Honoring Clinton more about presence on campus than award itself

By the conclusion of Bill Clinton’s second term in office, two-thirds of the United States owned a home, crime was at a 26-year nadir and 22.5 million jobs had been created, cementing a legacy of successful domestic policy.

However, foreign policy was neither his primary interest nor his strong suit during his eight-year stay at the White House. One could certainly argue that the expansion of NATO, his inability to successfully address the problem of al-Qaeda, and the hyper-outsourcing of labor as of a result of the Clinton-penned NAFTA played a role in the assembly of human rights abuses and tense foreign relations which still persist today.

Nevertheless, by citing how Clinton “changed the global conversation on human rights both during his presidency and afterward through his work with the Clinton Foundation,” UConn will be awarding him, along with humanitarian organization Tostan, the biennial Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights.

It is somewhat fitting to involve Clinton in the ceremony, considering his speaking at the Dodd Research Center’s inauguration in 1995. Furthermore, it might be too cynical to dismiss the contributions of the post-presidency Clinton Global Initiative – a conglomerate of humanitarian organizations that Tostan happens to be involved with. But one cannot help but think his involvement in the award is another way for UConn to solicit a member of the Clinton family and draw attention to itself.

This is not the first time the Dodd Prize has juxtaposed an eminent leader with a more deserving recipient. In 2003, the award was given to then-Prime Minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, and then-UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair for their involvement in negotiations leading to the Belfast Agreement, which mostly curtailed the extreme violence of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. 

That said, Blair does not quite fit the mold holistically for a human rights award winner: serving as the peace envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East for almost a decade, he was essentially forced to resign over “over his poor relations with senior Palestinian Authority figures and [his] sprawling business interests.”

Moreover, he now heads a diplomatic consulting firm that does things like give advice to the dictatorial government of Kazakhstan on how to best react to a 2011 massacre on unarmed protestors.

Considering people of this ilk as recipients for the Dodd Prize facilitates the conclusion that UConn is more interested in the prestige of having popular leaders at their ceremonies than the actions and merit of the leaders themselves.

UConn should acknowledge that what less-famous, yet well-deserving winners do are just as worthy of the ceremony’s time, and should not feel the need to bolster it with public figures who undermine the prize’s origins.