In just three years, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs has gained 13 new faculty members, established postdoctoral and faculty fellows programs, integrated with the Taubman Center for American Institutions Politics and Policy and increased its endowment by more than $30 million.
This rapid growth marks a break from the past for the University’s hub of international and public affairs. Prior to the arrival of now-Provost Richard Locke P’17 as director in July 2013, the Watson Institute passed through the hands of six different directors in eight years.
“We were struggling for identity, coherence and direction for several years before Rick came,” said Ashutosh Varshney, director of the Brown-India Initiative and professor of political science and international and public affairs, who has been at the University since 2009.
When President Christina Paxson P’19 assumed her post at the University in July 2012, “strengthening Watson and using Watson to strengthen allied departments was a priority,” she said. Paxson previously served as dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs.
Arriving to Brown in the midst of yet another Watson director search, Paxson seized the opportunity to tap a leader with a clear vision for the institute.
“Not that I want to make Watson another version of the Wilson, but I think my experience in the field did give me an edge in being able to recruit people for it,” she said.
In October 2012, the University offered the post to Locke, then serving as deputy dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and head of its political science department.
Locke accepted the offer the following month.
Watson “showed so much promise, and it was such an interesting moment in Brown’s history,” Locke said. “I thought that I could do something different and play a role in helping to shape Brown’s future.”
Launching the new Watson
Though Locke’s post did not officially commence until the summer, he paid weekly visits to campus starting in January 2013.
During this time, he worked with the faculty members of Watson’s two existing concentrations — international relations and development studies — to develop a strategic plan for the institute. He also met with faculty members across the University to discuss potential partnerships.
Locke’s ultimate goal was “to get Watson back on the map, because it wasn’t on the map at all,” he said.
He quickly determined that this would require raising Watson’s profile within the University.
“One of Rick’s conclusions soon after arriving here was that Watson was too separated from the rest of Brown,” said Stephen Kinzer, senior fellow in international and public affairs. “He made a concerted effort to integrate it with other programs going on at Brown.”
In light of the high turnover rate of Watson’s leadership, Locke initially faced skepticism from faculty members.
“I won’t name names, but my colleagues and our department didn’t have the highest opinion of what was going on at Watson” before Locke took the helm, said Glenn Loury, professor of economics and the social sciences and faculty fellow at Watson. It had a reputation for being “a mess” and “not well run,” he said.
“There had been so many directors, and this time the change was going to happen,” Locke said. “The biggest challenge was to convince people … that they needed to have faith.”
To combat skepticism, Locke involved faculty members in the creation of Watson’s strategic plan, relying on transparency to build trust.
The plan called for Watson to establish postdoctoral and faculty fellows programs, increase its faculty size and focus its activities on three themes: development, security and governance.
Fundraising and hiring
Three years ago, Watson had six faculty positions. When Locke accepted the directorship, he requested funding to double this count to 12. Since then, he has fundraised for the creation of seven additional faculty positions.
These 13 new openings have been filled with faculty members from schools including the University of Virginia, the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, Locke said.
“When we were winning against these other universities that have a lot of visibility, people started noticing,” he said.
Every hiring offer made by Watson in the past two-and-a-half years has been accepted, he added.
“People really bought into the vision of what we’re trying to build and what we’re doing at Brown,” Locke said. “So it wasn’t just Watson. It was the whole idea that Watson could succeed because it was building on a much broader set of resources and relationships at Brown.”
Watson’s building, once nearly empty, is now bustling with activity and even running out of space, Locke said.
“Locke lit a fire under this place,” Kinzer said. “This is the most exciting intellectual environment I have ever been in.”
“A guy down the hall from me was the press spokesman for five secretaries of state,” he said. “The lady across the hall over here was the Indian ambassador to China and the United States. The other day at the coffee machine, I ran into the former president of Chile.”
Locke “has the foresight to bring in these practicing or ex-practicing diplomats or high-level spokespeople and fosters an environment in which those experts want to develop the next generation,” said Sophie Purdom ’16, a research assistant for Richard Boucher, senior fellow in international and public affairs.
“We look at the Wilson School and the Kennedy School, and we say, ‘Bring it on. We can breathe at that altitude,’” Kinzer said.
Taubman on board
The growth of Watson’s influence on and beyond campus continued with the integration of the Taubman Center, a process which took place over the 2014-15 academic year.
The Watson Institute for International Studies thus became the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, offering a public policy concentration in addition to its two existing undergraduate programs.
The integration “was something that people had talked about for years, and Chris Paxson thought it was a good idea,” Locke said.
The University supported the initiative because “to think about policy issues as strictly domestic or strictly international doesn’t really reflect the world in which we live,” said Marisa Quinn, director of communication and outreach at Watson.
“It’s not about international versus domestic,” Locke said. “It’s about big problems in the world, and those big problems — development, security, governance — cut across national borders.”
Taubman’s four faculty members joined the ranks of Watson, and renovations are underway at 59 Charlesfield St. — adjacent to the Watson building, — which will serve as an extension of Watson and house Taubman faculty members.
The building will open in January, said Shankar Prasad MA’03 PhD’06, associate director for academic planning and programs at Watson.
In August 2014, Locke recruited Prasad from New York University, where he served as the director of undergraduate studies at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.
Prasad worked with Locke and James Morone, director of the Taubman Center, to facilitate the integration and reshape Taubman’s graduate program.
Taubman formerly offered two-year master’s programs in public policy and public affairs. These programs were combined to create an intensive one-year MPA, which is now Watson’s “signature master’s program,” Prasad said.
Because Watson is an institute rather than a school, only its master’s programs are ranked, rather than Watson itself.
The 38 students in the first-year cohort — a quarter of whom were Brown undergraduates — started the program in June and will graduate in May, Prasad said.
“It’s really, really important for us to improve the rankings of our public policy program,” Prasad said. “It’s part of the reason we’ve invested so many resources, so much energy and so much time into rethinking it.”
U.S. News and World Report releases its MPA rankings once every four years. In 2012, the last time rankings were released, the Taubman Center came in at 53.
“I think Rick would like to see us as a top-10 program in the next four years or so, and I think that’s also possible, especially given the momentum that is there,” Prasad said.
In July 2015, Locke stepped into his current role as provost, but has since simultaneously continued to serve as Watson director. Edward Steinfeld, professor of political science and China studies and director of the China Initiative, will take over as director Jan. 1.
Steinfeld will be responsible for executing Paxson’s goal of making Watson “a top-five school of its kind in the U.S.,” as stated in Paxson’s operational plan, which translates the goals in her strategic plan “Building on Distinction” into concrete actions.
“My hope is that Watson is going to be the leading light in achieving the goals laid out in ‘Building on Distinction,’” Steinfeld said. “To come in with the support of senior administration is a great position to be in.”
The recent $50 million gift fits into the “process that the senior administration has laid out of substantially expanding the activities and faculty and student opportunities here at Watson,” he said. “It’s the beginning, not the end.”
“There is no reason why Watson should not be considered one of the top international studies centers in the United States,” Kinzer said. “Until we are acknowledged at that level, the job isn’t finished.”