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77th Annual Dinner

April 17 at 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm

The University Seminars invites you to join us for the Annual Dinner on April 17, 2024. Each spring, The University Seminars community gathers for a celebratory meal, to hear the Tannenbaum Lecture delivered by a distinguished speaker, and to witness the presentation of the Tannenbaum-Warner Award to an outstanding and long-serving member of The Seminars’ community. This year, the Tannenbaum-Warner awardee is Alice Newton, who retired in 2023 after a long career at The University Seminars. The Tannenbaum Lecture, “’What Was Saddam Hussein Thinking?’” A Case Study in Misunderstanding Dictators,” will be presented by Steve Coll, Professor and Dean Emeritus at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

The pre-dinner reception will begin at 6 pm, followed by a seated dinner at 6:30.


“What Was Saddam Hussein Thinking?”A Case Study in Misunderstanding Dictators

America committed its worst foreign policy mistake of the post-Cold War era when it invaded Iraq in 2003 to disarm Saddam Hussein of his supposed WMD. How might the U.S. invasion of Iraq have been avoided? Much of our post-hoc investigation has focused on the false and manipulated intelligence about Iraq’s WMD, George W. Bush’s choices, the selling of the war and the media’s complicity. Another central question has rarely been examined: Why did Saddam sacrifice his long reign in power – and ultimately his life – by creating an impression that he held dangerous weapons when he did not?

The question is answerable. Saddam tape-recorded his private leadership conversations as assiduously as Richard Nixon. He left behind about two thousand hours of recordings as well as a vast archive of meeting minutes and presidential records. The materials document Saddam’s thinking at critical junctures of his long conflict with Washington, including his private reactions to 9/11 and the Bush administration’s plans to oust him. And they clarify the complicated matter of why the Iraqi leader was unable to persuade UN inspectors, multiple spy agencies and many world leaders that he did not possess WMD.

Steve Coll is a professor and Dean Emeritus at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. He is currently on sabbatical in London, where he serves as a visiting senior editor at the Economist. Coll is the author of nine books of nonfiction about international and business affairs, and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book is The Achilles Trap: Saddam Hussein, the CIA, and the Origins of America’s Invasion of Iraq, which was published in February 2024. Between 1985 and 2005, Coll was a reporter, foreign correspondent and senior editor at the Washington Post and subsequently was a staff writer at The New Yorker for 18 years.






In August 2023, Alice Newton retired after 18 years of distinguished service at The University Seminars, where she worked with three directors and was herself Interim Director for three years (2019 -2022). From 1968, while a student at Rutgers University, and later at New York University (where she completed a bachelor’s degree in history), Alice participated in the anti-war, anti-racism, environmental justice, and women’s movements. Social justice activism continues to be a central part of her life. Alice later earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs with a specialty in human rights and Latin America. While working toward this degree, she began as an administrative assistant at The University Seminars with Director Robert Belknap. She was promoted to Assistant Director, Associate Director, Deputy Director, Acting Director, and finally Interim Director. In partnership with Director Bob Pollack, Alice expanded the breadth of the Seminars’ programming with initiatives to promote diversity and to raise the voices of underrepresented and emerging scholars. Alice made The Seminars inclusive and welcoming also by facilitating initiatives such as the Seminar Workshops and the Belo Award, both founded under her leadership, and by working closely with the Columbia University Libraries to enable associate members to benefit from remote library privileges.


The Tannenbaum-Warner Award, in honor of two directors, Frank Tannenbaum (1945-1969) and Aaron Warner (1976-2000), is presented each year to a distinguished member of the Seminars’ community who has been of great service to The University Seminars. The Tannenbaum Lectures are named after Frank Tannenbaum, who founded The University Seminars in 1945.


April 17
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Event Category:


Faculty House
64 Morningside Drive
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The University Seminars