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Columns

Kenyon GS: The Watson-Taubman marriage and why it matters

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Sept. 16 edition of The Herald unveiled one of the largest changes within the University this year: the integration of the Taubman Center for American Institutions and Public Policy into the Watson Institute for International Studies (“Taubman to integrate with Watson Institute”). A town hall-style meeting Sept. 23 further educated Taubman faculty members, staff members and students about the comprehensive shift in operations slated to take effect within the next year.

As with all changes, the announcement coming out of Taubman leaves some supportive of the new direction, while others are wary of the transition taking shape. This columnist’s position? Embrace the change. This change matters.

As newly minted Taubman Director James Morone guided his town hall-style discussion, he articulated several concurrent themes that will be emphasized throughout the integration: maintaining a “hands-on” experience, providing more course offerings to current and future students and raising the overall profile of the Taubman Center and its programs relative to other top public policy programs in the nation. The last of these three tenets is key: Taubman’s changes highlight the University’s desire to offer policy degrees with national recognition and gravitas.

Morone explained that he looks not only to build Taubman as the “policy clearinghouse” for Rhode Island, but to “grab the lead” in American and international public policy research — falling in the same academic strata as nationally renowned policy programs like those at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

In light of this news, there are still some doubts about how this move is a positive for Taubman. I challenge those nay-sayers.

One bold change did create uncertainty for some first- and second-year masters students — the shelving of the Masters of Public Policy degree, as University officials look to dedicate the next several years to bolstering the reputation and rigor of the Masters of Public Affairs degree. Taking one degree offline while emphasizing the other is acceptable as far as keeping priorities clear. Allowing for complete experimentation with one degree, unfettered by the responsibilities of the other, will provide for a faster turn-around time on completing the new MPA program in its entirety.

Morone explained that the depth and breadth of the MPA will undergo change, as the new MPA program will shorten in length by one semester and will feature an internationally focused immersion component — appropriate given the Watson Institute’s new involvement. The quantitative nuances of the MPP degree will be incorporated into a policy-intense track within the sole MPA program, while other tracks will largely retain the qualities of the existing MPA program.

Those seeking an MPA degree starting next year will enjoy a greater variety of course choices, with an ability to personally tailor their program experience and apply it to an off-campus experience aimed at bridging the transition between graduate school and full employment.

Morone was quick to point out that the MPP’s temporary withdrawal from degree offerings was not to be misconstrued as retiring the degree altogether. The MPP is scheduled to return within four to five years of the changes this year. As Morone explained, the focus will be to “get one (degree) right, then move on to the other.” Patience makes perfect.

Another lingering question regards the integration with the Watson Institute, and where our center stands. It is clear this will provide for “cross-pollination” between academic disciplines and the MPA program, as one Taubman student suggested in the meeting. Creating connections with other programs under the Watson Institute’s umbrella will similarly expand the interdisciplinary scope in Taubman’s programs and facilitate the beginning of a program that no other Ivy League school has yet crafted.

Even today, the graduate students who collectively account for Taubman’s MPA and MPP candidates look to emerge as actors within a variety of different professional fields — including politics, education, social innovation and nonprofit leadership — and the expansion of academic offerings can only further enrich the Taubman experience.

As with all changes, there are fears of the unknown and fears that once change is initiated, it is irreversible. The questions surrounding Taubman’s merger are wholly appropriate, as the collection of masters students who study within the center are conscious of what is at stake. I, along with my peers, elected to join the Brown community because of the Taubman Center and what it offers. The message that must be conveyed here is that while Taubman may offer us so much now, the Watson-Taubman integration will offer us more.

The changes in store for Taubman not only reflect the University’s dedication to the field of public policy, but also the continued recognition of Taubman as one of the University’s outstanding assets. Taubman serves not only students, faculty members and researchers, but also Providence and, increasingly, the nation. Setting forth this year, the increased scrutiny on Taubman, under the guidance of the Watson Institute, will surely pave the way for Taubman’s sustained success far into the future — potentially longer than any current Brunonian will live to see.

As Morone explained, his hope is to craft a “famous program with a brand.” As one of the first Taubman graduate students to be affected by these changes, I say to my Taubman brethren: Embrace the change, take advantage of Taubman’s open ears on how to move forward and take part in the rise to stardom of a program that will one day be famous. The Taubman Center is ours and ours to pass on. Let’s make it count not only for us, but for all those who follow in our footsteps.

 

Ian Kenyon GS is a Master of Public Affairs candidate at the Taubman Center. He can be reached at ian_kenyon@brown.edu.

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