President Bollinger reflects on the Senate confirmation of Biden's new Director of National Intelligence.
When in November President-elect Biden selected Avril Haines to become Director of National Intelligence, responsible for overseeing the federal government’s 17 intelligence agencies and organizations, you could not find a colleague of hers in Washington, D.C., or at Columbia, who was surprised. The appointment of Avril to meet the momentous challenge of restoring integrity to our intelligence services arises naturally from who she is as a person: supremely capable, intelligent and uniquely skillful in synthesizing information and ideas, tireless in pursuit of a mission, and possessed of enormously sound judgment and the highest moral and ethical values.
This is also the Avril Haines we came to know at Columbia, as one of the founding leaders of Columbia World Projects (CWP). Avril was instrumental in growing CWP from the fledgling entity it was when she joined us in the fall of 2017, into the widely admired institute that it is today.
As CWP’s Deputy Director, Avril travelled seamlessly within and beyond the academy, to steer the University’s immense resources toward their ultimate use in addressing societal problems. Her vision was just what CWP needed to establish its proper course at the outset. Avril was our leader in constructing the framework through which academically rigorous projects with real-world applications were given life. With Nick Lemann, Ira Katznelson, and Nik Steinberg, she brought scholars from across the University together with professionals in the government, non-profit, and private sectors to identify, shape, and implement these projects. And she did so with an eye focused on opportunities that would have the greatest impact on people’s lives in the shortest amount of time—a distinctive voice in the world of scholarship and an essential one if CWP were to occupy its intended place in our University community.
I had appointed Avril to take over for Nick Lemann as Director of CWP when President-elect Biden reached out to her, first for guidance on the transition and then to serve as DNI. Now, her challenges are, to say the least, formidable and even daunting, including: addressing breaches in the nation’s cybersecurity defenses, the rising scourge of domestic terrorism, and the need to depoliticize intelligence collection and assessment.
Columbia and CWP, along with Columbia Law School and the School of International and Public Affairs, are immensely better for the time she spent with us and the many contributions she made to our work. So, in addition to thanking Avril, we congratulate her and wish her the very best as she takes on an assignment of truly historic significance. Avril Haines was great for Columbia, and now she will be great for the nation and the world.