William Antholis takes over as new Miller Center director

University graduate and former Brookings managing director welcomes new opportunity

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William Antholis will begin his term as Miller Center executive director this week, leading the internationally renowned University institution into its fifth decade of scholarship in public affairs.

Antholis comes to the University with a resume which boasts top positions at the Brookings Institution, the Clinton White House and the German Marshall Fund. The Miller Center is also close to home for Antholis, who graduated from the University in 1986 and has lived in Charlottesville with his family for 15 years.

“When the position was announced, I saw it and several faculty members encouraged me to think about it,” Antholis said. “They probably didn’t need to though. It’s hard for me to imagine another job that I feel so much of my life has prepared me for.”

Antholis leaves his most recent post as Brookings Institution managing director after significantly bolstering the think tank’s overseas presence and helping to earn it the designation of “Top Think Tank in the World” by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program.

“Bill brings the rare combination of understanding academic sensibility, the understanding of applied politics and policy, and the understanding of how really cutting-edge think tanks work,” said Politics Prof. Jeff Legro, a co-chair of the search committee that selected Antholis.

Academically, Antholis calls himself a political theorist, specializing in democracy and federalism, though much of his work has been in the realm of international relations, especially trade and climate change.

“Much of my scholarship has been taking concepts connected to democracy and focusing on how they connect to real life problems and challenges,” he said. “My most recent book was a comparison of federalism in India and China.”

For that book, “Inside Out, India and China: Local Politics Go Global,” Antholis and his family spent five months traveling around India and China while he researched how federalism in those two countries has shaped their foreign policies. He credited much of his interest in the subject — as well his general approach to his work — to his time as an undergraduate at the University and his appreciation for the scholarship of Thomas Jefferson.

“I was a student of [Politics Prof. Larry] Sabato, who taught me politics was a good thing,” Antholis said. “The University is a great place for inspiring someone to think of the world not only as a place to explore, but to be a part of the leadership of. U.Va. taught me how I could become a public servant in the broadest sense of the word, and that mission was directly a result of Thomas Jefferson’s design for the University. I’ve always felt indebted for that.”

Barbara Perry, co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program and a member of the executive director search committee, said Antholis’ academic background was a major reason he stood out to the committee.

“Since we are first and foremost an academic center based at U.Va., we wanted to make sure we had a director with outstanding academic credentials,” she said. “Bill brings those in spades, and we are particularly pleased he is a Wahoo.”

Perry compared his passion for the study politics to her own.

“He is very much like me — virtually a lifelong interest in politics, government and policy,” she said. “I didn’t want to run for office, but going in and out of politics through internships and fellowships, and then teaching about it — it’s just a wonderful life. I think that’s the way Bill feels as well.”

Antholis also brings a swath of hands-on experience in public policy. He served as director of international economic affairs of the National Security Council and the National Economic Council in the White House under Bill Clinton, in addition to working in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic Affairs.

“We liked that he had the deep profound ties in the Washington area, and that he worked in the political world,” Perry said. “He’s maintained contacts across the aisle and is a non-partisan.”

While working under Clinton, he helped to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol — an international agreement to curb emissions in an effort to combat climate change. Antholis said that experience helped him appreciate the political process surrounding public policy.

“You have the Senate that needs to approve any treaty, meaning you need to bring together states like California and New York, which already have cap and trade laws, but also states like West Virginia and Louisiana, which have been very resistant toward climate negotiations,” he said.

While a body of work concentrated in the field of international relations may seem like a departure from the Miller Center’s focus on American democracy, Legro said the Center’s focus on the presidency made Antholis a good fit.

“The Miller Center’s study of the presidency has always involved foreign policy,” Legro said. “It’s always done a decent job developing and integrating its foreign policy program with the domestic side. Bill does bring foreign policy expertise and there are certainly opportunities to leverage that strength and increase the prominence of the Miller Center on the global stage.”

The Miller Center of Public Affairs, entering its 40th year, has established a reputation as a leader in presidential scholarship. It has compiled vast oral histories of each president since Jimmy Carter and has made accessible thousands of hours of secret presidential recordings made between the Roosevelt and Nixon administrations.

Antholis himself agreed that his specific expertise in global affairs translates well to the study of the presidency, and added that his time at Brookings, among other posts, has made him very well versed in domestic affairs as well.

“The Miller Center and my own interests really span domestic and foreign policy, and really bridge that gap,” he said.

Antholis said he hopes to expand the Miller Center’s strength in presidential scholarship, its presence around the country and its relationship with existing partners.

“I’m keen to take the Miller Center and focus on a number of national audiences — in particular, the media centers of New York and Los Angeles, the new media centers of the Bay area and Seattle, and the greater Texas region, where three former presidents have established their libraries,” he said. “I take that seriously and want to get to know our partners and audiences.”

Antholis is also interested in expanding the Miller Center’s presence on Grounds, working with the deans of the various schools to find ways to collaborate and offer new and improved learning experiences for students.

“Bill said [last Thursday] at lunch that he had a model in mind from the University of Oxford — the residential college atmosphere where you bring people in and have students meet with them for lunch, dinner and seminars — and that that’s the model he wants to create,” Perry said.

Perry said Antholis has left a positive impression of the faculty and staff so far, arranging times to meet in small groups, hosting a town hall and even inviting everyone to the Miller Center Saturday night to watch the the men’s basketball team play at Notre Dame — Antholis said he has had season tickets to the team’s home games since John Paul Jones arena opened in 2006.

“He’s really excited to be working in his adopted hometown and at his alma mater,” Perry said. “He’s not a pretentious person, but a very compelling personality. As soon as you meet him, you want to get to know him better and spend time with him.”

Legro echoed the positive sentiments.

“We got an incredible person,” he said. “The University is very fortunate to have him.”

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