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Our Man in New Orleans

November 14, 2000

Arthur Nead

Although Tulane University has not yet achieved the status of a sovereign nation, the U.S. State Department has assigned one of its senior foreign service officers as Tulane's own diplomat-in-residence for the 2000-01 academic year.

John Salazar is a veteran of many diplomatic postings, mainly in Central and South America. Operating from an office in the political science department area of the Norman Mayer building, he is serving as Tulane's second diplomat-in-residence in as many years.

Other universities around the country participating in the program include University of Michigan, University of California-Los Angeles, University of South Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Colorado, Howard University and University of Texas-Austin. The State Department, at the request of these universities, assigns senior diplomats to work at the universities, says Salazar.

"The purposes of the program are two-fold," he says. "In the first place, the officers make an effort to recruit people into careers in the State Department. Secondly, they are there to try to establish programs of mutual interest to the university and the State Department." "In my particular case," says Salazar, "that's turning out to be the establishment of a speakers program utilizing some of my old colleagues."

Salazar has already arranged a visit to Tulane by the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, V. Manuel Rocha, scheduled for Dec. 7. The visit will include meetings with students and a formal lecture. Salazar and Rocha worked together at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
 
Another speaker Salazar aims to bring to Tulane is Frank Almaguer, the present ambassador to Honduras. His visit is projected for April.

"This will be an interesting visit because Honduras has a special historical relationship with New Orleans," Salazar says. "There are probably more Hondurans in this city than in any other city in the United States. New Orleans is probably the third-largest Honduran city in the world."

Salazar's work at Tulane will go a step beyond that of most foreign service officers in the program. "I'm slated to teach a class during the second semester," he says. "This will be unusual. Not all diplomats-in-residence teach at their assigned universities." The subject matter of the course is Diplomacy: Theory and Practice.

"I will be drawing from personal experience, and I will try to bring in some guest lecturers," he says. "I've got good support from the political science department to help bring these lecturers in. Students thus will not only be exposed to theoretical aspects of diplomacy, but they will learn about the actual practice of it from a variety of real practitioners," according to Salazar.

In the meantime, Salazar has been attending job fairs and speaking around campus. "I've given talks at the business school and I participated in a program on opportunities overseas that was given at the University Center." Are his efforts at recruitment meeting with success? One major point of interest for students is the internship opportunities with the State Department, says Salazar.

Students intern with the State Department either before they graduate or while they are in graduate school, with assignments that are distributed equally between Washington, D.C., and overseas. The length of an internship is about 10 weeks. "It's a great summer experience," says Salazar. "Many of the interns are able to do some substantive work at the embassies to which they are assigned, adding greatly to the value of the experience."

"Becoming a foreign service officer is highly competitive," explains Salazar. Every person interested in becoming a diplomat has to take the foreign service officer written examination, which is given once a year in numerous locations around the country and the world. The exam tests mastery of a wide variety of subjects, including history, geography, political theory, mathematics, psychology and management principles.

"Nine-thousand people take the foreign service test each year, and about 3,000 pass," says Salazar. "Those who score well on the test are invited to an oral assessment in Washington. People who do well in this are given a conditional offer of employment, which becomes a substantive offer when need arises. We hire between 200 and 300 foreign service officers per year. Compare that to the 3,000 who pass the test, and you can see that there is a lot of drop-off," Salazar says.

According to Salazar, the State Department targeted Tulane to participate in its diplomat-in-residence program because of relevant programs such as the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Also, there's a shortage of administrative officers in the State Department right now, so its a bonus if the schools have strong public and business administration schools, he says.

The term of a typical foreign service assignment is three years. Salazar is on a detail at Tulane State Department lingo for a one-year assignment. "Some diplomats-in-residence extend their stays in academe beyond the basic one-year stint," says Salazar, but he did not elaborate on his own plans. "Even if I'm not here next year," he says, "I suspect that Tulane will continue to have a diplomat-in-residence as long as they are invited to come. This is good fertile ground."


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