The Secret lives of our Profs

Lauren Mimms

Professor Todd Becker is Lawrence’s Distinguished Visiting Scarff Professor, visiting for Spring Term to teach a senior seminar titled “The United States and Europe in the 21st Century.” The Scarff professorship aims to take someone from public life to teach here temporarily, and Becker certainly has an abundance of experience to share. Becker has worked for 43 years as a diplomat with various groups including the State Department, and most recently, with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Becker learned of the professorship from one of his predecessors. “G. Jonathan Greenwald, from the American Foreign Service, retired and came here. He suggested that I may be interested, but at the time I was working for the OSCE and it didn’t fit into my schedule,” Becker said. This year though, he had just finished eight years of work in Croatia and the Ukraine and the timing was perfect.
In Croatia and Kiev, Ukraine, Becker worked to establish systems of administrative law, civil society and “liberal democracy,” or the type of Western democracy we often take for granted. He has focused his efforts in Europe, primarily in Germany and the Balkans. “Becoming active in shaping the world was very appealing to me, and my major interest has always been conflict resolution. I’ve always seen the work as a diplomat to be in facilitating communication to resolve conflict, and that’s what I strived for,” he said.
Becker’s father worked as a diplomat and raised his family in Washington, D.C. After he graduated from high school, his father took a position in Germany where Becker studied for two years at a school for the children of diplomats. “I became very interested in European history because of my father’s work in the embassy where I got to know a lot of young diplomats,” Becker said. After this eye-opening experience, he spent two years at Carleton where he studied German. He went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Minnesota and to pass his foreign services exam.
Becker’s hobbies are varied, but archaeology and literature interest him very much. He strives to learn more about Native American sites, and his favorite books are new works about the founding fathers and the writings of American Southern women. When it comes to current media, Becker “really, really liked ‘Slumdog Millionaire'” and wishes someone would make a movie of “The Life of Pi.” He enjoys the “Harry Potter” series because he says, “J.K. Rowling is very insightful into adolescent behavior,” which Becker may have experience in, having raised five children and nine grandchildren.
“The United States and Europe in the 21st Century” showcases Becker’s knowledge in U.S.-European relations and focuses on the institutions of Europe, influence of the U.S. and Russia. Its concentration is on the factors that underlie the relationship and the changes and evolution that is occurring.
“I am really delighted to be here and have been interested in academia, as well as Lawrence, for a long time,” Becker said.