ASU to present 2020 Rhodes Lecture with Gen. James N. Mattis

Barrett, The Honors College event to be held Feb. 12 at Tempe Center for the Arts

James Mattis

Gen. James N. Mattis, former U.S. secretary of defense. Photo courtesy of Washington Speakers Bureau


Gen. James N. Mattis has been named the 2020 John J. Rhodes Chair in Public Policy and American Institutions at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. As chair, he will deliver the Rhodes Lecture next month. 

The lecture, titled “Thwarting Threats and Nurturing Allies in Today’s Global Affairs,” is set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. Tickets, which are available at, are free but a small service charge will apply.

2020 marks the 22th anniversary of the Rhodes Lecture, named for the Honorable John J. Rhodes, who represented Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1952 to 1982. He served as the minority leader of the House from 1973 to 1981.

Congressman Rhodes exemplified the values of personal integrity, fiscal responsibility, respect for persons of all political beliefs and international foresight.

Upon his retirement, Rhodes’ family and many friends wanted to establish an enduring tribute to his leadership. John and his wife, Betty, had long been supporters of higher education, so the family established an endowment for the John J. Rhodes Chair in Public Policy and American Institutions and selected Barrett, The Honors College to be the chair’s “home.” An archive of John Rhodes’ congressional papers is in the Special Collections at the Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe campus.

The Rhodes Chair reflects Rhodes’ commitment to public service and higher education. People chosen to hold the Rhodes Chair must be dedicated to discussion and dialogue about the most challenging issues facing society, now and in the future. Holders of the Rhodes Chair embody Rhodes’ commitment to the betterment of our nation through inspired and fair-minded leadership and devotion to service.

About Gen. James N. Mattis

Mattis has spent nearly 50 years in service to his country. He served as the 26th U.S. secretary of defense for nearly two years in the Trump administration. As secretary of defense, he focused on making combat readiness one of his main priorities and served as primary author of a new American defense strategy whose central goal was to take on “revisionist” powers that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”

Viewed as the steady hand in tumultuous times, Mattis championed building a network of alliances and strategic partnerships around the world.

“Our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system or alliances and partnerships,” then-Secretary Mattis wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump. Without maintaining those alliances, he said, we cannot protect our interests or serve the role of an indispensable nation in the free world.

Mattis’ resolve to amass and maintain positive relations with key countries served as a premier example of professionalism and stability in a political landscape wrought with unpredictability.

During his 44 years in the U.S. Marines, Mattis rose from an 18-year-old reservist to the highest rank of four-star general. He capped off his military career as head of the U.S. Central Command, where he was in charge of all American forces serving in the Middle East and oversaw operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Syria, Iran and Yemen. He retired from the post in 2013. In 2017, he would answer the call to service again, as the first member of Trump’s cabinet cleared to take office.

A veteran of three wars, Mattis spent much of his career involved in overseas conflict. Described by colleagues and his staff as brave, honest and humble, Mattis proved to be an exceptional motivator of Marines and developed a leadership style that endeared him to his troops.

Mattis established the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, an academy for Marine officers and senior enlisted personnel that provides cultural awareness and language skills training to ensure units can operate effectively in complex expeditionary environments.

Mattis is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,” an account of Mattis's career, from wide-ranging leadership roles in three wars to ultimately commanding a quarter of a million troops across the Middle East. Along the way, Mattis recounts his foundational experiences as a leader, extracting the lessons he has learned about the nature of warfighting and peacemaking, the importance of allies, and the strategic dilemmas — and short-sighted thinking — now facing our nation. 

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