September 22, 2008
Yale’s Partnership With the Tony Blair Faith Foundation
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut – Former prime minister Tony Blair, describing himself a terrible student, has gone back to school — as a lecturer in religion at top US university Yale.
Blair, who converted to Catholicism after leaving office in 2007 and talked increasingly openly of his Christian faith while prime minister, on Friday delivered his inaugural lecture at the prestigious college in the state of Connecticut.
An enthusiastic audience of more than 2,000 students later thronged ornate Woolsey Hall to hear a talk by Blair, who stepped down after a decade in power, under fire for his support for the US-led war in Iraq.
The part-time job — he will deliver five lectures a year for three years to 25 students — comes on top of work as a Middle East peace envoy and lucrative business consultancies.
But the focus on faith and globalisation as Yale’s Howland Distinguished Fellow dovetails with the former Labour Party leader’s long interest in religion and the work of his Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Blair, who wore a blue suit and came with a Scotland Yard security detail, is already familiar with Yale’s picturesque campus in the quiet town of New Haven — his elder son Euan graduated from there this year.
He described his students at their first lecture as “really clever”.
The ex-premier, who jokingly recalled his own teachers thinking of him as “a complete pain the backside” and a being habitual absentee at lectures, is unlikely to join in the carousing for which US college life is famous.
Blair will deliver two-hour lectures but will not conduct seminars, meaning he will spend only brief spells on campus, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.
However, he will spend a few nights at the university where his former close ally US President George W. Bush, once studied.
“He slept here last night, but he is leaving later this evening,” Klasky said.
Yale is donating 200,000 dollars (109,000 pounds) to his foundation, in addition to paying a “nominal fee,” Klasky said.
Unlike Americans, Britons discourage public displays of faith by politicians.