A Conversation with Former Senator Tim Wirth

FM sat down with the former Senator of Colorado Tim Wirth '61 to chat about politics, Harvard life, Gov 1310, and of course, Hillary Clinton.

FM sat down with the former Senator of Colorado Tim Wirth '61 to chat about politics, Harvard life, Gov 1310, and of course, Hillary Clinton.

FM: Can you single out the biggest change at Harvard since you graduated?

TW: Well, you know women being so integrated. Everything that’s here, having a Kennedy School. There was at that point a Littauer Center, but it was very abstract, not connected with the College at all. Having the Kennedy School here is fantastic...it’s a wonderful opportunity for young people, I think, to get engaged in government and politics.

FM: You’ve been a proponent of environmental reform throughout your career. What do you think of the movement here at Harvard to divest from fossil fuels?

TW: Oh I think theoretically it’s the right thing to do. But how you do it is a much more complicated issue. Endowments are not invested as one thing...endowments are much, much more sophisticated interests. Harvard probably has 22 different baskets, I will bet you something like that. Large cap, small cap...national, international. Just a whole lot of different things. So what you’re doing is you’re picking baskets, you’re not picking individual stocks. Harvard can’t go to a manager of one of these funds and say we like 19 of the things in your fund, but we don’t like the twentieth one. You just can’t do that. But I think that the pressure and the intention...is a very good thing to do. I think at the same time, Harvard should put, and I’m sure is putting, a major emphasis on how the university operates. What doe the university buy, where’s it buying, what’s the university’s efficiency look like, what is the university doing in terms of renewable energy. You know, all of those examples of what it’s doing, seems to me, are exceedingly important. And maybe more important than divestiture. I would hope that the Harvard board would say, yeah we’re for divestiture from fossil fuels when we can do that. And make that statement; that’s a good statement to make. Even though, you understand, that you still might be invested in fossil fuels because they’re part of one of these funds. But overall, we’re going to try to avoid fossil fuels and we’re going to try to avoid gambling, and we’re not for drug trade, drug trafficking. There’s certain things that the endowment would say they’re opposed to.

FM: What do you consider the biggest development of the [United Nations Fund] since its inception?

TW: Maybe we’ve had the biggest impact in terms of measles. We began the global effort on measles twelve years ago...measles was the greatest killer of children in Africa. More than malaria. And that is now almost totally eliminated in Africa. Same thing in the Indian subcontinent: it’s now taken on the measles campaign. We began all of that, we launched all of that. So that was...in terms of very specific, measurable results, that’s been extremely important.

FM: What gains do you hope the United Nations Foundation will make going forward?

TW: The most important thing that we have an opportunity to make a dent on is climate. It’s exceedingly important to do. And deliver family planning services to every woman in the world who wants them.

FM: From the perspective of a former member of one of Harvard’s most powerful governing bodies [The Board of Overseers], what can you say about the University’s handling of the Government 1310 cheating scandal?

TW: It looks terrible to me. I don’t know about it in any detail at all. Harvard certainly didn’t come off very well and I don’t know enough about it... There also was tapping of people’s emails! Oh my lord. It looked to me like it was just sort of cycling, spiraling from bad to worse. It’s too bad Harvard couldn’t take a deep breath and start all over again.

After saying that he felt that Government 1310 fell into the category of what he and his classmates had called “gut” classes (easy courses), I asked Senator Wirth: Do you remember what any of those gut classes were?

TW: There was one that was called “Boats.” Another was called “Hogans.” It was a course on Indian culture taught by a very famous anthropologist who didn’t want to be teaching it... “Boats” was the naval history of the world...

FM: What can you say about Colorado’s amendment to legalize marijuana?

TW: Seems to me that...you’ve gotta figure out how to handle it. It’s so stupid what we do now. Throwing people in jail, three strikes and you’re out. You get so many places around the country and jails are full of people for minor infractions. It ruins their lives; it’s enormously expensive. It’s a very dumb thing to do. We’ve gotta figure out how to manage marijuana like you manage alcohol. Seems to me that...that’s the smart thing to do. So I voted for it.

FM: Hillary 2016, yes or no?

TW: I think, she’s wonderful. She’s got very in depth...I’ve always been a major Hillary fan. We’ve known the Clintons since we all ran for Congress for the first time...[Bill Cinton] ran for Congress in ’74 and lost, it was the first year that I won. And there was a whole group of young people who were all about the same age, a little bit older. I’m a major fan of hers, I think she’d be terrific and it would be wonderful to have a woman president. How she’s going to handle it from an age point of view, she’s going to have to make that decision. She’ll be 69, I think, when, if, she runs in 2016...So if you add eight years on that, you know, you’re getting right up there...physically can she handle that? And I think that’s the only, constraint that I can see...other than her wanting to do it. But the only real constraint is...does the age thing...which no one wants to talk about, but it’s real. You’re older, you have less energy.

FM: Do you think she’ll run?

TW: Yeah, oh I do, I do. If I were betting on it, I’d say, I will bet that she’ll run and I’ll bet that President Obama turns down the Keystone Pipeline. Those are my two predictions.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: June 19, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of politician Hillary Clinton.