Before she became the first female director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department and before she tried to “have it all,” Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 was an undergraduate in the Wilson School, drank a lot of coffee and pulled all nighters — but not because she procrastinated.
“When she would study for a course, there were times she wouldn’t sleep and sometimes we used to call it ‘work herself into a coma’ because she was such a hard worker,” classmate Hovey Brock ’80 said. “We used to tell her it was okay, that she would probably get the grade she wanted without having to work so hard, but she was one of those people who had a lot of drive, had a lot of focus, would never let up.”
The Wilson School professor and former Wilson School dean will leave the University at the end of the academic year to become president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, in Washington, D.C. But unlike her two-year public service leave from the University to work at the State Department, this time Slaughter has no immediate plans to return.
During her 10 years at the University, Slaughter expanded the focus of the Wilson School, saw the school through the Robertson family lawsuit and left for two years to become a member of the State Department and also spent a year in Shanghai. She stirred the national debate on balancing a fulfilling career and family life and was speculated as a front-running candidate in the recent University presidential search.
According to interviews with former classmates and a search of Princeton’s archives, Slaughter was a studious undergraduate at the University. She earned the Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship at the end of her senior year, which is awarded to students who wish to pursue careers in politics or public service. She also participated in junior varsity rowing, theatre activities and wrote for a campus publication. Despite her current political background, friends said that Slaughter was not involved in student politics or in student government and that, while she did express a passion for foreign policy, she did not consider herself a leader.
Slaughter said that search firms acting on behalf of other universities had contacted her asking if she would be interested in serving as president, she refused every time. Currently, Slaughter explained, she is not in a position to accept a 10-year job. Slaughter said that the Princeton presidential search worked differently in that candidates were not asked to put their own names forward.
For the past seven months, provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and Slaughter were considered the frontrunners for the University presidency that ultimately went to Eisgruber.
She also noted that she was first asked to consider applying for the post of dean of the Wilson School by Eisgruber, a fellow lawyer. At the time, Eisgruber served in the search committee that eventually chose Slaughter for the position.
"Anne-Marie colored glasses"
Slaughter was an undergraduate student at the Wilson School and received a certificate in European cultural studies before returning to the school 22 years later as its first female dean.
Slaughter explored international relations during her undergraduate years at the University through both academics and activities. She was an intern on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the summer between her junior and senior years and, upon her return to campus, published a guest column in The Daily Princetonian about SALT II, one of the nuclear arms disarmament programs considered at the time.
In the midst of the Cold War years, Slaughter took German classes and wrote a thesis titled “Creativity and Change: The Cultural Opposition and Soviet Reform: Implications for United States Human Rights Policy.”
Brock, who met Slaughter when they lived in the same entryway in Pyne during freshman year and dated her during their freshman and sophomore years, said he recognized her interest in foreign policy early on when they both took a survey course on foreign relations through the 20th century.
“I enjoyed the course, but I could tell that this was really what she was passionate about,” Brock, a working painter living in New York City, said.
Freshman-year entryway-mate and sophomore-and-junior-year roommate Nora Joffe Elish ’80 — whom Slaughter thanks in the acknowledgements of her thesis for helping her type her thesis — agreed that Slaughter’s passion as an undergraduate was already in public policy and international relations.
It was also a general consensus among Slaughter’s peers that she was driven, hard working and particularly strong-minded.
“The joke was that she saw everything through what we called ‘Anne-Marie colored glasses’ because she had a very specific take and would be surprised if anybody else would disagree with her,” Brock explained.
She was known to frequently stay up late to perfect her school work.
“If she did an all-nighter, it was because it was already really good and she wanted to make it great,” Elizabeth Sacksteder ’80 said. Sacksteder met Slaughter when they lived in the same entryway in Pyne during their freshman year. She is now the Global Head of Litigation and Regulatory Investigations for Citigroup Inc.
Slaughter also remained busy outside of the classroom. She was a Residential Advisor during her senior year, a poetry editor of the Nassau Literary Review, an editor of social sciences and history for the Princeton Journal of the Arts and Sciences, a stage manager for theatre productions and a junior varsity rower.
Sacksteder noted that the effort that she put into rowing, which was something she had never done before coming to Princeton, was representative of the intensity at which she engaged in everything.
But on top of her busy schedule, Slaughter did manage to maintain a social life and enjoy many of the same activities that current Princeton students engage in.
“She drank a lot of coffee,” Sacksteder said. “She drank other things as well from time to time, and she had a variety of boyfriends over the course of our four years at Princeton.”
Joffe Elish, who Slaughter describes as her “best friend,” remembered the “endless cups of coffee in the student center” and impromptu trips to New York.
“I think the remarkable thing for both of us when we look back is frankly we could fill any amount of time we were given together,” said Joffe Elish, who is now the director of the elementary school program at The Dalton School in New York. “Obviously we don’t have that kind of time, but it feels like we slip back into it when we are together, and that’s what I cherish most.”
While friends remembered Slaughter, a Charlottesville, Va. native, as a Southerner, Slaughter said she disagrees with that perception though she admits that there is a Southern ease about her. However, she said that she identifies much more with her mother’s Belgian heritage.
Her father, Edward Slaughter ’53, who also was an undergraduate student in the Wilson School, met her mother in Brussels while there on a Rotary fellowship.
Slaughter was briefly a member of Colonial Club and Cloister Inn until she ultimately went independent with Joffe Elish because she is “the kind of person who doesn’t like eating in the same place every night,” Slaughter said.
However, Slaughter said it was hard to cook while living on campus at the time and said that she and Joffe Elish “ended up living on M&Ms.”
Joffe Elish noted that Slaughter did not consider herself a leader when she was an undergraduate, not getting too involved in student politics or student government. An advertisement in the ‘Prince’ archives shows that Slaughter was a member of the USG Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Residential Life, which addressed the structure of social and dining options on campus.
As a senior, she was named the Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholar, which enabled her to study European-Soviet relations and earn an M.Phil. in International Affairs from Oxford in 1982.
From the Wilson School to law school and back
After receiving her M.Phil., Slaughter went to Harvard Law School and graduated in 1985. She returned to Oxford and received her D.Phil. in International Relations in 1992. While working on her D.Phil., she served on the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School before joining the faculty of the Harvard Law School.
Slaughter said that as an undergraduate, she would not have expected to return to Princeton. She explained that in 2002, she accepted the position at the Wilson School to be a dean and not to teach foreign policy. Had the administrative position never been offered, she would have probably remained at a law school.
“As much as I love Princeton and the Wilson School, it is not my intellectual home,” Slaughter said. “I would probably not have been able to stay here long-term as a scholar.”
Slaughter explained that she identifies more with law than she does with political science, even though she had academic experience with foreign policy as an undergraduate. She noted that there is a difference between practicing foreign policy and being a scholar of foreign policy.
“I’m trained as a legal scholar,” Slaughter said. “I think differently than political scientists and economists, and it’s just a different discipline and it’s my home discipline. If Princeton had a law school, then who knows? Maybe I’d stay.”
Although there are a few lawyers on campus, the lack of a law school at Princeton has meant that Slaughter hasn’t found a scholarly community at the University.
But even the initial decision to go into academia surprised her, Slaughter said. She went to law school intending to work at a big law firm in New York and go in-and-out of government. The way to do foreign policy was through law. After working for a summer in a New York law firm, she realized that she was not interested in practicing corporate law.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do,” she said.
Prompted by a need to financially support herself, she reapplied to Oxford to receive a D.Phil., which made her eligible for a predoctoral fellowship. However, she stressed that her entry into academia was through law.
Eisgruber, who convinced Slaughter to enter her name for consideration for the position as dean of the Wilson School, said that he called Slaughter one day to “source” her about potential candidates and suggestions about the future trajectory of the school. Because of her insightful responses to the questions, Eisgruber said he asked Slaughter at the end of the call whether she would rule out being a candidate herself.
A major factor in her decision to accept the position, Slaughter explained, was the opportunity to work with Shirley Tilghman and the opportunity to make changes that she saw were necessary for the Wilson School.
Slaughter became the first woman to hold the position of dean of the Wilson School, a post she assumed in 2002. Under her tenure, she expanded the faculty of the department, successfully recruiting faculty members from a variety of disciplines to the Wilson School. She was also instrumental in the creation of the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative fellowship in 2006.
“She was absolutely critical to our strengthening the field of international relations in Princeton, which had been less strong during the 90s,” Tilghman said in an interview.
Slaughter was also the dean when the Robertson Foundation — representing the $35 million gift given by Charles Robertson ’26 to the school — filed a lawsuit against the University challenging the direction of the Wilson School and financial management of the foundation’s assets.
The Foundation argued that the Robertson gift was intended to support an educational institution dedicated to public service, but the family believed that too few graduates were actually pursuing careers in the public sector. They intended to reclaim the money and give it to a different university.
The University settled in 2008 and agreed to pay $50 million plus legal fees.
“Her ability to navigate or lead the school during that difficult time was absolutely critical,” Tilghman noted.
Slaughter left the position in 2009 when she was appointed to be the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department by Hillary Clinton. Slaughter was also the first woman to hold this position. In 2011, she returned to the University as a professor in the Wilson School.
Transitioning to a think tank
Slaughter’s new position outside academia will allow her to return to her original interests, she said.
“I looked at New America and thought, really this is much closer to what I’ve been passionately interested in all my life than what I’m doing now as a scholar,” Slaughter said.
She describes New America as an “idea incubator.” The position will involve working with academics in connecting their work with the policy process, in effect being one step closer to the policy process than working in the Wilson School.
“We’re nimble. We’re new. We look for big ideas that are beyond left and right and really have an impact,” Slaughter said.
Slaughter had previously served on the board of directors for New America and when the previous president Steve Coll announced that he was stepping down in June 2012, Slaughter’s name was submitted to the presidential search committee by a number of people.
The search committee was chaired by fellow New America Trustee David Bradley, who is also the owner and chairman of Atlantic Media — the parent company of The Atlantic — the magazine that published Slaughter’s blockbuster piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” last summer.
However, New America Interim President Rachel White explained that Slaughter’s name was considered before her piece was published in The Atlantic.
Slaughter — who is a self-proclaimed entrepreneur — said she recognizes in New America the same things that originally attracted her to the Wilson School. She looks forward to shaping a young organization and “taking it to the next level.”
“Having it All”
Slaughter’s cover story in The Atlantic last summer has become the most read in the magazine’s history since it first went online. The article has also catapulted Slaughter into prominence in the debate about women and work-family balance.
But her undergraduate peers said she never explicitly discussed her thoughts on having a family while they were students together. However, they believed that Slaughter’s family had some expectations for her personal life.
“I did get the sense that she came from a background… where it was expected that a woman would have a family, make a home and be an 'attractive' woman,” Sacksteder said. “She struggled with that a little bit because that’s a lot of pressure to take on along with wanting to direct geopolitical policy for the United States.”
Slaughter explained that not having children was never explicitly part of her plan, but she did not consider the logistics of when and how she would have children until she was 35. Joffe Elish, her best friend, noted that their discussions about trying to balance a career and family occurred long after they graduated from Princeton.
“I spent a couple of really terrible years thinking that I had sacrificed my kids to my career,” Slaughter said.
After speaking to female University students, giving talks on the issue and being urged to write about her experiences with family and career, she said she realized that this was a conversation that young women should be having. Despite the early expressed interest, the public’s response to the article surprised even her.
“I didn’t know that they were going to want to have [the conversation] 2 million strong,” Slaughter said. “Not for a minute did I think it would go viral.”
In the process of writing the article, she consulted a group of women and a few men who were colleagues, former students and mentors to share their own experiences with balancing family and a career. Among these were Tilghman and former Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel.
The piece was inspired by Slaughter’s experience working with the State Department in Washington, D.C. on public service leave from the Wilson School while trying to raise teenage sons in New Jersey. Splitting herself between her dream job and her family, she reached a “powerful, life-changing experience” in which she realized that she — someone who was so career-driven — was making “a lateral move back” instead of remaining in Washington and advancing professionally.
“I realized that the things that I had assumed all my life were not true, even for me,” Slaughter said. “Thus I had a very different perspective on the choices that many of my friends had made over the years.”
She added that once her two teenage sons go to college, it will open up new career possibilities that she has not had before.
“I conclude[d] that I didn’t want to have the kind of time commitment that a high-level government job requires while my kids are home,” she added.
While she credits her husband, politics professor Andrew Moravcsik, in the cover story for taking on a large share of the parenting duties while she was in Washington, D.C., she was in turn also the primary caregiver for a period of time. Moravcsik and Slaughter taught at Harvard together but Moravcsik maintained his Harvard job when Slaughter first came to the Wilson School, commuting to Cambridge, Mass. from their new home in Princeton.
“That was fun,” Slaughter said. “I was a new dean, and I had kids who were three and five and a husband who was gone three days a week.”
After two years of that routine, Moravcsik became a Politics Professor at Princeton in 2004.
Slaughter is working on finishing a book to follow up on the article by September. In the book, she wants to reframe the debate from a women’s issue to an issue that includes men in the focus on family.
As dean of the Wilson School, she worked on a principle in which “family comes first,” she said and she hopes to continue working with family-centered policy at New America.
“That’s one of the reasons why I thought New America was such a good fit,” she said. “Because it has a social policy of work and family and foreign policy and education, so I can actually do both. I can actually keep going after the book is out to see if I can push real change.”
“I am not in a position to commit to a 10-year job,” she added. “I don’t know what will happen in 2016. I don’t know what will happen in 5 years when my kids are out in school, but I’m not in a position to commit to 10 years.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that Slaughter had declined to put her name forward for the Princeton presidency. After the publication of this article, Slaughter clarified that she had been referring to the presidencies of other universities, adding that she had been contacted by search firms asking if she would be interested in leading other institutions. She declined all these invitations. Slaughter added that the Princeton presidential search worked differently in that the committee did not ask candidates to put their names forward.