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The Bruno Brief: Inside IAPA, three years on

In March 2019, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs announced its plan to phase out three of its concentrations and replace them with one new undergraduate concentration. In place of International Relations, Public Policy and Development Studies would come International and Public Affairs, a flexible and customizable new program with space for five electives from departments across the University. Three years later, IAPA has been fully implemented as a concentration. In this episode of the Bruno Brief, we find out how these first years have gone, and what the future of IAPA looks like for undergraduates.

Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or listen via the RSS feed. Send tips and feedback for the next episode to herald@browndailyherald.com. The Bruno Brief is produced in partnership with WBRU.

Livi Burdette

Welcome back to the Bruno Brief. I’m Livi Burdette. On this week’s episode: Three years ago, Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs announced a major curricular change for undergraduate students. They would be phasing out three existing concentrations — International Relations, Public Policy and Development Studies — and introducing one new concentration to replace them, called International and Public Affairs. The new concentration, which most now refer to as IAPA, offers students three tracks to choose from, which map pretty easily onto the three previous concentrations: Development, Policy & Governance and Security. 

Ed Steinfeld 

Ultimately, there was a proposal not really to meld the traditional concentrations into one, but rather to find a new concentration that could capture some of the new opportunities at Watson, but at the same time allow students who have been interested in the previous concentrations to continue doing the kinds of things they wanted to do. We really wanted to try to create something new. At the same time, we weren't shutting out opportunities that were there in the past.

Livi Burdette 

That was Ed Steinfeld, who directs the Watson Institute. So, what exactly is different about IAPA, with its three distinct tracks of study, from the three Watson concentrations that existed before? First and foremost — and you’ll hear this echoed throughout the episode — IAPA provides a huge amount of flexibility in the courses a student can take to count toward their concentration.    

Ed Steinfeld 

IAPA has a core curriculum, pretty much taught by Watson faculty, and the gateway courses and the track foundational courses and junior seminars and senior seminars. But then students who each pick a track are required to take five additional electives. And those electives really come from across the University.

Livi Burdette 

Another big change is specific to the International Relations concentration, now most similar to the Security track within IAPA. The old IR concentration required all students to study a language to level 600. This language would be linked with a focus on a specific geographic region. 

Caroline Allen 

So my language is French and my regional focus is sub-Saharan Africa.

Livi Burdette

That’s Caroline Allen ’22.5. She’s a student in the class of 2022.5 studying history and international relations. 

Caroline Allen 

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I think a large part of my decision making was that I realized, if I want to go into the IR field postgrad, I really want to have a language and have that be kind of a holistic part of my IR studies. I felt that learning a language and having that immersion into kind of a different part of the world was an important part of the discipline. And I wanted to kind of have that structured into my concentration.

Livi Burdette 

Allen is in one of the last classes at Brown to be allowed to study the old IR concentration. Starting with the class of 2024, International Relations, Public Policy and Development Studies are no longer available to new concentrators. Allen says she’s been happy with her decision, but that she was confused when the change was announced back in March 2019. 

Caroline Allen 

I felt that maybe there wasn't too much information made available comparing the two concentrations. So I think I was mostly confused. I think I really took the advice of older students who concentrated in IR very seriously. I remember having a couple conversations with older students who were like very frustrated with the change in the concentration and really upset about it. And I do kind of wish that the Watson had done more publicity about the kind of differences between the two concentrations and why they were switching them and what it meant for students in our year where we had the choice of either doing the old IR or the new IAPA.

Dani Poloner 

So, the reason that I was in political science initially, and then made the switch, is because I didn't realize how flexible International Public Affairs was.

Livi Burdette 

That’s Dani Poloner ’24, an IAPA concentrator in the class of 2024 who serves on the Watson Student Advisory Committee. Because IAPA’s concentration requirements are so flexible, he wasn’t sure at first what courses could count toward his degree. 

Dani Poloner 

I just set up a meeting with the Policy and Governance track advisor, (Anthony) Levitas. And I was like, these are the classes that I've taken. He's like, ‘Oh, no, you can count that and that and that.’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I'm literally done with my electives. And I am a first semester sophomore.’

You know, I think that the reason that I came to Brown, and a lot of people came to Brown, is for the Open Curriculum. I really appreciate the ability to take classes in any department without having to worry about meeting requirements. And so I've felt since I switched to IAPA that it really is the Open Curriculum, like, embodied in concentration. You can really take whatever you want, and if it fits into your field, you could make it work. 

Livi Burdette 

With so much flexibility, IAPA is meant to challenge students to take control of their own field of focus, while also lowering the bar of entry to students who are interested in what the Watson has to offer but don’t want to commit fully to the requirements of one of its old concentrations. 

Ed Steinfeld 

I think students are right to say that there are advantages and disadvantages of that degree of flexibility. So one advantage is students can develop a theme that can kind of be self-directed, and then they can take advantage of all the cool things going on at Brown. The disadvantage, it's a little bit like the Open Curriculum, is that one could get lost in all of this choice. And so what that means is it puts greater pressure on us really at Watson to make sure that the advising operates well, and that students can speak to different kinds of advisors and levels of advisors to try to come up with a set of electives that makes sense and that have a kind of a coherence.

Livi Burdette 

That was Ed Steinfeld. As the three old concentrations — Public Policy, International Relations and Development Studies — are being phased out, I asked (Anthony Levitas), a professor of public policy and now the director of the Policy & Governance track within IAPA, how the loss of these three distinct groups of study will change the undergraduate experience within the Watson. 

Anthony Levitas

You know, it's like, the old is yet to die and the new has yet to be fully born. I think there's a good esprit de corps among the senior class of this year's Public Policy program. And I think that's carried over. Next year's senior class is much smaller, so it'll kind of fade away. We'll see what the IAPA feeling is, and whether it — I hope it doesn't break down along the tracks. And it would be nice if the IAPA concentration had a really wide and inclusive feeling that extended across all the tracks, because in a lot of ways, we're talking about the narcissism of small differences.

Livi Burdette 

In any case, IAPA is here to stay. Steinfeld is excited about how the new program will fit into the larger trajectory of the Watson Institute as it grows and evolves. 

Ed Steinfeld 

I think as Watson evolved and became more robust in terms of its faculty but also became more robust in terms of its connections to the rest of the university. You know, I mentioned a joint postdoc with CSREA, work we do with the School of Public Health, work we do with the social sciences departments or humanities departments, that makes us stronger collectively. But it feeds into good education. And so, at least speaking for myself, my goal was to have our concentration, to have IAPA, manifest those kinds of qualities. And I think without a great concentration, we just can't be a great organization.

Livi Burdette 

That’s it for this week’s episode of The Bruno Brief. The Bruno Brief is produced by Katy Pickens ’24, Corey Gelb-Bicknell ’23.5, Lella Wirth ’25, Ellery Campbell ’25, Jacob Smollen ’25, Finn Kirkpatrick ’25, Da-Young Kim ’25 and me, Livi Burdette ’22.5. If you like what you hear, subscribe to the Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts, and leave a review. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.

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