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Feb. 8 lecture features Wilmot James, visiting professor at Columbia University: South African public health expert and former MP to speak at WCSU

Image of Dr. Wilmot James
Dr. Wilmot James

DANBURY, CONN. — Dr. Wilmot James, an expert on public health and prominent advocate of democracy who served for eight years as a Member of Parliament in South Africa, will speak at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, at Ives Concert Hall in White Hall on the Western Connecticut State University Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury.

During his academic and political career, James has worked extensively on a wide range of important issues for South African and global society including immigration, refugee protection, electoral reform, bioscience and public health policy. His lecture, “Justice, Inclusion and Civility: Why King and Mandela Are Still Relevant Today,” will be presented as the keynote address of Black Heritage Month at WCSU. Sponsors for the talk include the Office of Diversity and Equity, the Office of InterCultural Affairs and the Black Heritage Month planning committee. Admission will be free and the public is invited to attend.

As a member of South Africa’s leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, James served most recently as the shadow minister of health until his resignation from Parliament in 2017. He held previous shadow minister portfolios in higher education, basic education, trade and industry, and science and technology. He served as chairperson of the DA from 2010 to 2015.

James accepted a position last summer as visiting professor of pediatrics (non-clinical) in the College of Physicians and Surgeons and international affairs in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. In September, he was named executive director of the newly established Global Health Security and Diplomacy program at Columbia. Designed as a cross-disciplinary initiative to bring together experts from the fields of medicine, public health, climate science and international affairs, the GHSD program seeks to advance “the well-being of populations and their protection from destabilizing events such as pandemics, food crises, natural hazards, forced migration as well as chemical, biological and cyber threats,” James observed. “We need to educate and train the next generation of leaders to understand the complexities of dealing with global health security and diplomacy in an increasingly interconnected world.”

A Fulbright scholar and recipient of a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin, James initially embarked on an academic career as a member of the sociology faculty of the University of Cape Town. He left that position in 1994 to become the executive director of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, which played a significant role in support of the nation’s political transition from apartheid to democracy during the 1990s. He returned to academia to become dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Cape Town and has held visiting professor positions at the University of Pretoria, California Institute of Technology and Indiana University. He was a senior fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College and is a current member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

James’ involvement in public policy issues included tenures as chairperson of the Immigration Advisory Board of South Africa from 2003 to 2006 and as founder and executive chairperson of the Africa Genome Education Institute from 2005 to 2012. He served as a member of the Human Sciences Research Council and executive director of the council’s Social Cohesion and Integration Research program. In recent years, he has helped to organize a New York conference on the global response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak and has collaborated with public health experts to explore strategies to combat the spread of the Zika virus. He has been a member of the think tank of the Mandela Initiative based at the University of Cape Town, a collaborative program that seeks to promote strategies to overcome development challenges, eliminate poverty and reduce inequality in South African society.

James is the author of three books and the editor or co-editor of 14 books covering a diversity of themes ranging from apartheid, nation-building and national reconciliation in South Africa to public education and biotechnology. Nobel laureate David Baltimore remarked that James’ 2010 collection of essays, “Nature’s Gifts: Why We Are the Way We Are,” revealed an author who “is fascinated by science and discusses ideas, people and history with elegance, skill and a deep human sympathy.” He was co-editor of the collection of speeches, “Nelson Mandela in His Own Words: From Freedom to the Future,” presented to the late South African president on his 85th birthday in July 2003. He also is the author of the 2012 e-book, “Moments with Mandela.”

James served from 1996 to 2008 as a trustee of the Ford Foundation, and from 2004 to 2009 as a director of the insurance company Sanlam and the communications group Media24. He is also the former chairperson of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.

For more information, send an email to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Daryle Dennis at or contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.


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