SMU Tower Center Diplomat-in-Residence Robert W. Jordan is a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and currently an adjunct professor of political science in the John G. Tower for Public Policy and International Affairs. He served as U.S. Ambassador from 2001-2003 and took charge of his mission in the wake of the attacks of September 11 at a critical time in the U.S.-Saudi relations.
We sat down with Ambassador Jordan to learn more about his time at the Center and the wisdom experience he hopes to pass onto students.
In 2003, Jim Hollifield recruited me when I returned to Dallas after serving in Saudi Arabia, and asked me to be on the Board of the SMU Tower Center. Shortly after, we discussed having me teach a class on current events in Middle East politics that would go on to be called Government and Politics of the Middle East. It is a discussion class with limited enrollment, and as you can imagine, no shortage of material to discuss.
A year after serving on the Board, I was asked to be the Diplomat-in-Residence. This position has allowed for me to be a resource on the Middle East within the Tower Center and for SMU, and to participate in seminars and events, interview guest speakers who come to campus, and guest lecture for faculty in their classes.
What from your experience are you able to pass on to students?
I believe always being curious is one of the most important skills you can have as well as always being willing to ask why. Why did something like this happen? For most of my career I was a lawyer. My skills as a litigator gave me the experience to assimilate large amounts of information very quickly and then digest, organize and communicate that information with my host country and with my own government, and be an advocate for the positions of the United States.
I also stress the importance of building good relationships, which was a vitally important as Ambassador. Malcolm Gladwell has a book called Outliers where he points out that many become successful in part because of the people in our networks, and those who were able to give us a hand up and mentor us along the way. I had the good fortune to take on a securities case for a client named George W. Bush, and after we succeeded in the case, we continued to be good friends as he became Governor and then President. I had great mentors throughout my legal career and had always benefited from the kindness and advice of the people I’ve been exposed to.
What are some of the highlights from your time as Diplomat-in-Residence?
I’ve enjoyed helping to bring expertise in diplomacy, foreign policy and national security into the classroom. An extraordinary opportunity for SMU students is having important figures in diplomacy to come to campus to promote diversity of thought and bipartisan views for students. I would also say that the Tower Center also has been successful in attracting non-student members of the community to our events. This is a great outreach to be part of an academic community that reaches out to the population in our surrounding area.
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