Vision, flexibility needed, suggests visiting Yale head

Over the past 15 years that Richard Levin has been the president of Yale University, he has achieved plenty. Levin is the longest-running president of the most prominent US educational institution. The 60-year-old economics expert was recently in Greece as a guest of the «Great Ideas» program that celebrates the 60-year anniversary of the Fulbright Foundation in Greece. Levin has done a lot to strengthen international collaborations. He founded the Globalization Research Center at Yale as well as a special program for the emergence and further education of young individuals around the world with leadership qualities. He also implemented measures for promoting business activity in New Jersey, where the university was founded in 1640, and has created an eco-friendly university campus. Most importantly, however, US President George W. Bush appointed Levin as a member of a committee formed to investigate the reasons behind the US secret service’s failure in Iraq. Levin spoke to Greek journalists about all these issues on a recent visit. Inevitably, the discussion began with the subject of the ongoing public debate here about the establishment of private sector universities in Greece. «I know that at this point in time a discussion about private universities, and to what extent they should be allowed to operate, is going on. It’s not my business to adopt a position on the issue. Greeks should decide for themselves about their educational future,» said Levin. «But, based on the American experience, I can tell you that it is good thing that we have a coexistence of private and public educational institutions,» he continued. According to Levin, the only way to guarantee the quality of education services at public and private universities is by implementing both external and internal assessment procedures, a process that has not been fully developed in Greece. He said that major universities envision the future and adapt to the times. «Internationalization is necessary at educational institutions. Changes which reflect changes taking place in the world need to be made to their educational programs,» asserted Levin. «Collaboration [between universities] in scientific research should be encouraged and, in the end, we should project ourselves to new audiences because of new technologies. Students these days have a much greater feeling of what’s going on around the planet.» Levin said he is a believer in cultural and educational diplomacy. «Not long ago, I did an interview for The Financial Times which appeared on their first page. I supported the view that the USA is isolated from the rest of the world, focused on work, and losing contact with ways of life in the rest of the world,» said Levin. «But, today, our ability to be able to understand people from other parts of the world is as important as the ability to read and write,» he added. Four of the past six US presidents studied at Yale University, including President George W. Bush. «Whatever your opinions may be about his political choices, he is a warm and sympathetic person with a sense of humor,» said Levin, while continuing about his role on the Iraq panel. «We concentrated on the secret service’s unsuccessful collection and assessment of information from Iraq before the war. Our conclusion was that they often exaggerated Iraq’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction. A minority of opinions, even if they were from people who were well informed about the subject, were underestimated. I think that a psychological factor also played a role. In 1991, the USA disclosed that Iraq had a greater ability to construct weapons of mass destruction than what we had originally estimated. So, when we got involved a second time, hyperbole prevailed.» The Great Ideas program is being conducted with the support of the Niarchos Foundation and the US Embassy in Athens.