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Watson Institute plans to merge three concentrations, IR Director to step down

New concentration will eliminate language requirement, could be implemented by fall 2019

Updated March 7, 2019 at 12:14 A.M.

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs intends to combine three of its concentrations — Development Studies, International Relations and Public Policy — into a single concentration called “International and Public Affairs,” a change that could be implemented as early as fall 2019 if approved by the College Curriculum Council, said Director of the Watson Institute Edward Steinfeld P’20.

The new planned concentration will offer three specialized tracks: Development, Security, and Policy & Governance. Concentrators were notified of the plan’s details in an email Wednesday morning.

Following discussions about these planned changes, Nina Tannenwald, director of the International Relations program, announced that she will step down as director effective July 1. “I know that those who will be implementing the new concentration hope it will be rigorous and exciting,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. Tannenwald will continue to teach at the University.

Structure of the new concentration

The proposed International and Public Affairs concentration will include a core program for all concentrators, beginning with gateway courses intended for first-years and sophomores. These introductory courses are meant to address general themes, such as inequality, ethnicity, gender and inclusion, Steinfeld said.

A qualitative methods course and a quantitative methods course will also be required, but students who complete four semesters of language study will be able to opt out of one of these methods courses, according to the proposal.

The new concentration will also remove the current language requirement for International Relations and Development Studies concentrators.

The new plan for language courses is the biggest change to the new concentration, said Patsy Lewis, director of the Development Studies program. “Language is a skill … that makes you more competitive but also opens you up to other cultures,” she said. “Whether or not the new degree requires it, I think students should be encouraged to have some exposure to language.”

In their junior year, all International and Public Affairs concentrators will take a seminar focused on “substantive issues that transcend particular academic disciplines or geographies,” according to the proposal. Junior seminars will not be tied to specialized tracks. Seniors in the concentration will be required to write a thesis, complete a traditional capstone project or work on a more practice-oriented policy report.

Each of the three tracks will have its own required foundational course as well as a set of electives offered by departments across the University. The Development track will focus on “understanding and improving human living standards, quality of life and prosperity,” Security will examine violence and violence prevention and Policy & Governance will explore the “design, implementation and evaluation of public policies,” according to the proposal.

Faculty Reactions

The Watson Institute’s proposal comes after the Office of the Dean of the College released its own April 2018 report that recommended combining the Institute’s concentrations into two tracks, The Herald previously reported.

Both the April 2018 report and the current plan elicited mixed reviews, The Herald previously reported. Tannenwald wrote “I am not in favor of this plan” in an October 2018 email to IR concentrators about the Dean’s report, critiquing the concept of a concentration combining the Institute’s disciplines.

Anthony Levitas, director of the Public Policy program, said the most up-to-date proposal of the concentration is an improvement from the original report. “The proposal to have two tracks in the concentration was precipitous,” he said. “(The new concentration) reconfigures the way we should be thinking about the … interdisciplinary (use of) social sciences in the real world.” If the proposal is approved, Levitas will be the director of the Policy & Governance track in International and Public Affairs.

“There are some positive developments (in) trying to give students a common core … and having the Watson faculty at the center of the teaching curriculum,” Lewis said. “Students should have access to the same level of resources,” she said, noting that the three departments are currently funded based on the number of students.

Student Reactions

The reactions of students interviewed by The Herald ranged from cautious approval to blatant disapproval.

“Initially, I was against (the new concentration) because I thought it decreases the uniqueness and the independence between the concentrations,” said Annie Phan ’20, a concentrator in development studies. But after Phan read the new proposal and talked to some faculty at the Institute, she began to “see something good.” Phan had observed some overlap between the concentrations prior to this proposal, and she liked the idea of having more seminars that would encourage discourse among students of different concentrations. But she did caution that there is still room for improvement. “If (the Institute) really wants students to see the positive effects, there needs to be more classes (that are) more relevant and specific to the track,” Phan said.

Katrina Northrop ’19, also a concentrator in development studies, could understand why the Institute proposed the new concentration. “Right now, the way that Watson is organized is not necessarily the best because it is very fragmented,” she said. “A lot of the resources within Watson and a lot of the professors kind of get dispersed over three concentrations, so not everyone has access to all of it,” she added. “So I get why they’re trying to consolidate it.”

Ellen Flax ’21, an international relations concentrator, noted that “the old IR major is going to be abolished as soon as the International and Public Affairs concentration is fully implemented,” adding that “what’s hard about this new major is that people are going to identify a lot more with their track than they are with their actual major.”

Flax appreciated the removal of the language requirement. She explained that the requirement is “a huge drag for people and a huge deterrent,” so the change “just makes (the concentration) more flexible.”

But both Flax and Sarah Ashe ’21, a concentrator in International Relations, were saddened that the International Relations concentration will essentially be melded with Development Studies and Public Policy. “International Relations is the exact combination of things I want to be learning at Brown,” Flax said. “I didn’t want to do Development Studies, and I didn’t want to do Public Policy. I knew International Relations was really what I wanted.”

In comparison, Northrop noted that the Development Studies program might be able to “remain the same under the broader Watson concentration.” But a “lot of the DS concentrators are nervous that if they are enveloped in the larger Watson concentration, … our more nuanced take on … issues would be lost,” she said. “And it wouldn’t be a small department, which is why some of the Development Studies concentrators love it.”

Noah Klein ’20, who is double-concentrating in public policy and economics, was also concerned about International and Public Affairs becoming a large concentration. “It’s hard to build a community — to develop a community — of students when there is so many of them,” he said, adding that the larger size may deter a lot of people from choosing this concentration. Klein was disappointed with the proposal and said that many items in the proposal made changes in areas that did not need to be fixed.

Reasoning behind the change

The Watson Institute proposed these changes because its resources and the needs of its students have changed in the past few years, Steinfeld said. “The faculty of the Watson Institute is very different from what it looked like just… five six years ago,” he said. “We have more people. We have more capacity to do things in-house than we did in the past.”

The current proposal is based on input from a series of town hall meetings, discussions with students and internal discussion among the faculty at the Institute, Steinfeld said.

Currently, many of the requirements for the Institute’s three existing concentrations are dependent on courses offered by other departments, which makes it difficult to create a “fully coherent curriculum,” Steinfeld said. “We thought we would try to internalize a bunch of things into Watson and also address some student concerns that have been expressed.”

Students voiced a number of concerns about the existing concentrations during the development of the new proposal, Steinfeld said.

“There was some concern that the requirements in each of (the current) concentrations were sometimes not quite flexible enough,” he said, citing the number of languages taught at the University and the lack of courses focused on certain regions of the world as factors that can impede some students’ goals.

Students also called for more opportunities to interact with faculty, Steinfeld said. The new proposal aims to address this concern by providing more seminars and providing each concentrator with an individual concentration adviser. “More of these close, one-on-one interactions or small group interactions is going to be part of the advising climate and community here at Watson,” Steinfeld said.

Implementing the proposal

The Institute hopes to begin offering the new concentration this coming fall, Steinfeld said.

The earliest that students will be able to declare the new concentration is late this semester or early next semester, pending approval from the CCC, wrote Besenia Rodriguez ’00, senior associate dean for curriculum, in an email to The Herald. But none of the students who have already declared one of the current concentrations will be required to make any change, she wrote.

Students applying to the University may still have a choice between old and new requirements, Steinfeld said. “There’s going to be some multi-year transition.”

“I think it’s up to us in this concentration, and Brown generally, to demonstrate that the liberal arts education really counts, and that it can help people think clearly,” Steinfeld said. “It can help people make arguments clearly, and maybe more important than anything else, it could help people do something about the problems they’re facing and persuade other people to help them do something. That makes me feel like it’s really something worth doing.”


Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article referenced a student as “a concentrator in the Department of International Relations.” In fact, there is no Department of International Relations at the University, so the student is a “concentrator in International Relations.” The Herald regrets the error.

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