University News

MIT dean named director of Watson Institute

By
Senior Staff Writer

Richard Locke, deputy dean of the Sloan School of Management and political science department chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be the next director of the Watson Institute for International Studies, the University announced Friday.

This appointment comes after a long period of administrative turmoil at the institute – Locke will be its seventh leader in nine years. 

Locke is a professor and administrator known for his scholarship on labor issues in the global supply chain and his work with both multinational corporations and not-for-profit companies. At MIT, he established the Global Entrepreneurship Laboratory, a popular course that connects students to startup ventures in developing countries.

But administrators expressed confidence that the announcement will usher in a new era for the institute, aligning with the new president and the University’s plans for an increasingly international focus.

Locke said he was excited to get started in July, when he will assume the role currently held by Interim Director and Professor of Political Science Peter Andreas. “It has a core of great faculty, it has a wonderful building, it’s in a university that has amazing students,” he said. He added that one challenge will be determining how best to fulfill the institute’s mission, which has historically been oriented around issues of international security as well as issues of political economy and development.

President Christina Paxson, who headed the search committee, said Locke possesses the ideal combination of skills and experience sought in a director. “He put the whole package together of innovative leadership and great talent,” she said.

Locke and Brown administrators emphasized the goal of better integrating the Watson Institute into the University at large. 

Locke said he hopes to strengthen ties with public health, environmental studies, entrepreneurship and computer science, as well as many of the social science departments traditionally connected with the institute’s international focus.

Another principal focus will be boosting the institute’s reputation outside the University. One major question will be how to “enhance Watson’s visibility and its impact in the country and in the world,” Locke said.

Paxson said the breadth of Locke’s scholarly work would suit him well for the kinds of multidimensional approaches necessary in today’s political and policy landscape. “That’s the world of policy now, where a lot of issues have sort of a combination of for-profit, not-for-profit and public sector players who are involved,” she said.

Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences Ashutosh Varshney, who has known Locke since they were graduate students together at MIT in the 1980s, said Locke was “an inspired choice” for Watson.

“He has (an) ability to lead, a very disciplined, remarkable work ethic and a very cosmopolitan attitude and temper,” Varshney said. He added that Locke’s research is poised to play a crucial role in the international dialogues surrounding labor standards and “how to ensure that labor rights are protected” in supply chains for major companies, like in the process of manufacturing Apple products in China.

This work would interest many members of the Brown community, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15. “That is an issue of global security and peace and stability. It’s an issue of justice, and I think it really would tap into the ethos of our students and the University,” he said.

Locke said his roles at MIT have informed his leadership style and taught him “that you need to bring people together to build a community, and if people are really invested in that intellectual community then great things are going to happen.” He said he has learned that creating consensus and avoiding excessive mandates are most effective in making things move forward.

After a number of searches in recent years resulted in year-long interim appointments, the administration took a different tack this year. The ad hoc committee formed to find a Watson Institute director was much smaller and relied on recommendations from University faculty members, rather than from an external search firm, Schlissel said. It reached out to potential candidates in a less conspicuous way in order to attract high-profile names who might not want to damage their standing at home institutions with a public candidacy announcement, he said.

Locke was the committee’s top choice, Andreas wrote in email to The Herald.

Also critical during this most recent search was the role of Paxson, whose background as former head of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton aligns with the institute’s focus.

Locke called Paxson’s involvement “absolutely essential” to his decision to accept the position. 

Varshney described the appointment as “one of (Paxson’s) great first successes,” adding that committee members he knew were pleased with her hands-on involvement.

Her role “was a sign that she was taking it seriously, and she wanted to take Watson to a place which it truly deserves,” Varshney said.

Locke said he was first contacted about the position in late summer and came to Brown several times for interviews and meetings throughout this semester. Though he will continue in his full-time roles at MIT until June 30 – including teaching and traveling to Brazil as part of his deputy deanship duties – he said he hopes to visit frequently and engage in “a genuine listening tour” with a variety of constituencies.

Though Watson’s history of turmoil at first made him hesitant, Locke said he came to see it “as an opportunity as opposed to a challenge,” adding that he was excited to work with a fairly new University leadership team.

Andreas wrote that Watson has begun a number of smaller pilot programs this year, including new graduate and undergraduate fellows programs and collaborations with various centers at Brown. He added that he would work with Locke for the remainder of the year to get him better acquainted with the institute. “We’re all very excited about his arrival,” he wrote.