La Salle alumnus, William J. Burns, nominated by President Biden to head CIA

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Bianca Abbate, Editor-in-Chief

Philly Voice
Burns is a well-known figure in the diplomatic world.

La Salle alumnus, William J. Burns ‘78, has been chosen by U.S. President Joe Biden to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In a video announcing Burns’ nomination, President Biden said of the career diplomat, “He knows how to lead — and lead with integrity.”

Ambassador Burns graduated from La Salle in 1978 with a degree in history. In his time at La Salle, Burns was an Honors Program student known by his professors as a dynamic and insightful presence in class. Through his classes, he developed an interest in the Middle East that would later aid his career. Burns continued his education as La Salle’s first Marshall Scholar at Oxford University where he pursued his M.Phil and D.Phil degrees in International Relations. In 1997, Burns received an honorary doctor of law degree from La Salle University. 

President Biden on Ambassador Burns: “He knows how to lead — and lead with integrity.”

In 2011, Burns emphasized to The Inquirer that his professors played a major role in his education: “I was lucky to have some really fine teachers there, Jack Rossi, George Stow…Studying history gives you a perspective. History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but you can learn from the challenges that leaders have faced. There are a lot of lessons to be learned.”

                La Salle University Digital Commons

Burns is pictured above in the University yearbook.

Following his education, Burns embarked on a 33-year career in diplomacy. Speaking Arabic, Russian and French, Burns has served as ambassador to Russia and to Jordan and special assistant to Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. In 2011, during the Obama administration, Burns was confirmed as deputy secretary of state directly under Hillary Rodham Clinton. Before taking on the role of deputy secretary of state, Burns reflected on his time at La Salle in an interview with The Inquirer: “La Salle for me was a very grounded place, with lots of people with common sense…If you can’t explain the policies that an administration is embarking on in a way that makes sense to people…then there’s probably something wrong with your policy.”
The career diplomat has engaged in more than foreign relations. In 2014, Burns retired from diplomacy to head the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also has several publications, including his memoir, “The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal.”

The nomination is big news for the La Salle community. Professor of political science Mark Thomas, who formerly held a career in government, remarked, “Ambassador Burns’ nomination to Director of CIA is a testimony to the efforts of his La Salle professors and the foundations which the Christian Brothers laid in encouraging us to use our skills and talents in service of the public good.” He added, “Biden has trust in Ambassador Burns to present him with the facts and unbiased analysis of the facts as far as they are known.  Ambassador Burns also has the finesse and diplomatic skills to rebuild relations with other leaders of the intelligence services, both at home and abroad.” “La Salle’s History department congratulates Bill on his CIA director nomination under President-elect Biden,” Stuart Leibiger, chair of the history department added. “We would also like to thank him for the assistance he has provided to our faculty and students over the years. Our department has a rich tradition of nurturing intellectual growth and molding successful leaders in countless professions. We take pride in the accomplishments of our alumni and are confident that Bill will continue to represent La Salle and the Department of History well in his new position.”

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