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Michael Kennedy, the new director of the Watson Institute for International Studies, picked up a book from a shelf in his office and opened it to a page featuring a black-and-white photograph.


The image shows the 1989 Polish Communist Party negotiations that came to be known as the "round table talks" and resulted in an agreement that paved the way for freedom of speech, democratization and reform in Poland. Gesturing towards the small round table in his own office, Kennedy said his own academic interest in the Polish talks reflects his broader approach to directing Watson.

In an interview with The Herald Monday, Kennedy said he believes the mandate of the Watson directorship is to think about how different kinds of studies relate to one another and how knowledge and information can move between various disciplines.

Kennedy said he decided to come to Brown because he saw potential for a new leader to further develop an already strong research institute.

"Watson had a terrific legacy but needed a new future," he said. "And there was an invitation to be creative which was too compelling to turn down."

A sociologist who has studied global knowledge networks and the politics of energy security, Kennedy was previously the director of the University of Michigan's Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia and its Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies. He began his new job as director of Watson in July.

"Michael Kennedy has a terrific background for being the leader of Watson," said Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98. Kennedy's previous leadership at Michigan and status as a respected academic give him an "ideal background" for the position, Kertzer added.

The position of Watson director was previously held by David Kennedy '76 (no relation), who resigned unexpectedly in June. David Kennedy, a former law professor at Harvard, was hired in 2008 to be the University's first vice president for international affairs but also served as interim director of the Watson Institute after former director Barbara Stallings resigned from the post only months after his appointment.

David Kennedy had clashed with some colleagues at Watson over some of his proposals for Watson's future, including an expanded legal studies program.

But Michael Kennedy, the new director, said he appreciates the "significance" of Watson's growing global governance program and is fortunate to have colleagues with legal studies backgrounds. "Different kinds of expertise and cultural systems wind up shaping how we think of what is international and what is not," he said.

Kennedy said that when he first began looking at the Watson director position, he thought the institute was a unique intellectual community.

"Brown and Watson seemed like a very special place, in particular because the community shares values and a commitment to interdisciplinarity and internationalization," he said.

He also said he shares the Watson faculty's interest in "how knowledge flows and ideas actually travel across the world."

Having studied the internationalization of universities from an academic perspective, Kennedy said problems often arise from such movements because that kind of effort "tends to be all over the map." To be effective, they must be coupled with all of the endeavors a university takes up, he said.

"Watson cannot be the University's only expression of internationalization, nor should it be," Kennedy said. Watson has a particular contribution to offer, he added, because its researchers have always sought to think beyond the borders of traditional disciplines in order to address the world's most pressing problems.

Watson has a "legacy of taking up the most challenging issues in the world and thinking about mobilizing knowledge to address it," he said. The institute has an "incredible array of people who are on the cutting edge."

When asked whether students can expect any new programs at Watson this year, Kennedy said he prefers not to think "in terms of programs, but in terms of networks and relationships."

"We're more effective if we think in terms of matrices of collaboration," he said.

He added that he is working closely with Matthew Gutmann, the new vice president for international affairs.

Regarding the challenges he faces as the new director of Watson, Kennedy joked that the greatest challenge of his directorship so far has been "weathering the welcomes."

Though he will not be in the classroom this year, Kennedy said he hopes to someday teach a class while balancing his administrative responsibilities. He said he remembers the difference that inspiring professors made in his own undergraduate experience and takes pleasure in working with students.

"There is so much intellectual vitality across campus," he said. "Part of what I see as a challenge is to think about how that terrific intellectual vitality across the campus can fuel Watson's future."


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