James Franklin Collins


Bicentennial Medal (2019)
Honorary Degree (1999)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Myles Brand


Recognized as a world leader in the field of Russian studies and as an indispensable force in Russian-American diplomacy, U.S. Ambassador to Russia James F. Collins is equally admired for his unswerving commitment to Indiana University, where he did advanced degree work from 1961 to 1967.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott calls Collins, "the outstanding scholar/diplomat of his generation in the field of Russian studies." Notable for his level-headed approach to matters and for his unflappable personality, Collins has faced several challenging situations with mastery. As U.S. ambassador to Russia since 1997, he has guided Russian-American relations through a crucial period in Russian history. As deputy chief of mission in Moscow from 1990 to 1993, he was in charge of the embassy there during the tensions of August 1991 when an attempted coup threatened the future of Russia. Known for his steadiness, Collins is credited with having kept relations on a smooth course during that time.

A native of Aurora, Illinois, Collins was born June 4,1939. He began his education in a one-room schoolhouse, going on to graduate from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in history and literature. He attended Indiana University from 1961 to 1967, studying in the department of History and the Russian and East European Institute, and receiving a master's degree in history in 1964.

Collins began his diplomatic career at posts in Turkey and Jordan, also directing intelligence policy for the National Security Council. He served from 1990 to 1993 as deputy chief of mission and charge d'affaires in Moscow under Ambassadors Jack Matlock and Robert Strauss. From 1994 to 1997, he was ambassador-at-large and special advisor to the secretary of state for the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union.

In addition to his knowledge of Russian affairs, Collins is lauded for his contributions in both developing and implementing policy toward Russia and the other Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union. U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar, who has worked with the ambassador on American foreign and defense policies toward the former Soviet Union, praises Collins' expertise in crafting legislative initiatives, including the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and the Freedom Support Act.

Described as "thoughtful," and for having "remarkable tact and calmness under pressure," Collins is heralded also for his dedication to learning and to the cultural and educational exchanges that create understanding between nations. Over the years he has maintained contact with IU, recently delivering a lecture by interactive video from his Moscow office to the Title VI conference in Washington, DC, organized by IU. He has also traveled to Bloomington and Indianapolis to participate in Russian and East European Institute outreach events. He has played gracious host to visiting IU faculty and students in Moscow. Collins has been honored with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Department of State's Distinguished Honor Award, and the Secretary of State's Award for Public Service.

He has been married for 35 years to Naomi F. Collins, whose distinguished international career was recognized at a ceremony in which she received the Indiana University President's Medal of Excellence. They have two grown sons, Robert and Jonathan.