• Fall 2020
FALL 20/WINTER 21 précis: Briefings
Collage of images depicting stories featured
January 19, 2021

Seminar XXI finds opportunity in virtual programming
The sound of a global MIT
Democracy in distress?
MISTI pilots conversations in energy
Chappell Lawson on US security policy

Donald Blackmer, professor emeritus and longtime leader at MIT, dies at 91


Seminar XXI finds opportunity in virtual programming

Seminar XXI Program

Seminar XXI is an educational program run by MIT’s Center for International Studies (CIS). Its principle objective is to provide future leaders of the national security and foreign policy communities with the perspectives and analytical skills required to evaluate and formulate effective policy options for the United States. The 2020-21 Class has 85 fellows from the military services, other governmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.

Like other programs, Seminar XXI moved from physical to virtual sessions during the academic year 2020-21.  Seminar XXI director Kenneth Oye, associate director Tisha Gomes Voss, program assistant Jennifer Kempe and graduate research assistant Rachel Tecott modified the program curriculum and format to fit more comfortably within the requirements of online learning. 

“While sorely missing the sustained face-to-face interaction that is a trademark of the program, faculty and fellows have adapted reasonably well.  In many respects, the quality of questions and comments from Seminar XXI fellows and their interactions with faculty have been at or above the level in conventional years,” said Oye, who holds a double appointment at MIT as professor of political science (School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences) and Data Systems and Society (School of Engineering),and is director of the CIS Program on Emerging Technologies (PoET).

The program leadership saw opportunity in the challenges. In addition to translating Seminar XXI’s conventional topics of international security affairs to fit virtual formats, they added new sessions, including:    

A session on pandemic security featured Gigi Gronvall of Johns Hopkins University with a brief history of pandemics and economic, political and military consequences, Nancy Connell, also of Johns Hopkins, on COVID-19 and the development of tests, treatments, and vaccines; and Murray Lumpkin of the Gates Foundation, formerly FDA, with an evaluation of national policies and collective international and transnational responses.   

A session on climate change and security featured John Deutch of MIT on climate change and national security, David Keith of Harvard on risks, benefits and uncertainty associated with technical responses including solar radiative management, and Maria Zuber of MIT on fights over scientific and technical knowledge and the role of research.    

A session on cybersecurity and biosecurity featured R David Edelman of MIT CSAIL and CIS on conflict and restraint in cybersecurity and Edward You of the FBI and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on biosecurity, with consideration of malevolent misapplications of rapidly evolving technologies and of international rivalry over cybertech and biotech industrial base.

These new sessions supplemented the program's already robust itinerary of topics and speakers that includes a series of meetings thorughout the academic year.

For a complete list of this year’s participating faculty and speakers, please visit the web page:  

The sound of a global MIT

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI)  

Every year MISTI generates thousands of stories. 

Students pack their bags and board planes heading anywhere from Beijing to Bogota. Their experiences are often life-changing; they engage in experiential learning opportunities with the world’s leading companies, organizations, and research groups. For MIT-Africa Program Managing Director Ari Jacobovits, capturing the voices behind these stories was critical. The answer was a relatively low-tech solution in the basement of Building 50.     

Originally a radio show hosted by Jacobovits on 88.1FM WMBR, MISTI Radio focused on student interviews, international music, intriguing facts, and curious anomalies about our world. While Covid-19 took WMBR out of the studio, its shows were able to record asynchronously and stream online in addition to airing on 88.1 FM. Jacobovits took advantage of this pivot to turn MISTI Radio into a podcast and fellow MISTI staff joined this new initiative as collaborators. 

“The show began as somewhat of a passion project, but when the pandemic hit, my colleagues at MISTI and I recognized that the show is a great platform to stay connected to students and partners around the world,” Jacobovits says. “We now have a team of contributors and editors that have greatly elevated the show’s quality and reach.” 

Since most of the podcast team were first-time producers, they consulted with Ari W Epstein, associate director of and lecturer at Terrascope. Epstein teaches a class in the Terrascope first-year learning community in which students learn to produce radio stories on topics related to their MIT studies. Epstein shared resources and best practices for transforming MISTI Radio into a series of compelling audio stories for a wider audience.

"It's been great having the chance to work with MISTI staff as this project comes into being," says Epstein. "There are so many great possible MISTI stories out there, and the staff has been very enthusiastic about exploring creative ways to bring those stories to life for listeners."

Through this new podcast format, MISTI Radio focuses on current international affairs and showcasing the international work of the MIT community. It has expanded its programming to present interviews with MISTI alumni and partners, as well as excerpts from digital events with MISTI’s country programs. 

“MISTI is a treasure trove of international connections,” Jacobovits says. On a regular basis - and even during Covid - we are interacting with literally hundreds of partners across dozens of countries.” The podcast team discovered that these connections were the seeds of great radio programming.

“While one colleague may be in a meeting with the Welsh ministry of education to discuss a STEM education program, another colleague may be in a meeting with a university research lab in Peru using drones to map Machu Picchu,” Jacobovits says. “The goal of the show is to capture these connections in a user-friendly format, make them accessible to students, and share our approach to international studies with the MIT community at large."

MISTI Radio is now hosted by MISTI communications assistant Sinai Sampson-Hill. Jacobovits is still involved as a producer and content creator along with colleagues Nureen Das, program manager for MIT-India, and Rosabelli Coehlo-Keyssar and Marco de Paula, the program manager and program assistant respectively for MIT-Brazil, along with many others. 

In the episode titled, “What Makes a Country Trust their Government?”, MISTI Radio covered a Starr Forum from the Center for International Studies. MIT faculty Suzanne Berger (Institute Professor), and Yasheng Huang, (Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management), explained how cultural differences in France and East Asia correlated with country-specific responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. In another episode, MIT-France’s program assistant Brigid McMahon interviewed Kevi Donat, a French tour guide who shares the often-overlooked Black history of Paris.

Students have also submitted their own pieces. Rahul Ramakirshnan ‘20 produced a segment based on his experiences interning in India through MISTI, going in-depth on how Indian-Americans at MIT experience the country as professionals, often traveling to India for the first time without their immediate families. In conversation with Pooja Reddy ‘20 and Pramoda Karnati ’20 (both traveled to India with MISTI), the students reflected on questions of identity and heritage and how their experiences in India enhanced their personal and professional aspirations.

“Student-created pieces have been excellent and are reminiscent of stories told on award-winning public radio programs,” Das says. “Ari Epstein’s training and Terrascope have been instrumental helping contributors find their voice as storytellers.

The scope of content continues to grow for the MISTI Radio podcast. “For the time being, we will continue to publish new episodes as we work from home. We have been engaging with an increasing number of various collaborators, both within the Institute and abroad, since we started this project,” says Sampson-Hill. “The team is looking forward to sharing even more stories in 2021.”

Episodes are aired bi-weekly on Thursdays at 7pm on WMBR. They are also archived and available to stream on various podcast platforms. 

Democracy in distress?

Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office | First publisher here

When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, it seemed democracy had triumphed among political systems. But more recently, many democracies have run into a common set of troubles, with authoritarian leaders grasping enough power to create illiberal regimes.

Understanding how this happens was the focus of MIT’s October 23 Starr Forum, an online event hosted by the Center for International Studies (CIS) in which a series of experts evaluated the condition of democracy around the globe.

“Democracies do not die the way they used to die,” said Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard University, during the virtual event. “Democracies used to die at the hands of men with guns. During the Cold War, three out of every four democratic breakdowns took the form of a classic military coup. … Today democracies die in a much more subtle way. They die at the hands not of generals, but of elected leaders, presidents, prime ministers who use the very institutions of democracy to subvert it.”

Indeed, while in the US democratic difficulties are often expected to create a “constitutional crisis,” this can be an “amorphous term” that fails to address the longer-term political dynamics, noted Susan Hennessey, the executive editor of the Lawfare blog, general counsel of the Lawfare Institute, and a Brookings Fellow in national security law.

“In the United States we often think about it as a discrete precipitating event in which the constitutional order is imperiled and then the constitutional order is restored,” Hennessey said. “The more useful analogy of this moment is constitutional rot. We are unlikely at this point to be faced with a single event that shatters the system. Instead what we’re seeing is a slow erosion over time.”

The Starr Forum is a long-running series of events on global affairs and foreign policy. The discussion was moderated by Richard Samuels, the Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT and director of CIS.

Friday’s panelists were Levitsky; Hennessey, who is also co-author (with Benjamin Wittes) of the book “Unmaking the Presidency” (2020); Neeti Nair, an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, who is the author of “Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India” (2011); and Daniel Ziblatt, also a professor of government at Harvard University and co-author, with Levitsky, of the book “How Democracies Die” (2018).

In his introductory remarks, Samuels noted that “elected leaders routinely have subverted democratic institutions and allowed democracies to slide into authoritarianism. … It behooves us to understand why. And it behooves us to understand how.”

Levitsky suggested that “slide” typically has three stages. First an “elected autocrat” will start “capturing the referees,” that is, changing personnel in law enforcement, courts, intelligence agencies, tax agencies, and more. Then, with loyalists wielding government powers, autocrats sideline opposition figures. Finally, autocrats “change the playing field” of electoral politics, through new rules about gerrymandering, campaign finance, and media access, among other things.

In those polities, what emerges is “competitive authoritarianism,” Levitsky said, where “the playing field is pretty heavily skewed against the opposition.” Looking around the globe, he added, “Hungary is a clear case. Venezuela, maybe Poland, maybe India, hopefully not the United States.” In his view, this outcome usually happens either when populists achieve significant electoral majorities without feeling beholden to democracy — such as current and past regimes in Peru, Venezuela, Turkey, and Ecuador — or when political factions convince themselves they must limit democracy to retain power.

In the latter case, in the US South following Reconstruction, Levitsky noted, states added a wide range of voting restrictions aimed at African-Americans, including poll taxes, literacy taxes, and property requirements; Black turnout in the region fell from 61 percent in 1880 to 2 percent in 1912.

Still, every situation is different, noted Ziblatt, who focused his remarks on the fall of Weimar Germany. While an “extreme case,” he observed, Germany “looms so large over all of our discussions of democracy” and its safeguards.

“The Weimar experience exposed a deep vulnerability of democracy,” Ziblatt said, namely, “that voters can elect an autocrat to power. Democracy can die at the ballot box.” However, he added, elites can be culpable as well: The Nazi party never had support of more than about 30 percent of voters, but German conservatives made a fateful error by forming a coalition with Hitler, in an attempt to marginalize him.

“When authoritarians come to power, they come into office not on their own, but with the enabling aid of political allies from inside the political establishment,” Ziblatt said. “This is a central lesson of the Weimar breakdown. It was an elite miscalculation.” The same applies to Italy in the 1920s, he noted, where Mussolini supposedly grabbed power through his “March on Rome,” but actually a negotiated agreement with King Victor Emmanuel III gave Italy’s fascists seats in parliament.

“I don’t want to minimize the power of fascist and authoritarian social movements,” Ziblatt said. “They were real, they are real today. My point is simply that when extremists first arrive on the scene and appear to threaten democracy, they should be taken seriously, and marginalized … mainstream politicians must do everything possible to form coalitions, even sometimes very uncomfortable coalitions with parties they may disagree with or dislike, but who accept the basic democratic rules of the game, in order to keep extremists out.”

To be sure, sometimes well-established figures gain power and institute substantial changes too — as Nair noted in her remarks about India and prime minister Narendra Modi, who has oriented recent policy around a Hindu nationalist vision.

In this case, Nair said, the prime minister “does not fall into the prototype of the outsider, who was allowed in to lead the political party by gatekeepers of establishment politicians who should have known better.” Nair added that India now has “spaces where the rule of law has been a cover for extreme lawlessness,” but she concluded on a more sanguine note, looking toward the possible 2023 elections as a moment when the country’s politics might shift again.

“I hold that India, because of its many regional political parties that can and have come together in the past, its enormously diverse and strong civil society, most recently in evidence during protests against the citizenship act of 2019, [and] its independent media … and some of its still independent judiciary, can withstand this latest grave crisis to democracy,” Nair said.

Looking at the US, Hennessey emphasized the remarkably broad powers the country’s founders had given the presidency, many of which sustain themselves through norms, such as the tradition of largely depoliticized presidential appointments to key law-enforcement positions, and congressional approval of many presidential appointees.

There has been, Hennessey noted, “a really alarming erosion” of these practices recently. As a result, she added, “the institutions still exist, the processes still exist, we still observe the technicalities of the constitutional system, but they’re hollowed out and they’re stripped not just of their legitimacy, but they no longer fulfill their intended constitutional purpose.”

Next week’s general election, Hennessey observed, will therefore matter in terms of the way the executive branch functions, the relationship between the branches of government, and the robustness of the US system as generally practiced in recent decades.

“The election is a pretty blunt instrument,” Hennessey said. “It’s a moment in which we either ratify or reject this sort of vision of the presidency.”

Understanding the significance of elections for the trajectory of democracy itself, in this view, is an important part of active citizenship, given that many of today’s consequential changes in governance around the globe come not from having tanks in the streets, but from leveraging results at the ballot box.

“It happens behind a pretty credible façade of democracy,” Levitsky said. “Many citizens aren’t fully aware of what is happening often until it is too late.”  

MISTI pilots conversations in energy

Christina Davies | MISTI | First published here

While fall typically sees MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) programs gearing up to facilitate international summer internship and research experiences for MIT students, this year’s changing global circumstances presented challenges to making in-country internships happen — but they also offered new opportunities for students to engage with organizations and leaders overseas.

Combining MISTI’s network of hosts, students’ interests in energy, the broader energy community at MIT, and the ease of connecting internationally via remote platforms, the inaugural run of MISTI Career Conversations: Energy was born.

MISTI operates in over 25 different countries, offering a number of programming options to the MIT community, including internships and research, faculty research, and teaching programs. Many of these provide the opportunity to collaborate with industry or research institutions on energy topics.

“Our aim was to give our students the same opportunities to build their networks and share ideas with industry leaders through a virtual platform, as they would have during a MISTI internship,” says April Julich Perez, MISTI’s executive director. “While the Covid-19 pandemic has put a damper on international travel, programs such as MISTI Career Conversations have made it possible to bring our students and global partners together in exciting new ways.”

The initial series of conversations focused on Denmark and India, two countries making critical strides in the movement toward green energy, but with their own methods and targets. Future series will expand to other topics and regions.

As an emerging economy with a rapidly growing population, India has set a target of 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022. The current areas of focus are wind and solar energy, with a strong emphasis on building out the transmission infrastructure. Indian organizations represented in this series included: Sterlite PowerShell Research Technology CenterTata Power; and ReNew Power.

While it faces different challenges than India, Denmark has set ambitious goals for itself to offset the progression of climate change. By 2050, Denmark aims to be fossil fuel-free, and already around half of Denmark’s energy needs are being met by renewable energy, most of that from wind power. Three companies represented Denmark during the first MISTI Career Conversations: Energy series: Ramboll, the international engineering consultancy with a focus on the green transition; Ørsted, a global leader in wind power and the largest energy company in Denmark; and GreenLab, a green industrial park and power-to-x facility.

Each company shared their unique and innovative approaches to the energy sector and the transition to renewable energy, both within the context of their country and the world. This allowed participants to ask questions related to their academic interests and future career goals.

“As an alum, it was rewarding to connect with current students and reconnect with the latest updates from campus,” says Manya Rajan SM '10, chief asset officer at Sterlite Power. “I felt very comforted by the fact that the energy ecosystem is as thriving and dynamic as it can be in context of today's situation. I look forward to staying in touch with the students through MISTI's various platforms and learning about the amazing work they are doing, and will do.”

A cohort of dedicated students, comprised of undergrad and graduate students from a variety of disciplines, was formed. All shared an interest in energy and the desire to network with professionals while discussing real-world issues.

“I was very keen on learning about the different energy solutions being deployed in different parts of the world, and the type of expertise, thinking, and experience it takes to make an impact in the field,” says Awele Uwagwu, a senior pursuing a BS in chemical engineering and minor in energy studies. “Throughout the series, I did get this insight. It was clear to see that a country like India has significantly different challenges than a country like Denmark. I also learned about the different types of energy solutions deployed based on context, and I’m getting a better picture of where I want to fit into this.”

Titan Hartono, a PhD student in mechanical engineering, reflected on being able to connect her research on photovoltaics to the “bigger picture” of energy challenges we are facing globally. “Working in a lab and conducting experiments created this sense of disconnection with what is actually going on in the electricity power market,” she explains. “Getting connected with different companies in India and Denmark was exactly the opportunity I was looking for.”

“I've always loved engaging with fellow MIT students about topics of energy and sustainability as a materials science major and energy studies Minor, and I'm very glad I was able to do so as part of the MISTI Career Conversations series,” says Anthony Cheng '20, who interned with GreenLab through MIT-Denmark and later joined their team in Skive, Denmark. “Through MISTI's excellent connections and support, I've been working at the Danish green industrial park startup GreenLab for the past few months, and it was exciting to be able to help share GreenLab's vision for making an impact on industrial energy transitions and development.”

Anurit Kanti, deputy manager sustainability at ReNew Power, notes the value of industry-academia collaboration: "Engaging with MIT students from diverse backgrounds on various aspects of the energy transition, including digitization of the energy sector, was extremely fruitful. The discussion with the students was stimulating and it makes us hopeful for top talent to be involved in this sector, which in turn will catalyze the energy transition.

Providing students an opportunity to connect their focus of study to real-life approaches in the energy sector and the energy transition conversation embodies the MIT spirit of “mens et manus,” (“mind and hand”). Antje Danielson, director of education at MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), notes, “It is important for the outlook of our students to showcase companies that have clear strategies to achieve set climate goals. Our students want to know that they will have opportunities to contribute to a meaningful, visionary effort like the energy transition once they graduate.”

Moving forward, MISTI and MITEI will continue to provide students with an opportunity to engage with leaders in the energy sector through robust programming and field trips that capitalize on the pressing issues both in the United States and around the world.

3 Questions: Chappell Lawson on US security policy

Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office | First published here

The year 2020 has featured an array of safety and security concerns for ordinary Americans, including disease and natural disasters. How can the US government best protect its citizens? That is the focus of a new scholarly book with practical aims, “Beyond 9/11: Homeland Security for the Twenty-First Century,” published by the MIT Press. The volume features chapters written by 19 security experts, and closely examines the role of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was created after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The book is co-edited by Chappell Lawson, an associate professor of political science at MIT, who has served at DHS as executive director of policy and planning, and senior advisor to the commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. His two co-editors are Juliette Kayyem, faculty director of the Homeland Security Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, who was previously an assistant secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at DHS; and Alan Bersin, Inaugural Fellow at the Belfer Center’s Homeland Security project, who was previously Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and later head of policy at DHS. MIT News talked with Lawson about the book.

Q: If homeland security is moving “beyond 9/11,” as the book puts it, what does that entail?

A: It’s hard to imagine a functioning government without homeland security, which means protecting the country from nonmilitary threats: responding to global pandemics, managing borders, counterespionage, and protecting critical infrastructure from cyber attacks. It’s also hard to imagine these things being done without the federal government. The aspiration is to do them more efficiently and coherently.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks crystallized a particular notion of homeland security. But that focus on counterterrorism obscured almost everything else. Hurricane Katrina was a course correction, highlighting the fact that many other threats deserved attention. More recently the issue of cyber threats against critical infrastructure, including election infrastructure, raises a whole new set of challenges, and Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of preventing and addressing deadly pandemics. All of those are homeland security issues, and the effort the government puts into them has to be proportional and balanced.

Q: Okay, speaking of balance, what’s the right balance of power between the federal government and states? The book explores this, and we can grasp — for instance — that there are clear benefits to distributing election oversight among states, counties, and even towns. But it might be harder for those smaller administrative entities to accumulate the cybersecurity knowledge they need to protect elections.

A: It’s a mess. When it comes to immigration, it’s clear the federal government has the leading role. But there are places where the roles themselves are not clear, including management of pandemics and cybersecurity. So, nobody’s solved the issue of homeland security in a federal structure. For instance, the Constitution allocates responsibility for election administration to the states, and the states then decentralize further. Yet it’s very clear that a breakdown in one or two particular counties in swing states could disrupt the entire system. If a determined adversary were trying to accomplish this goal, with relatively modest and focused effort they could call into question the legitimacy of the entire system. And that makes it a homeland security issue. We haven’t sorted that out yet.

We wrote this book imagining how to improve the homeland security enterprise. The analogy is Berlin in 1990: You could look at the city and see some blighted areas and some beautiful areas that showed what the city might be 30 years later, the gleaming capital that Berlin is today. The book is providing a roadmap for getting from Berlin in 1990 to Berlin in 2020. But we can also see from earlier history that without proper oversight, there are real dangers of politicization.

Congressional oversight is cluttered and capricious — fragmented among different committees. I think there’s a consensus that oversight should be streamlined. Of course, every congressional committee would like to streamline oversight in its own hands. Still, there are plenty of people on Capitol Hill who care about homeland security being executed properly, so there should be an opportunity to create better oversight.

Q: What have you learned about security issues from the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: I think everything we predicted about homeland security was borne out in the context of the pandemic. If the right relationships are not built between the federal government, the states, civil society, and the private sector, you will reap a very poor harvest.

A slightly different revelation from Covid-19 is that homeland security has distributional consequences. We’re used to thinking of homeland security as what economists call a pure public good [enjoyed equally by all], but some people suffer more from the measures that are needed to secure all of society. In the pandemic, the self-employed and the hospitality sector, among others, have borne the brunt of social distancing measures. That’s something the whole homeland security apparatus has not wrestled with yet: Society as a whole can be better off, but some are doing so much better than others, that we’re inadverdently recapitulating the inequality in society. That’s a good lesson for other disasters.

Donald Blackmer, professor emeritus of political science and longtime leader at MIT, dies at 91

Center for International Studies | First published here

Donald LM Blackmer, professor emeritus of political science at MIT, died on Aug 14, 2021. He was 91.

A highly regarded scholar in international studies, he was also a longtime leader at MIT, serving variously as executive director of the Center for International Studies, head of the Department of Political Science, associate dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (now the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences), director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and head of MIT Foreign Languages and Literatures (now MIT Global Studies and Languages).

Blackmer received his bachelor's degree from Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude in history and literature. He continued his studies at Harvard University, where he received a master’s in regional studies on the Soviet Union and a PhD in political science.

He began his career at MIT as executive director of, and eventually served as assistant director of, the Center for International Studies (CIS). The CIS was created in 1951 to aid the United States in its Cold War battle against the Soviet Union. Blackmer later chronicled the center's beginnings in a fascinating book, “The MIT Center for International Studies: The Founding Years 1951 to 1969,” to mark the center's 50th anniversary.

“Don was a fine scholar,” says Richard Samuels, director of CIS and Ford International Professor of Political Science. “He wrote a widely cited book on the international relations of the Italian Communist Party, and co-authored a book with Max Millikan on U.S. foreign aid. He also published on the French Communist Party and on the Soviet Union. But, on his own account, scholarship was not his primary calling. He was an institution builder. In 1956, he turned down a job offer to work as an assistant to McGeorge Bundy at Harvard, to come down-river to MIT to serve as a deputy to Max Millikan and Walt Rostow — the dynamic and powerful founders of the MIT Center for International Studies. As executive director of the young CIS, he made it possible for them, and those he helped them recruit, to light up the scholarly landscape.”

“A man of uncommon good sense and warmth,” says Eugene Skolnikoff, professor of political science emeritus, of Blackmer. "In some ways, Don was a curious fit to be successful in an MIT setting. He had a strong literature and humanities background, with little exposure to science and technology. His success in his role at CIS, and in subsequent positions he was asked to fill, showed to the MIT leadership how able Don was to lead and build in an environment that was foreign to his original education or experience. It was a record of stable and often imaginative stewardship in an institution focused on subjects I’m sure Don never expected to be a part of.”

Blackmer, a steward of institutions, was also a steward of people.

“Don was a steady mentor, academic advisor, listener … and, ultimately, friend. His humility, kind humor, patience, intellect, and elegant behavior were examples to me of what I could become,” says Astrid S Tuminez PhD '96. Tuminez serves as president of Utah Valley University and was a former executive at Microsoft.

Brian Taylor PhD '97 credits Blackmer for encouraging him to complete his dissertation. “I think it’s fair to say that he played the biggest role of my committee in making the final project stronger and in helping me get done. It was Don who closely read each chapter as I produced it and gave me detailed and actionable recommendations on how to revise the chapter. This feedback gave me the confidence to keep pushing ahead on a project that at times seemed unmanageable and never-ending. Don was there throughout—even after he retired to make sure the dissertation was in ‘good enough’ shape.” Taylor is professor of political science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

Blackmer authored four academic books, including “The Emerging Nations: Their Growth and United States Policy,” with Max F Millikan (Little, Brown & Co., 1961). The book was cited in Foreign Affairs as a significant source for US policy. He also served as chair of the Council for European Studies and member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  

“Don was not only an immensely productive scholar and administrator, he was also a sweet and generous colleague. He will be dearly missed in the department," says David Singer, Raphael Dorman-Helen Starbuck Professor of Political Science and head of the Department of Political Science.

Tributes from Blackmer's colleagues and students are available on the Center for International Studies website.