Jessica Tuchman Mathews ’67 has left quite the mark on American foreign policy. From the pages of the Washington Post, a seat on the National Security Council, and the helm of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, she has weighed in on topics ranging from non-governmental organizations to nuclear nonproliferation.
Mathews is one of 12 members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. All 12—plus three members of the Board of Overseers—comprise the search committee, which has been hunting for a person to succeed University President Drew G. Faust since she announced she would step down in June.
Mathews path to foreign policy was not a conventional one, academically or career-wise. As a child growing up in New York, she was interested in horseback riding, according to her sister, Lucy T. Eisenberg ’61. Their mother, Barbara Tuchman ’33, was a historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
At Radcliffe College, Mathews studied biochemical sciences, and went on to receive a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the California Institute of Technology in 1973. It was not until 1977 that she took on her first major role in foreign policy, as the director of the Office of Global Issues at the National Security Council under then-President Jimmy Carter.
In the foreign policy world, Mathews is known for her forward-thinking approach. In a 1988 interview with Bill Moyers, she argued that climate change would become an international relations issue. And after her article on the influence of non-governmental organizations, “Power Shift,” was published in Foreign Affairs in 1997, the magazine named it one of the most influential articles in its 75-year history.
Friends and associates say Mathews stands out for her cross-disciplinary interests.
“She's unusual in that she has a strong knowledge in science as well as of foreign policy and politics, so she has a broad range,” Nicholas D. Kristof ’82, a former Crimson Editor and former Overseer, said.
“She’s so passionate about so many things,” Eisenberg said.
Mathews’s wide array of interests and expertise drew the attention of Harvard’s presidential search committee in 2006: Her name was on a list of 30 candidates that search committee presented to the Board of Overseers two months before Faust’s selection.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner about Carnegie in 2008, Mathews said she cared deeply about hiring researchers with hands-on, practical experience. It is a credo that may also inform her approach to the presidential search.
“They have to also be able to open the door and come out and get the results into people’s heads and hands, and to do that work is equally important,” she said.
Mathews has also made clear her views on the necessity of guiding Harvard into an increasingly globalized world.
In 2012, when Mathews was named as a fellow to the Corporation, she said in a statement to the Harvard Gazette—a publication run by Harvard Public Affairs and Communications—that she would bring her international experience to University governance.
“The world of education is globalizing, with consequences as profound as those for government and business. Having spent more than a decade building a global think tank, I look forward to helping think through this great University’s international role,” she said.