Date May 29, 2024
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Brown University to create School of International and Public Affairs

In a major step toward expanded research and teaching, the new school will extend Brown’s commitment to advancing knowledge and preparing the next generation of global policymakers and leaders.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University will create a new School of International and Public Affairs to expand and strengthen research and teaching on the world’s most pressing economic, political, social and policy challenges.

During its May 2024 meetings, the Corporation of Brown University approved the establishment of the new school, effective July 1, 2025. The approval initiates a yearlong strategic planning process necessary to formalize academic programming, operating structures and leadership. The approval follows years of planning and development during which the University has expanded research expertise, education and academic initiatives in international and public affairs.

The new school will educate students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, supported by faculty from a wide range of academic disciplines. It will serve as the home for Brown’s esteemed master of public affairs program as well as Brown’s undergraduate concentration in international and public affairs, which currently enrolls more than 300 students. 

“The School of International and Public Affairs will provide graduates with deep knowledge of policy and highly developed analytical skills that will enable them to serve their communities, the nation and the world,” Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said. “Integrating study and practice is critical to confronting policy and social issues during a time of momentous global challenge, and a scholarly practice rooted in this approach has fueled Brown’s growth in international and public affairs, positioning us for this transformational next step.”

Brown’s commitment to the study of international relations and public policy spans more than four decades, driven by the work of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, which was founded in the waning days of the Cold War. The institute will transition into the School of International and Public Affairs, with faculty, staff and scholarly activity from the institute forming the bedrock of the new school.

Watson has expanded significantly since the launch of Brown’s strategic plan in 2014, said University Provost Francis J. Doyle III. This is in keeping with a charge in the plan to invest in scholarship that promotes peaceful, just and prosperous societies, which has established a strong foundation for the formation of the new school.

“Brown has become a leader in international and public affairs, and the new school will create a nexus for the campus-wide pursuit of global knowledge, educational leadership and applicable societal solutions,” Doyle said.

Edward Steinfeld, who has directed the Watson Institute since 2016, said the new school will build on years of the institute’s strategic expansion and galvanize future growth and impact. 

“We’re living in a time of so much challenge and opportunity — everything from climate change and extreme partisanship to artificial intelligence, biosecurity threats and rising geopolitical tensions — that it’s become incumbent upon us to respond through our research, teaching and public outreach,” Steinfeld said. “The new school will become an anchor that allows us to scale up what we’ve begun and broaden our engagement, including with the incredibly talented network of Brown alumni who are engaged in policymaking in the United States and around the world.”

According to Steinfeld, Brown’s culture of innovation and collaboration, most clearly exemplified by the Open Curriculum, will enable the new school to provide students access to an impressive array of faculty expertise.

“Our distinctive approach to international and public affairs research at Brown couples deep knowledge about global regions and cultures with substantive understanding about particular areas of public policy,” Steinfeld said. “We also conduct research in a global, comparative context, rejecting the traditional separation of domestic and international affairs. These are among the attributes that will position Brown to make an outsize impact in addressing some of the most pressing societal challenges of our time.”

The School of International and Public Affairs will become Brown’s fifth school and follows the establishment of the School of Professional Studies in 2014, the School of Public Health in 2013, the School of Engineering in 2010 and what is now called the Warren Alpert Medical School in 1972.

Distinctive educational programs and outstanding faculty expertise

The teaching mission that comes with the launch of a School of International and Public Affairs will enable Brown to sustain its thriving undergraduate international and public affairs concentration; expand and strengthen what is already a robust master of public affairs; consider new master’s-level certificates across a variety of areas; and offer opportunities for doctoral students in disciplinary programs to be trained in cross-cutting methodologies and engage with policy.

Brown has become a leader in international and public affairs, and the new school will create a nexus for the campus-wide pursuit of global knowledge, educational leadership and applicable societal solutions.

Francis J. Doyle III Provost
Frank Doyle

Building on the core faculty from the Watson Institute, launching a dedicated school will position the University to attract more of the world’s most talented faculty to help students become leaders in an array of public policy careers, according to Doyle.

“The new school will build on the Watson Institute’s research and teaching and promote innovative scholarship that crosses disparate fields of study,” Doyle said. “This will be accomplished through joint appointments with a wide range of academic departments and through fellows programs, research centers and academic initiatives.”

The new school will support policy-focused learning experiences for students that develop professional skills through real-world scenarios including policy simulations, research labs, field experience, and wide-ranging engagement with alumni in international and public policy careers. It will serve as a home for research expertise among Brown faculty in vital areas, including the costs of war, growing geopolitical competition, gender and security, radicalized violence, humanitarianism and development, the politics of climate change and cybersecurity. And the school will further efforts to broaden the diversity of people and perspectives to enrich innovative research and education.

A new dean will lead this vision. Steinfeld will complete his term as the Watson Institute director on June 30, 2024, and return to the faculty as a professor of China studies and of political science and international and public affairs.

In recognition of Steinfeld’s contributions to the Watson Institute and his role in developing the proposal to create a new school, he will hold the honorary title of Founding Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, Doyle said. An international search for the school’s Inaugural Dean will commence immediately.

“Ed oversaw the substantial expansion of the faculty, the launch of a comprehensive new undergraduate concentration, the creation of programs for military fellows and senior fellows, and initiatives to advance equity and access, all of which have amplified Brown’s impact and scholarship exponentially,” Doyle said. “Guided by Ed’s leadership, the Watson Institute has become a leader in international and public affairs, and this continued growth has poised Brown for the successful launch of the new School of International and Public Affairs.”

Creating a School of International and Public Affairs

Professor Wendy Schiller, director of Brown’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy,  will serve as the interim director of the Watson Institute starting July 1, when Steinfeld completes his term. Schiller has taught at Brown since 1994 and witnessed the major expansion of international and public affairs study that has paved the way for the new school. She will lead the institute for the next year, partnering with Brown’s academic leaders on the planning process to formalize academic programs and operating structures for the new school while the search for the school’s inaugural dean is conducted. 

Launching the new school is an opportunity to shine a light on Brown’s excellence in international and public affairs.

Wendy Schiller Professor of Political Science
Wendy Schiller

“Launching the new school is an opportunity to shine a light on Brown’s excellence in international and public affairs, consider areas where we will grow, and amplify our voice in the policy world,” Schiller said. “It’s also important to note that a School of International and Public Affairs will enhance undergraduate education at Brown by giving all students on campus access to a range of scholars and scholarship in ways that are more in depth, comprehensive and accessible, so they will have stronger training as they go forth to their careers or to graduate school.”

Schiller emphasized that the  visibility and resources of a school will also help to attract top-tier faculty, research funding and highly motivated students.

“As Brown becomes a more prominent leader in this space, it will help position the University for growth in private and public grant raising and foundation support, and it will widen our reach with alumni, which will strengthen the University going forward,” Schiller said.

In the strategic planning process taking place over the next year, “we will review the breadth of our portfolio, the scope of the school’s mission and the evolution of the Watson Institute in the context of the new School of International and Public Affairs,” Doyle said. That process will provide an opportunity to explore a wide range of important questions — from the organizational structure of academic programs to initiatives within the school — and set in motion the search for the school’s inaugural dean.

The establishment of the school follows the unanimous March 2024 endorsement of the proposal by Brown’s Academic Priorities Committee and approval by the full Brown faculty in April.

Susan Moffitt, incoming chair of Brown’s Department of Political Science and current director of academic programs for the Watson Institute, said the new school will further Brown’s strong track record of welcoming national and global scholars who are making an impact.

“The needs of the moment are manifold, and they call for the mobilization of the public spirit — that’s part of why I see a School of International and Public Affairs as so crucial, with an emphasis on the word ‘public,’” Moffitt said. “There are countless areas in need of fresh thinking, committed scholarship and engagement to work for a just and peaceful world. With the present moment’s complex and compelling demands, the creation of the school demonstrates Brown’s commitment to cultivate the public and global good.”