Friday, June 10, 2005

Frederick L. Holborn (1928-2005)

I have just learned that Fred Holborn, who taught for over thirty years at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, died on June 3 at the age of 76. The loss is personal because, more than anyone else at SAIS, Fred Holborn guided me through my first graduate school experience when I went to SAIS as a naive 21-year-old.

Professor Holborn taught courses on U.S. foreign policy. In the spring of 1981, my second semester at SAIS, I took his course entitled, simply, "The Conduct of Foreign Policy." The following semester, I went back for "Congress and the Making of National Policy." Looking back through my notes for these courses, I am reminded that Professor Holborn had an extraordinarily broad knowledge of the American constitutional system, of American history, and of foreign policy. The notes I took in his classes, in fact, kept me well supplied with interesting facts to inject into my own lectures in American government courses when I began teaching. (I am also reminded that he was very open and approachable. On the first page of my notes from both semesters, I have his home phone number written down.)

Professor Holborn also supervised my thesis and, in so doing, introduced me to the normative issues in foreign policy that have been among my primary interests ever since. I recall numerous occasions sitting in his office--Room 318 in the Nitze Building at 1740 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.--talking about Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau and the contrasts in foreign policy between the recently ended Carter Administration and the newly inaugurated Reagan Administration. To have a conversation with Professor Holborn in his office required that he bring his chair around to the front of the desk because the desk invariably had so many papers piled on it that it was impossible for two people sitting down on opposite sides of the desk to see each other over or through the clutter. (Yes, even now I can only aspire to have an office as messy as his was.)

For more on Fred Holborn's remarkable life, see this obituary published in yesterday's Washington Post.