'I'm So Committed to This. I Lead a Multifaith Life.'

Bruce Glikas, FilmMagic

Chelsea Clinton
February 26, 2012

Chelsea Clinton, the only child of former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, grabbed headlines recently when NBC News hired her as a special correspondent to report on the charitable work of everyday Americans. More quietly, Ms. Clinton also serves as an assistant vice provost for the Global Network University at New York University.

She took the job in 2010, after working in the financial-services sector and earning a master's degree in public health at Columbia University.

Among other tasks at NYU, she has helped to craft a strategy to recruit the best students and faculty members from around the world. She is also developing an interfaith project to bring together Jewish and Muslim students.

Along with holding her two part-time jobs, Ms. Clinton is pursuing a Ph.D. in international relations at the University of Oxford (she does her scholarly work remotely). Her focus there is on how large international organizations, like the World Health Organization and the World Bank, respond to public-health problems.

Here is an edited version of her conversation with The Chronicle.

Q. What led to your getting a job at NYU?

A. I met John Sexton [the university's president] and found him incredibly inspiring and then met some of his team. I knew that I wanted to be part of translating their shared vision of NYU into reality. I also wanted to understand how academia works and specifically how NYU works and moves in the world and how it's helping to shape the future.

Q. Given all that you're involved in, how do you find the time to be an assistant vice provost?

A. Mainly I work really hard. I really believe in the work I'm doing, and so I work seven days a week.  

 Q. Are there lessons you've learned from politics that you're applying to this job?

A. Part of being a good person is being a good citizen. I believe that so strongly because of the life that I've led and the choices my parents have made in their lives. And I think that politics is ultimately about the art of possibility in practice, at least at its highest and best form. And that's what a university is as well.

Q. Have you been to NYU Abu Dhabi, the university's campus in the United Arab Emirates?

A. I have, several times. It is an amazing place and a real testament to the global vision of NYU. It's moving out into the world, beyond the traditional study-away sites in Europe that NYU has.

Q. But does a university risk compromising its values by operating in and taking money from places like Abu Dhabi or China that are authoritarian and limit freedom of speech?

A. I'm not speaking for NYU here, but for me personally—and perhaps this is an example of politics influencing my approach generally in the world. I wasn't alive when Nixon went to China, but if I had been, I would've supported him going. It's certainly better to engage than not.

Q. What motivated your effort to bring together Jewish and Muslim students on the campus?

A. I'm Christian and my husband's Jewish, which is the reason I'm so committed to this. I lead a multifaith life.

Q. Do you see a future career in higher education?

A. I am happy with the path I'm on at the moment, of combining work in higher education and more purposely public work at NBC or with the Clinton Foundation. Ideally this is where I will be for the years ahead.

Q. Once you've earned your Ph.D., could you see yourself teaching at a university?

A. I would love to teach.

Q. I'm sure it would be one of the more popular classes.

A. Hopefully for all the right reasons.