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Watson director's unpopular agenda draws ire

More than a year into his tenure, Vice President for International Affairs David Kennedy '76 has alienated colleagues over the direction of the Watson Institute for International Studies by pushing a legal studies program staffed by close personal acquaintances with non-traditional academic credentials.

In multiple interviews, faculty members and administrators inside and outside Watson expressed growing discontent with Kennedy's actions in advancing his agenda, which has included a global governance program, the hiring of lawyers to Watson's faculty and a proposal - largely rebuffed - to allow the Institute to grant tenure to its appointees.

Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School, joined the Brown administration in January 2008, charged with bringing his expertise in international affairs and global governance to bear on the University's efforts to raise its global profile. The administrative structure surrounding his new position meant the director of Watson would report directly to him.

But just months after Kennedy started, the director, Barbara Stallings, unexpectedly resigned, prompting Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 to ask Kennedy to serve as interim director in her place.

Since then, Kennedy has been filling two jobs, overseeing new partnerships between Brown and international institutes of higher education while leading the busy Watson Institute - balancing what some have called an extremely demanding workload. The search for a new full-time director of Watson is in progress.

"David Kennedy already has a major job as vice president for international affairs," Kertzer said, adding that Kennedy would most likely not be asked to fulfill both jobs permanently.

Though Kennedy said in an interview last month that many of his original plans to advance the University's international programs were still on track, faculty opposition has stymied the implementation of key elements of his agenda.

Faculty members at Watson and in related departments have expressed concern that Kennedy's proposed global governance program tilts the Institute too far in the direction of legal studies, a sentiment echoed by Abbott Gleason, an adjunct professor at Watson and professor emeritus of Russian history, who served as director of the Institute from 1999 to 2000.

"I think a certain number of people don't understand what it is," Gleason said of the program. "They're suspicious of a program that they don't have an idea what it's about."

Though a global governance program would be well-situated in today's international political climate, Gleason said, some faculty members see Kennedy's particular vision for the program as more befitting of a law school.

"He came to build a legal institution," said Ross Cheit, an associate professor of political science, adding that Watson offered a way for Kennedy to create a strong legal studies program without a law school.

"Watson looked like a good place to create a law school," said Professor of Sociology Mark Suchman, who heads a legal studies colloquium at Brown and was hired around the same time as Kennedy to promote legal studies.

Kennedy "played the politics wrong," Suchman said, and so was unable to gain the support of colleagues for an academic program that few in theory opposed - and many backed.

"He did a lot of things that were political mistakes," Suchman said. "Institution building is a political process."

Kennedy agreed to an interview with The Herald late last month for a related article, but refused on multiple occasions over the past two weeks to be interviewed again for this article. Reached at his home Saturday, he said, "No comment." When asked again yesterday if he would be willing to comment for the record, he replied in an e-mail, "I think we should leave it that I am unavailable for comment."

Last month, when asked about his agenda for the Watson Institute, Kennedy said, "It's an open conversation."

"There are 700 faculty at Brown, and probably 700 views," he added.

Because of widespread discontent - as well as budgetary confines - Kennedy's global governance program has not taken off as anticipated.

"There isn't really a global governance program yet," said a Brown professor affiliated with the Watson Institute, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. Though the program is in theory "a good fit for us at Brown," the professor said, "I think that a new director will give it some content that will look different from what David Kennedy wanted."

Non-traditional appointments

Part of Kennedy's plan to create a global governance program has involved appointments to the Watson faculty that were seen as "controversial," Suchman said.

Recent appointees to the critical legal studies program include Dan Danielsen, a senior lecturer in public policy, and Nathaniel Berman, who will arrive at Watson in July, both of whom have close personal relationships with Kennedy and have Harvard J.D. degrees but not doctorates.

Danielsen is in a romantic relationship with Kennedy, and Berman is a former student of Kennedy's.

Multiple faculty members appointed in the last year were also Kennedy's close friends before they joined the Institute, said the professor who spoke anonymously.

"We've never had so many law visitors before," the professor said. "Most of them in one way or another have Harvard connections."

Having so many of these appointees coming to Brown from the same place "is not the epitome of diversity," the professor said.

Many faculty members also questioned the reasons for lawyers' attraction to Brown, given that it does not have a law school. Many said they oppose Kennedy's tenure proposal because they fear he plans to lure high-profile lawyers without Ph.D.s to Watson with the promise of job stability.

Multiple professors said Berman, a former professor at Brooklyn Law School and Northeastern University School of Law, signed a short-term renewable contract but was promised a job at Watson for 15 years. None of those sources agreed to be identified as saying so.

But Berman said he received no such promise. "What I have formally is a five-year renewable contract," he said, adding that if discussions about tenure were to occur at Watson, he "would love to participate in them."

Danielsen, who said he is not returning to Brown next year because of administrative issues "relating to the funding for my employment," has also generated questions because of his close personal ties with Kennedy. He denied having been offered a tenure-track position and said he was willing to come to Brown "assuming that my renewal would be based on my performance."

Gleason said it was possible that the lawyers were attracted to Brown because Watson offered them a wide range of expertise to which they might not have access at other universities.

"They'd rather be in a situation where they can interact with people from different fields," he said.

"They're interested in not just legal topics," said Stallings, the former director who remains a research professor at Watson. "In some ways, if they're not in law school, they have more space to do more things."

Looking ahead

When a new Watson director is hired, he or she may report to the provost instead of the vice president for international affairs - representing a reversal of the policy implemented at Kennedy's arrival last year. An announcement of a new director is expected before the summer, Kennedy said last month.

"You often find people who would like to report to the highest position they can," Kertzer said. The decision regarding the hierarchical structure will be decided once a new director is in place, he added.

"There's a difference between someone being your boss, and someone to (whom) you report," Kertzer said.

Faculty members and administrators also suggested that some ofthe tensions at Watson could be attributed to uncertainty surrounding the budget and the search for a new director.

"It's sort of hard to know what Watson will look like even a year from now," Stallings said, adding that she expected "big changes."

Though budgetary constraints have led to rumors that Watson may eliminate the international relations and development studies concentrations, Kennedy has continued to push for new initiatives and programs.

Kertzer said it was "unfortunate" that more of Kennedy's ideas have not been realized, he said it was important to "keep it in the broader context rather than focusing on individual grievances."

"David is a dynamo," Kertzer said.


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