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Public policy program revamped after merger

Joint doctoral, MPA program to focus on global learning through Med School partnership

The University’s public policy program will expand to include two new graduate dual-degree programs and a restructured undergraduate concentration, following the merger of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and the Watson Institute for International Studies, said James Morone, director of the Taubman Center and professor of political science, public policy and urban studies.

The center is developing new joint doctoral and master’s programs in public affairs and public health and will officially announce them soon, Morone said. The joint doctoral and master’s of public affairs program, which will be run in partnership with the Alpert Medical School, is unique as a four-year program. The joint MD/MPA degrees offered at many other universities generally take five years to complete.

The joint master’s of public affairs and master’s of public health program, which will be offered in conjunction with the School of Public Health, will last two years, which is also unusual, Morone said.

Students in the restructured undergraduate concentration will pick one of several “substantive policy areas” to focus on, such as education, health or environmental policy, said Shankar Prasad PhD’06, associate director for academic programs and planning at the Taubman Center and the Watson Institute. In addition to completing core requirements in areas such as economics, statistics and ethics, students will take three courses in their chosen track and one course each in two other tracks, Prasad said. Students may also design their own track, he added.

Previously, concentrators were required to take two courses in American institutions, two in public policy problems and one in global policy. But several students said these requirements were vague and confusing because so many courses could fulfill them.

“It’s really helpful to have some type of structure, especially in a department like public policy,” said Brenna Scully ’17, a public policy concentrator. A number of concentration requirements can be filled with courses from other departments, making more structured requirements useful, she added.

Callum Nelson ’17, another public policy concentrator, said he also supports the altered structure. “Kids probably naturally chose tracks anyway. … Now all they’re saying is you have to do it,” he said.

Tracks are “the biggest change and the one we’re most excited about,” Prasad said, adding that they are meant to “guide students.”

“It’s really important to me that a program like this be very interdisciplinary,” Morone said. “And in that way it really captures one of the great things about Brown, which is we are a very interdisciplinary university.”

The Taubman Center is now in the process of determining next year’s course offerings and how Watson faculty members will be integrated into the public policy program, Morone added.

In the past, gaining approval for related courses taught outside the Taubman Center was difficult, Scully said, adding that she anticipates the new emphasis on specific policy areas will make the process easier.

Current sophomores and students through the class of 2019 may choose between the old and new concentration structures. Thereafter, only the new structure will be offered.

Another change is that the concentration’s five core courses will now be taught within the Taubman Center. Previously, students took the majority of core courses in other departments, including economics, political science, sociology and education. The change is intended to help foster a sense of community among concentrators, Prasad said.

Concentrators may also participate in the Engaged Scholars Program run by the Swearer Center for Public Service, which allows students to gain real-world experience through community service or internships, Prasad said. Participants must complete 250 hours of community service or other experiential learning during the summer or school year, in addition to taking two courses featuring hands-on work.

Public policy is currently one of five concentrations that aim to connect concentrators with the Engaged Scholars Program, though more departments will likely join in the future, said Dean of the College Maud Mandel. The other participating concentrations are anthropology, engineering, environmental studies and theater arts and performance studies.

“What we’d like to do is harness the power of the open curriculum and the creative energy that is Brown’s intellectual experience and channel that into things to do off campus,” Mandel said.

Students in any public policy track can participate in Engaged Scholars, though the center is also offering a concentration track in partnership with the Swearer Center that specifically focuses on social change, Morone said.

Public policy is “a natural fit” for Engaged Scholars, Morone said, adding that “public policy at its best is about political and social change.”

Several students agreed that the Engaged Scholars program fits well with public policy.

“I don’t want my education to be four years of learning and then you go apply it. I would like to be able to apply it as soon as possible,” Nelson said. While he is considering participating in the program, he would have done community service even without Engaged Scholars, which “sounds kind of like a title to describe something that’s not drastically different from what my education would be anyway,” he added.

Another reason for the new tracks is the program’s embrace of a more global perspective following the recent Taubman-Watson merger, Prasad said. “Unlike most schools where you say ‘I’m either international policy or I do domestic policy,’ we didn’t feel like that made a lot of sense anymore,” he said. “We live in a much more global world.”

Many students praised the new emphasis on a global outlook.

Nelson said he supports the “new perspective” because the program previously only required one course in global policy, which did not sufficiently expose students to international issues.

The merger is a “win-win,” said concentrator Erika Byun ’17, who considered concentrating in international relations before deciding to study public policy.

Amidst these changes, the Taubman Center does not intend to decrease its focus on Rhode Island, Morone and Prasad said. Access to the Watson Institute’s resources will allow them to incorporate new global issues without compromising the center’s historical local interests, they added.

The applicant pool for Taubman’s newly designed one-year MPA program has been strong, Morone said. The program, which is set to begin this summer as the only one of its kind among Ivy League institutions, has received more than 400 applications so far, he added. Applications from Brown undergraduates — who often make for high-quality candidates — have also increased, Morone said.

The MPA has also adopted a global mindset, focusing on “Rhode Island, the United States and the world,” Morone said.

All of the individual changes add up to one lofty goal: “Our ideal is to make public policy a real signature of Brown University,” Morone said. “There are so many students at Brown who have a very idealistic view of the world, who really would like to create social change and political change and are committed to that.”

“Public policy is really important as a way of thinking systematically about how to make change,” he said. “It feels to me so central to the Brown mission and the Brown ethos.”

­— With additional reporting by Duncan Gallagher


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