgment, based on evidence not ideology – all qualities nurtured at universities like Port Harcourt. Graduates of this University will lead Nigeria’s citizens by the power of your ideals and the inspiration of your example. Indeed the decision by UNIPORT students to contribute to the Capital Campaign through a voluntary levy is a good example of shared governance and responsibility.  Your contribution has assisted in building the Faculty of Management Sciences and Clinical Sciences.

So it is no accident that universities are where the democratic leaders of today and tomorrow are developed.  UNIPORT graduates have been governors, ministers, judges and members of parliament.  Many are leading figures in the military.  And you have produced a Vice-President and an Acting President for Nigeria. I invite you to look around this hall at the students who are present among us today. Now imagine them in a few years, a little older, and perhaps even a bit wiser.  In their hands will be the new Nigeria, one either floundering about in a sea of troubles or, as I believe, confidently guided by their hands and sailing steadily towards a democratic shore.  And on that shore will be a fair and just society with opportunity for all.

As you can tell, I am optimistic about Nigeria and its future, your future.  Optimistic because I have seen with my own eyes, the progress made, not just at universities, but in other fields where MacArthur works, like women’s health and the rule of law. A pilot project in Kano has reduced maternal mortality by 44% and is being brought to other parts of the country by the Ministry of Health. In the human rights area, New Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedural Rules have made access to justice easier and more effective.

But, I am realist, as well as an optimist.  I know there is much more to do, in higher education, in health, in the rule of law, and in improving the standard of life for millions of Nigerians still living in poverty.

I also know that this has been a challenging time with uncertainty about leadership at the national level.  There could hardly be a more difficult test for a young democracy.  But Nigeria is meeting the test: the business of government continues, the economy is weathering a world-wide recession, civil society groups are flourishing — in short, “things have not fallen apart”.

The election next year will be a watershed moment for Nigeria’s young democracy.  It must be – and seen to be – a sharp improvement over the elections of 2007.  Passage of the Electoral Reform Bill now pending before the National Assembly is critical.  And those in leadership must bend every effort to improve the process and call to account those engaging in electoral fraud.

Clean elections are crucial for all democracies, even mature ones in Europe and America.  Nobody should expect perfection in the early years of a democracy.  It took the United States some time to develop a stable party system, abolish slavery, and allow women to vote and more.

But I think it is fair for Nigerians to demand a sharp improvement.  And a sense of progress will be essential to keeping the gap between rising expectations and reality manageable.  Long ago, Alexis de Tocqueville warned of the dangers of rising expectations.

Nigerians are understandably impatient with problems that persist, poverty, corruption, unreliable power supplies, for example.  But building a sustainable democracy depends on the right balance between impatience and patience.  Essential to keeping the balance is confidence that the leaders chosen at all levels really reflect the wishes of the voters.  The people of Nigeria must feel ownership of their government – and share the responsibility for building a fair and prosperous society.

I hope you will not think me presumptuous in making these observations.  I care deeply about Nigeria and its people and I respect the progress that has been made since the return to democracy.  But like many – perhaps most of you – I believe Nigeria is at an inflection point.  The future should be bright given the tremendous human potential in this country, in this hall.  But nothing in history is inevitable.  All of us who care about Nigeria must focus on enabling the bright scenario which, in turn, depends on credible elections next year.

Each of you graduating this year represents hope for Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world. I believe passionately in you.  In keeping with Professor Baridam’s vision of making UNIPORT the best in Africa, renowned for its teaching, research, innovation and knowledge-transfer, I believe in your commitment to create a UNIQUE institution that will earn and richly deserve a place of honor in the world.  This University, like all others around the world, needs the continued involvement and financial support of its alumni to reach that goal.

I believe, as well, in Nigeria.  Your country is stronger for the setbacks it has overcome, and wiser for the knowledge it has acquired through adversity.  Nigeria is poised to begin a new era of genuine democracy with a more fully developed sense of itself as one nation, united, independent and free.

It is said that, “all work that is worth doing, is done in faith”.  Today, at this ceremony of clear-sighted remembrance and high expectation, I have faith. I believe, with each of you, that the best years of this University lie ahead, that the best years of this country are just over the horizon. Together, we can each contribute to a future in which knowledge is translated into right actions, and right actions into the creation of a globe that is more just and free than it has ever been. I have faith that through education, research, and reasoned discourse we can create a humane world at peace.

Allow me to close with three brief sentences in admiration of your courage and energy:

For all you have done, I salute you.

For all you are doing and will do, I applaud you.

And for your kindness, patience, and attention here this afternoon, I thank you very much.


For ten years, I was President of the MacArthur Foundation, which is one of the largest private philanthropies in the United States.  MacArthur works in 60 countries around the world in conservation population and reproduction health, peace and security, human rights and international justice.  Nigeria ranks second in MacArthur’s giving outside the U.S. and is the country I visited most often in my time at MacArthur, indeed, this is my third visit in the last 15 months.  And, it is the country that I care most about.

Richard Lugar Introduction

On March 11, 2009 Jonathan Fanton and other members of the MacArthur Board met with former Senator Richard Lugar to discuss the new Obama administration and direction of the country more generally.

Introduction of Senator Richard Lugar
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
7:45 – 9:00 a.m.

The MacArthur Board is holding its March meeting in Washington to talk with members of the new Administration, many of whom have received grants from us in the past.  Yesterday we met at the State Department with Bill Burns and Ann Marie Slaughter.  On the domestic side, we met with Shaun Donovan and Peter Orszag; tomorrow we will speak with Arne Duncan.  At the White House we spoke with Valerie Jarrett

But we recognize that the new Administration must work closely with Congress to achieve all that it hopes to accomplish.  So we welcome the opportunity to talk off the record with you, knowing that you  share many of our passions.  Welcome back.

I will dispense with the formal introduction except to remind us of when we have worked together.

MacArthur has a long standing interest in reducing the dangers of weapons of mass destruction through its Peace and Security Program, which dates back to when Jerome Wiesner was on our Board.

We recognize your vision and leadership in establishing a set of programs at the end of the Cold War that continue to pay dividends for international peace and security.  Under the 1991 Nunn-Lugar Act, which launched the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the U.S. and Russia have deactivated 7,504 strategic nuclear warheads, eliminated 1375 intercontinental and submarine launched ballistic missiles, upgraded security at 24 nuclear weapons storage sites, and built and equipped 16 biological monitoring stations.  Perhaps most importantly, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus are nuclear weapons free as a result of cooperative efforts under the CTR program.

We are very proud to have supported experts such as Ash Carter and Graham Allison, who helped you and Senator Nunn conceive and shape this historic program.  We are also pleased to have fostered a new generation of outside government experts devoted to carrying the work forward, such as Matt Bunn.

You are an active supporter and long time participant in the Aspen Congressional Roundtable – a program that MacArthur and other foundations have supported to provide opportunities for members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to meet with scholars and other experts to explore international and domestic issues.

We mainly want to hear what you want to tell us.  Along the way, we hope you might comment on:
Will we be able to return to the tradition of a bipartisan foreign policy?
What the new President can accomplish in foreign policy.
How the Congress is working with the new Administration;
Your thoughts on the economy and future steps necessary to stimulate a recovery – and when that might come;
Insight into policy initiatives on issues of particular interest to us like housing, metropolitan regions, education, disarmament, human rights;

Senator Lugar will speak for 10 or 15 minutes and then we will open it up to a general discussion.

Ann Marie Slaughter and William J. Burns Introduction

On March 10, 2009 Jonathan Fanton and other members of the MacArthur Board met with William J. Burns, former Under Secretary for Political Affairs for the State Department, and Ann Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the State Department.

Introduction of Under Secretary Burns and Ann Marie Slaughter
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thank you for taking the time to meet with the MacArthur Board and senior staff.  Bill we are grateful to you for organizing this conversation and are appreciate the support you provided to MacArthur activities in Russia when you were Ambassador.

Ann Marie Slaughter is currently Director of Policy Planning.  She has worked extensively on democracy promotion as a key component of US foreign policy and just returned from the Middle East and Europe with Secretary Clinton.  She was previously dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, a MacArthur grantee.

I am going to say a few words about what brings us to Washington, and then pose a couple of questions that are on our minds.  Mainly we want to hear from trusted friends about how foreign policy is shaping up in the first weeks of the new administration and, of course, this session is completely off-the-record.

We are holding our March Board meeting in Washington so we can talk with senior members of the new Administration about issues of mutual concern.  We are obviously pleased that our friend and Chicago neighbor has become President, and proud that he has recruited so many people with MacArthur ties as Senior Advisors, to his Cabinet and in key positions throughout the executive branch.  On the domestic side, we will be talking with Valerie Jarrett, Shaun Donovan, and Arne Duncan.

MacArthur spends about 40% of its philanthropy on international issues:  conservation, human rights and international justice, population and reproductive health, and international peace and security.  We have four country offices – and another coming soon in China – and work in 60 countries.

But in the end, the amount we spend on these issues is modest and it takes government policy and action to really make a difference.

For the most part, the landscape in the U.S. is changing in ways that create a more favorable context for our work.  We need to understand those changes and then adapt to new opportunities – and perhaps new challenges as well.  We will spend our June Board meeting on that review, so our conversations today and tomorrow are part of the learning process.

I anticipate that there will be many opportunities to work together toward shared goals.

Some of the topics that I hope your colleagues will touch on today include your views on how to manage relations with key countries – China and India in Asia, Russia, as well as thorny hotspots such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.  In addition, given our longstanding work in disarmament, we would be interested in hearing about the future of arms control and non-proliferation efforts.  Finally, any comments on the role of human rights and its effect on foreign policy will be appreciated.

Bill, it’s a tall order and I leave it to you and your colleagues to start what I hope will be a first discussion with us and others in the Foundation on the defining foreign policy challenges ahead and how MacArthur can contribute to the nation’s foreign policy thinking.

John Hamre and Jessica Matthews Introduction

On March 10, 2009 Jonathan Fanton introduced John Hamre, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Jessica Matthews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to discuss the foreign policy challenges and priorities facing the then recently-elected President, Barack Obama

Jonathan F. Fanton

Introduction of John Hamre and Jessica Matthews

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I am pleased to welcome John Hamre, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Jessica Matthews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thank you for taking the time to meet with the MacArthur Board and senior staff.

We are holding our March Board meeting in Washington so we can talk with senior members of the new Administration about issues of mutual concern.  We are obviously pleased that our friend and Chicago neighbor has become President, and proud that he has recruited so many people with MacArthur ties as Senior Advisors, to his Cabinet and in key positions throughout the executive branch.

As you know, MacArthur supports a variety of initiatives, including research, policy analysis, demonstration projects, and capacity building on issues like affordable housing, education, peace and security, and conservation.  But, in the end, our financial contribution is modest, and it takes government policy and action to move good ideas to scale.  In the U.S. and in 60 countries around the world, we work with government agencies and follow government policies closely.

For the most part, the landscape in the U.S. is changing in ways that create a more favorable context for our work.  We need to understand those changes and then adapt to new opportunities – and perhaps new challenges as well.  We will spend our June Board meeting on that review, so our conversations today and tomorrow are part of the learning process.

On the domestic side, we will be meeting with Valerie Jarrett, Shaun Donovan, and Arne Duncan.  And Bill Burns has organized a conversation at the State Department with Anne Marie Slaughter, the new Director of Policy Planning.  Other senior officials may join, if confirmed and available.

Before embarking on those meetings, we thought it would be useful to get an overview from people we know, trust, and respect with whom we have been working.  Bruce Katz of Brookings and Len Burman of the Urban Institute Tax Policy Center gave us a good hour on domestic policy.

We have been pleased to support CSIS for international security policy studies, workshops in the areas of Russian security, biological threat reduction, and Asia-Pacific issues, among others.

And we have benefited from John’s long experience in government, during which he served as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense.  John maintains strong ties to the Department of Defense, serving as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory committee to Secretary Gates.  From 1993-1997, he served as under secretary of defense (comptroller), and for ten years he was a professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

MacArthur has benefited from a long relationship with Jessica, which goes back to the early days of the World Resources Institute.  Currently, we work with the Carnegie Endowment on international migration research, nonproliferation work, and in Russia.  where we enjoy a particularly close relationship with Carnegie’s Moscow office and support its journal, Pro et Contra.

So John and Jessica together touch on every aspect of our international program.

In the opening days of his administration, President Obama set a clear tone for some of the changes he intends for U.S. foreign policy—from closing Guantanamo to the appointment of the high level envoys George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke to manage relations with key countries. John and Jessica, we would like to hear what your thoughts on these steps and what you project to be the defining foreign policy challenges of the new administration.

In particular, we are interested in the future of disarmament talks, prospects for the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, your thoughts on peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery (such as in African or South Asian conflicts), and your thoughts on the roles India and China may play in international institutions and development — what opportunities do their evolving roles in foreign policy afford the new administration?

We would be interested in knowing what your greatest hopes and worries are for the new Administration and how your institutions will adapt to the new context.


Jonathan Fanton Appearance on “Open Mind”

In 2009, MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton discussed philanthropy and the work of the MacArthur Foundation on Richard Heffner’s Open Mind program, a weekly public television series that has featured hundreds of interesting and significant American personalities. For more information about the Open Mind, click here

Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, 12/1/2006

In this letter to The New York Times, Jonathan Fanton highlights recent political developments in Nigeria.

Published: December 1, 2006 by The New York Times

To the Editor:

Money and Violence Hobble Democracy in Nigeria” (front page, Nov. 24) rightly emphasizes the importance of the April 2007 election. But its negative conclusion that “a political culture of graft and intimidation … has led to widespread neglect and disillusionment” is a harsher judgment than facts on the ground warrant.

I visited Nigeria 10 days ago and came away with a more hopeful view. No doubt the coming election will tell us a lot about the future of Nigerian democracy. But it is not the whole story.

As we have seen elsewhere, an election does not secure democracy. Other markers like the growth of civil society and the rule of law are prerequisites.

Civil society and a free press flourish in Nigeria. Judicial reform is promising. A talented and committed younger generation is emerging in key leadership positions. Some of them are running for governor in important states, opening the possibility for reform at the state level.

It is useful to shine a spotlight on Nigeria, one of the most important transitions to democracy anywhere in the world. But it is not helpful to showcase only the negatives. There is another story to tell.

Jonathan F. Fanton
President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Chicago, Nov. 29, 2006

“Taking Human Rights Seriously”

On January 10, 2006 the Chicago Tribune published the article below, written by Jonathan Fanton, on revising the structure and leadership of the UN Commission on Human Rights.  

Taking human rights seriously

By Jonathan Fanton,
president of the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
and a former chairman of Human Rights Watch

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On its Web site, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights describes itself as “the world’s foremost human rights forum.”

Unfortunately, given its membership and structure, the commission has become little more than a punch line for late-night comics. Its current members include Sudan and Zimbabwe, nations with their own dubious human rights records. In 2003 Libya, widely recognized as one of the world’s most repressive governments, chaired the commission. The commission meets only once each year, failing to act on egregious rights abuses that occur between its meetings.

Politics, which should not be a consideration, have too often come to dominate the commission’s work. For example, Sudan helped to water down language and constrain discussion of the flagrant human rights violations occurring in Darfur.

The UN must play a leading role in setting international standards and offering a forum to air and address human rights grievances. When governments fail to protect their citizens or abide by their obligations, the international community has a responsibility to act–a responsibility to protect the vulnerable and to hold nations accountable. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed in September that human rights become the third pillar of UN activity, along with security and development. He recommended the current commission be replaced by a smaller council with new membership selection procedures to decrease the likelihood that human rights abusers would serve on the council.

Council membership must not be a tool for bad actors to avoid criticism or thwart international action. Members should be elected on an individual vote by a two-thirds majority. Regions should be required to nominate more candidates than there are slots, ensuring more competition in the voting. The council needs to meet more often to ensure public attention and international criticism is never far away for countries violating human rights.

We should be pleased the U.S. is backing such reforms. But we must not let slide this historic opportunity to reform the UN and strengthen its focus on human rights. American officials and other UN member states should be more forceful in advocating the importance of the Human Rights Council and should ratchet up their role in the negotiations, which resume Wednesday.