Watson undergraduate concentrations review FAQ

Director Ed Steinfeld will be holding office hours at 111 Thayer to discuss the undergraduate concentration review:

  • Tuesday, December 4, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
  • Thursday, December 6, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
  • Monday, December 10, 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.

In recent years, the Watson Institute has experienced significant growth in its programs and scholarly reach. The Institute is opening a new building that will welcome undergraduates and offer space designed expressly for study and conversation. At the same time, the world has changed in dramatic ways that cry out for academic investigation and policy action. All of these reasons are pushing us to reexamine our three undergraduate concentrations: Development Studies, International Relations, and Public Policy. We want to make sure these three concentrations offer the best and most relevant education in international and public affairs available anywhere in the world.

In the Fall of 2018, the Watson Institute established a faculty committee to lead this review effort. The committee is expected to complete its review and release recommendations this winter. While an initial Dean of the Faculty report was released last year, it's suggestion for reform is in no way the final plan. Student ideas and responses are welcome and encouraged.  

In October, the committee hosted three town halls for concentrators to share insights, ask questions, and make recommendations. Additional town halls will be organized for this winter. What follows is a brief FAQ on some of the topics that came up frequently in the town halls and related meetings.

Q1. Why is Watson reviewing its undergraduate concentrations?

We want to ensure that our students get the highest quality and most relevant education possible at a time when the world itself, including the U.S., seems to be shaking at its core. So many of the assumptions we have used to understand the world are coming into question. We want to make sure that our programs speak to these issues.

We also want to make sure that our concentrations achieve the full benefit of the advances that have taken place in recent years at Watson, including the development of a variety of regional programs (i.e., Middle East Studies, the Africa Initiative, the Brazil Initiative, etc.) and with the Taubman Center on American Politics and Policy joining our community. Given who’s on our faculty, the Watson Institute now can examine pressing issues – i.e., inequality, incarceration, civil conflict, geopolitical competition, citizenship – through a globally comparative lens. Our concentrations should enjoy the full benefit of all of this academic energy.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we want to make sure that our students experience the best academic training possible, including sustained interactions with faculty, meaningful and deep one-on-one mentorship and advising, and a degree that opens up myriad opportunities for life after Brown.       

Q2. Has Watson decided to move forward with the curricular recommendation in the report released by the Dean of the College last Spring?

No. That initial report, which was issued by a committee of faculty and students convened by then-Dean Mandel, identified a number of strengths across the three concentrations, as well as areas in which we could improve. Particularly in terms of how we move forward, it's suggestion for reform is in no way the final plan. The report, however, did highlight opportunities for improvement that mirror what we regularly hear from students: smaller classes, increased advising, greater access to faculty, and stronger community-building opportunities. We take those issues seriously, and we're determined to address them.

The primary result of the report has been the creation of the Watson faculty committee charged with examining the concentrations, addressing the issues identified by the Dean of the College's report, and suggesting reforms. The Watson faculty committee is expected to release its recommendations later this semester. The recommendations may very well be significantly different from what the Dean's report suggested as a possible path forward.

Q3: Will Public Policy, International Relations, and Development Studies be rolled into one concentration?

The Watson Institute is committed to keeping distinct areas of study that reflect the passion and expertise of our faculty and staff. The committee has not yet finalized its review or begun drafting its recommendations. The committee recognizes and appreciates the identity of each undergraduate concentration at Watson. Many different reforms are under consideration, including ones that were helpfully raised by concentrators during the town halls. The goal is to improve the educational experience for all students, and ensure that our offerings are meeting the urgency of our current global moment.

Q4. Will all Watson students have a language requirement in the future?

Language requirements are one of the issues we are discussing. During the town halls, some students were supportive of language requirements, and others were not. We are taking these views seriously, and reexamining how language training fits into our overall academic mission.  

Q5. What is the timeline?

The Watson faculty committee, composed of Andrew Schrank, Rose McDermott, Patrick Heller, Eric Patashnik, Steve Bloomfield, and Ed Steinfeld, is expected to draft a proposal by the end of December. In the new year, we will organize additional town halls to discuss the proposal with students and solicit feedback. Once we have both student and faculty feedback, we will revise accordingly. To be put into effect, any proposal will have to be approved by the Watson faculty, and then submitted for review to the Dean of the College’s College Curriculum Council (CCC).

Q6. Would current concentrators be impacted by any changes?

No. Requirements will not change for current concentrators. We would hope and expect that current students might benefit from the positive changes. These might include new seminars and improved advising and mentoring services. But, requirements will remain the same for current concentrators.

Q7. How can students share ideas, concerns, and recommendations?

There is an online form that students can fill out, as their time allows. The October town halls were insightful, and the committee is hopeful that more students will use the link to share their thoughts and ideas throughout November. Another group of town halls will be organized this winter as the committee's proposal is compiled.

Students: Please share your thoughts and ideas here.