#CGAat15 Faculty Interview Series: Thomas Hill

This year, The Center for Global Affairs (CGA) celebrates its 15th Anniversary. To mark this occasion, the Global Affairs Review (GAR) sat down with Professor Thomas Hill, to discuss his CGA journey and experience. Dr. Hill is a clinical associate professor at the CGA, where he is director of the Peace Research and Education Program. He oversees the peacebuilding concentration within the Master of Science in Global Affairs (MSGA) program. He is a peacebuilding practitioner and researcher with more than 15 years of experience focusing on Iraq. Dr. Hill has developed and has taught a variety of other graduate-level courses, including: Peacemaking and Peacebuilding; the Workshop in Applied Peacebuilding; Conflict Assessment; the Joint Research Seminar in Peacebuilding and the Advanced Joint Research Seminar in Peacebuilding, a two-course sequence that has been conducted in partnership with the University of Duhok in Iraq and the Escuela Superior de Administracion Publica in Colombia. He is a member of the Institute for Economics and Peace. A former journalist, his research interests include: the role of universities as actors and sites for peacebuilding; the importance of community-centered approaches to civil society-led peacebuilding; and the use of conflict analysis and assessment as tools for integrating development and peacebuilding. 

Global Affairs Review: Can you share with us how your journey at CGA began?

Professor Hill: In 2006, I got an invitation from a friend I had known from Columbia University, where I had completed my master’s degree. She was teaching a class on global civil society at the CGA and asked me to be a guest speaker to talk about the work I was engaged in in Iraq. That friend was Carolyn Kissane (CGA’s Academic Director) who was, at the time, one of the first faculty members working at the CGA. Some months later, she, one of her CGA colleagues and I were at an event and during the course of the evening, as I got to talking about my work in Iraq, her colleague asked if I had thought about teaching. I said I had not. She asked, “would you?” and I replied hesitantly that I might consider it. She said, “Come see me Monday morning.” Within 48 hours, I went from not thinking at all about teaching, to being hired as an adjunct faculty member. It was a whirlwind. I have been here ever since 2007 and joined as a full-time faculty member about three years later.

What have the last 13 years at the CGA meant to you?

I have been at the CGA since close to its beginning, which was in 2005. Since then, its size has changed a lot. We have a much larger faculty now, with many more offerings. There were at least three fewer concentrations back in those days – there was no peacebuilding, gender studies or data analytics specialization when I arrived here originally. Even the international relations (IR) concentration at that time was focused much more on traditional IR, and now we have a “futures” orientation to it. It has been very gratifying to see how we have built the Center to respond to some very real-world issues and concerns, especially in professional areas where young people want to find a way to work in and study.

What I am proud of is that everyone at the Center has been evolving and trying very hard to keep up with how the world is changing. A lot of academic programs do not do that. They stick to what they know. That is not the DNA here. We adjust and we change and that is good to see.

What do you think is distinctive about the CGA community?

There was a period for me when I taught here as an adjunct professor. At that time, it felt like I had my feet in three different places. I was still working at Columbia University where I had started my work on Iraq; I was also working on my Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and simultaneously teaching at the CGA. Between those three different spaces, in addition to my work in Iraq, the CGA was the only one that provided a great deal of flexibility. For instance, if I had an idea and I was able to articulate its value to my peers, the CGA was a place where that idea could become reality very quickly. It was obvious that it was possible to build innovative programs here, for many reasons. One of them being Dean Vera Jelinek’s openness to different types of thinking. That is why I decided to move my work on Iraq here, even before becoming a full-time faculty member at the CGA.

We are an interdisciplinary unit and we are not sitting in a very traditional academic space. We are not in a political science or a sociology department. We are not even in a traditional IR department. This has allowed us to do different things and incorporate different perspectives.  Fast-forwarding to the present, this has allowed me to build, with the help of others, a peacebuilding concentration. Additionally, there was no entity for doing peace research and education before this, so we were able to build the Peace Research and Education Program (PREP).

We have created courses, opportunities, a concentration, and a program. That is difficult to do in a university. I feel very grateful that people here allowed that growth to happen and saw its value. And then the students! That is where the greatest feedback comes from; where people have been eager to get involved in the program. That has been our fuel to keep all of this running.

What three words would you use to describe the CGA?

Flexible, real and challenging.

What do you envision for CGA in the next 15 years?

I think that for a lot of organizations, according to organizational development theory, there are periods of rapid expansion, growth and creative energy being released. We recently went through one of those cycles, and a period of retrenchment as well. I think there will be another release of creative energy here soon, and the CGA will look a lot different from what it does today in 15 years. I anticipate that it is going to be a lot bigger, with a lot more people involved, and it will occupy a much larger space, both intellectually and physically, on the NYU campus. That is all because of the groundwork that has been laid here in the last few years. There have been times when people in NYU and within the School of Professional Studies have not been aware of the different types of work that is being done here— but there have been breakthroughs recently which will lead to massive growth in the next 15 years.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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