December 4, 2002: President's Page

Focus on the Woodrow Wilson School

Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 (pictured), who became Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School earlier this fall, is already bringing dynamic new leadership to the School. I asked her to contribute this page.—S.M.T.

It has been a fascinating three months at the Woodrow Wilson School. We are the only school of public and international affairs in the world that can boast a Nobel Laureate on its faculty. Daniel Kahneman’s achievement highlights some of the most distinctive features of the School. As a psychologist, his work on how human beings value the things they have over the things they could have, and how they make decisions under uncertainty, has underpinned the creation of an entirely new field of economics, behavioral economics, in which economists draw on cognitive psychology and work with psychologists to revise their traditional paradigm of the completely rational homo economicus.

Here is cutting-edge research in one discipline with revolutionary implications for multiple others, ultimately changing the basic assumptions that we rely on to address critical public problems. All of our Masters in Public Affairs (MPA) students must take a basic course in “psychology for policy analysis and implementation.” Integrating these insights with the economic, statistical and political techniques that they learn to apply in diagnosing problems and proposing solutions is a critical part of the toolkit they bring to the world of public and international affairs when they graduate.

The School brings together an extraordinary faculty from multiple disciplines—politics, economics, psychology, sociology, physics, molecular biology, geosciences and law—to train students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and to generate knowledge with a direct or indirect application to domestic and international policy problems.

Of particular interest is the teaching and research that we do in the international area. In recent years, many of our leading faculty in international politics have retired or moved to higher academic office, so we are in the process of rebuilding. Among our current faculty, Aaron Friedberg, Director of the Center for International Studies, has just published an edited volume that is proving highly influential in national security strategy. Entitled Strategic Asia 2001-2002: Power and Purpose, it compares strategy and power across Asia. Michael Doyle is finishing a two-year public service leave as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, where he has been advising Kofi Annan on issues such as the Global Compact, a UN initiative with corporations around the world to improve labor, environmental and human rights standards. Among assistant professors, Gary Bass has published the only systematic look at war crimes trials over time and around the world. His book, Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals, is a fascinating read.

On the economic front, chair of the economics department and WWS faculty member Gene Grossman has just won a best book award from the American Political Science Association for his work with Elhanan Helpman on the special interests in domestic politics that shape trade policy. Anne Case, a graduate alumna of the School, is pioneering studies of poverty, inequality and health in South Africa. She currently oversees, with Angus Deaton, a large-scale survey collecting data on a range of traditional and non-traditional measures of well-being, including income and consumption, measures of health status (including mental health), morbidity, crime, social connectedness and intra-household relationships.

Case’s work highlights an important trend and challenges us to rethink our definition of “international affairs.” Consider, for instance, the intersection between public health and national security. The AIDS epidemic has altered security relationships in Africa in ways that can impede the pursuit of terrorists. Conversely, issues formerly only viewed as security concerns, such as civil wars, are now being looked at as public health threats. The disintegration of governments and societies is a breeding ground for migrants and pathogens alike.

Problems of domestic public health are also being reanalyzed through comparative case studies. For example, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs Sara McLanahan, most noted for her research on “fragile families” within the United States, also studies the nature of the family across national boundaries. In a recent book she draws lessons for the United States about single mother families and social politics from the experiences of Canada, France and Sweden. Experts in demography and public health, such as Burt Singer, Noreen Goldman and Betsy Armstrong, study issues ranging from disease control to contraception to the impact of stress and trauma on biological and psychological well-being in comparative context.

A second example of the growing connectedness of international and domestic issues, both in practice and scholarship, is in the area of economic regulation. Professor Robert Willig, the former Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Economics in the Department of Justice, writes widely on the international political effects of domestic regulation in areas such as antitrust and telecommunications, as well as on comparative experiences with privatization in developing countries. In science, technology and the environment, issues such as air pollution, climate change and wildlife conservation—the respective specialities of Assistant Professor Denise Mauzerall and Professors Michael Oppenheimer and David Wilcove—are inherently global.

In sum, it is fitting that a school of public and international affairs should take account of the blurring of the boundary between the two, to the point of dissolution. Our efforts to construct a more secure, stable and just world depend on research and teaching in health, extraterritorial economic regulation and the environment as much as on more traditional studies in international security and political economy. Our “domestic” faculty and our “international” faculty are crossing these boundaries in ways that are likely to redefine both the academy and the world we study.



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