University News

U. looks to further globalization efforts via Watson, study abroad

News Editor
Monday, October 1, 2012

With a new president recruited in part for her high-profile work framing academics in an international context, the University is positioned to reexamine and expand its global presence.
Since her naming this March, President Christina Paxson has highlighted internationalization as a key priority, noting opportunities to strengthen connections with other countries and integrate international studies with the undergraduate education. As Paxson develops a framework of goals for her presidency, internationalization is a thread that will run through discussions among the planning committees tasked with informing Paxson’s agenda, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15.
“We want our efforts in internationalization to be part of our overall effort at making Brown increasingly excellent,” he said.
Paxson, who previously headed Princeton’s renowned Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, has discussed the importance of “untethering” students from Brown, a goal administrators said is important to enhance education and expand the University’s presence in the United States and abroad.
Paxson will also head the search for a new director for the Watson Institute for International Studies. The Watson Institute’s last permanent director, Professor of Sociology Michael Kennedy, stepped down in 2011. Last year’s search for a new director yielded three finalists, but none were ultimately hired.

‘Comparative advantage’
Though many ideas are under consideration regarding the University’s international expansion, opportunities for experience abroad may be an initial focus, said Matt Gutmann, vice president for international affairs.
For instance, Gutmann said about 16 percent of engineering students study abroad, compared to 40 percent of students concentrating in humanities or social sciences – a discrepancy he said the University hopes to narrow. Efforts could involve creating internships abroad for students, encouraging professors to take classes on international field trips and adding universities to Brown Plus One, a program through which students can study at both Brown and an international university to get a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years.
The University will also try to take root in countries where it has a “comparative advantage,” both Gutmann and Schlissel said, pointing in particular to India and Brazil.
Brown has extensive faculty expertise on Brazil, Gutmann said, adding that the University also researches climate change in Brazil through a partnership with the Marine Biological Lab in Cape Cod, Mass.
Several faculty members are knowledgeable about urban India, Gutmann said, suggesting that this could become an area of strength for the University. The University officially launched its Brown-India Initiative, which includes a lecture series and an increase in research about contemporary India, on Friday.
Brown is among many institutions of higher education interested in Brazil and India due to their geopolitical importance, said James Goldgeier, the dean of American University’s School of International Service.
“Everybody’s going to India and Brazil. We’re all going there – we’re all trying to do stuff there,” he said. Brown’s true advantage, Goldgeier said, is its caliber as “one of America’s top universities.”
But there are challenges beyond competing with other top universities.
“There are issues related to bureaucracy working in those countries,” Goldgeier said. “I don’t think anyone should expect any major transformations in those countries right away.”

Working through Watson
Since beginning her tenure, Paxson has also taken a lead role in identifying and recruiting a new permanent director for the Watson Institute.
Unlike in previous years, the search currently involves a smaller ad hoc advisory committee, and Paxson will make the final decision. Schlissel said he expects a new director to be identified by the end of the year.
Because the University will be targeting candidates in high-profile positions, the search will be more secretive than past ones have been, so as not to jeopardize candidates’ current jobs, Schlissel said. “You have to be sensitive,” he said.
Paxson’s involvement influences the search in two ways, said Peter Andreas, interim director of the Watson Institute and a member of the advisory committee. Last year’s search was complicated by the fact that former president Ruth Simmons was leaving the University, and her successor had not yet been named, he said.
Candidates for the position “would understandably be concerned about taking on the job without knowing who the next president is,” Andreas said.
With Paxson in place, candidates can talk directly with the president about what kind of support they would receive for the Watson Institute, Andreas said. And because of Paxson’s background at the Woodrow Wilson School, candidates can be confident she will prioritize internationalization, he said.
“We’re attempting to identify spectacular candidates that didn’t apply to the job last year,” Schlissel said. A president who has attained prominence in international studies “will tremendously enhance the caliber of the person that’s interested in coming here,” he added.
As Brown pursues international ties and recognition, the Watson Institute should be seen as a “flagship center” of international collaboration, Andreas said.
Though the institute is waiting for a permanent director, it “can’t just hit the pause button,” he added.
“Watson has and can continue to play an important role,” specifically in the area of global security, he said. For instance, areas like cybersecurity, transnational crime and urban violence fall under the spectrum of global security – the institute’s historic area of focus – but are “understudied” in academia, he said.

What’s next?
A decade from now, Schlissel said he envisions an educational model where students and faculty will both learn and do research “as mobile communities of scholars.”
Such globalization could call for innovative ways of using technology to remain rooted in Brown, Paxson said. “Students should in theory be able to be anywhere in the world but still be able to connect back to the Brown community,” she added. “We can have our students really involved with things on our campus while they’re not physically here, and they can go off and be doing really interesting things in other parts of the country and the world.”
In globalizing, Brown could play a distinctive role by focusing on undergraduate education and the liberal arts – emphasizing “being able to feel comfortable working in different kinds of environments, in different cultures,” Goldgeier said.
The University has “an incredible faculty and a lot of tremendous scholars on the faculty,” he said. “But I think about it really in the context of a tremendous liberal arts education. And that’s a very special thing.”

– With additional reporting by Sahil Luthra

  • Laura Wallendal

    Great article! The idea of ‘untethering’ students from a university campus sounds like an excellent way to begin thinking about this push for globalization. Creating an environment that encourages learning in other parts of the country and world, while ensuring the innovation is tied back to the school is such a worthwhile effort. It’s great that an institution like Brown is putting globalization as such a high priority.