March 12, 2003: Features

Coming back . . . as dean
Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 on her plans for the Woodrow Wilson School

Photo: Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 at a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson School marking the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. (Denise Applewhite)

More than two decades after receiving her A.B. degree from Princeton, Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 is back – this time, as dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Slaughter, who is now the president of the American Society of International Law, came to Princeton last September from Harvard, where she was director of graduate and international legal studies at its law school. Her appointment was viewed by some as a signal of Princeton’s intent to build the WWS program in international affairs, diminished in recent years by the departure of stars such as Henry Bienen, who became president of Northwestern University, and John Waterbury, who now heads the American University of Beirut. Slaughter recently spoke with Katherine Hobson ’94, a writer at U.S. News & World Report.

With your background, surely international relations is a big priority. What else are you focusing on?

We certainly are rebuilding the international relations side of the school. The international relations and politics side has dwindled over the past five to eight years. Some people [Bienen and Waterbury] have left for higher office. But we haven’t regenerated, and we’re in the process of doing that. I’d like to hire five or six people on the international relations side. And we certainly need to build more in the traditional areas of political economy and trade. People have retired; we haven’t hired new people, and we haven’t been tenuring.

I’m figuring out what are our areas of comparative advantage, where we need to rebuild, how we can reach out more broadly to the policy community. The Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, for example, is the leading science policy program in the country. It really does have one foot in policy and the other in the discipline – issues like climate change and weapons of mass destruction are issues of global scale, but they are also science problems. With today’s interest in weapons of mass destruction, we have started a search for someone in science and security.

There are areas that, traditionally, you might not have thought were part of the international agenda. But that agenda has shifted to things like health, poverty, education, and climate change. It’s no longer just interstate relations.

What are your impressions of the first few months?

It’s been incredibly busy and exhilarating. In any given day, my meetings with different scholars, program heads, and visitors to the school will run from discussions of weapons of mass destruction to education policy, to the problems of the urban poor, to immigration, to climate change — and all of those are being done here by scholars who are leaders in their disciplines, but who also are working on policy problems. It’s an intellectual feast with a direct link to policy.

There is a perception that the WWS is more academic and less applied than other public-policy programs. Is that true? Is it a good thing?

First, I’ve become appreciative of what being an “academic” policy school means. We’re the only public-policy school to have a Nobel laureate in economics on its faculty [Daniel Kahneman, a psychology and public affairs professor who has studied economic decision-making]. Students are being taught by faculty at the cutting edge of their disciplines, at the top of their fields. There’s no sense of designing watered-down classes for policy students. If you’re going to be an effective policymaker, you need to be trained in certain areas, and we will give you the best. It would be folly to do anything that would harm what we’ve done as a school with joint appointments.

Because of that academic focus, junior faculty members must be at the forefront of their disciplines, which means they will do more pure, theoretically oriented work. Once they are tenured and have made their mark, they’ll be more visible and will feel much more free to focus on policy problems. That in no way precludes more direct involvement; we still need to make more of an effort to translate what the faculty does into practice. We recognize the need to reach out much more actively to the policy community. For example, in the fall there was a bioterrorism conference put together by one of our Ph.D. students and one of President Tilghman’s molecular biology doctoral students. We have one of the leading experts on climate change, Michael Oppenheimer, leading an intergovernmental panel on the subject.

A lawsuit filed by family members of Charles ’26 and Marie Robertson, who endowed the WWS, charges that the school is failing to place enough graduates in international public service. Your comment?

This is the most public-service oriented community I’ve ever seen. We clearly have a responsibility to support students through careers in public and international affairs. But the idea of pure government service has changed. Nonprofit human rights organizations, environmental groups – they’re doing public services that only government would have done before. There’s also a very strong WWS tradition of students moving in and out of government.

You’ve spent a great deal of time getting to know faculty, staff, and students. What do they say about the WWS?

There’s certainly a sense that as we’ve grown and become more specialized in various research areas through the creation of centers, we need to preserve as much common intellectual community and mission as possible. It’s a problem that I’ve encountered at multiple academic institutions. In a school that’s multidisciplinary, the problem is exacerbated. You don’t have the common ground that an individual department does. But it’s a challenge that involves opportunity. The question is: How do you link the disciplines up in a way that’s real? Research centers should be catalysts for developing new curricula. It’s like the natural sciences laboratory model.

What’s driving this increase in centers? How do you keep a coherent focus with so many subunits?

There’s more to know within a specialty, and faculties tend to build their own subcommunities. Universities compete for faculty by offering resources to develop those centers. I think we can’t be one coherent intellectual community in the way it might have been 30 years ago. We’ve got more than 60 faculty members. We can’t reknit it all into a coherent whole, but we can use the centers as intellectual subunits and work collectively to see where common projects lie.

For example, take the idea of inequality. We have many faculty members working on the general problem of social, political, and economic inequality; health inequality in Africa; fragile families; and the impact of the widening income gap in the U.S. on family structure. The projects are all taking place in different centers, but those scholars have a great deal to say together. We can identify areas like that and bring people together to talk about what they’re doing. Like everyone else, faculty members are victims of information overload and full schedules – they may not know what the person down the hall is doing. In a school where their colleagues may not even be in the same discipline, the impact of putting people in the same room is remarkable.

Princeton recently created the Policy Research Institute for the Region, which will focus on New Jersey-area issues. How did it come about?

A lot of different factors came together very quickly. Traditionally we had the Council on New Jersey Affairs, but that died out in the mid-1990s. Marty Johnson ’81 runs a nonprofit program called Isles, in Trenton, and he came to see me to talk about public-policy problems here at home. At the same time, President Tilghman had joined the board of Prosperity New Jersey and was committing the university to a larger role in New Jersey. All that came together. PRIOR is really a central initiative for the school, not a separate program run by a faculty member. It’s important not to overlook problems under your nose.

Is there anything else you want to shore up at the WWS?

Very often pure research gets translated into policy proposals that are then implemented. But it’s equally important that we learn from those on the front lines and then feed their experiments back into academia. What’s the experience of those trying to develop an organization for health care or educational reform? What do they wish they had learned? We need to bring that information back, and I hope we can do it more systematically.

Your own area of research – international law – is hot right now. How important is international cooperation in U.S. actions?

It’s going to be extremely difficult to accomplish what we hope to accomplish in Iraq without the support of the international community. That doesn’t mean the U.S. has to have the support of traditional allies in Europe; we can rely on newer allies. Even if we wanted to act alone to accomplish what we want militarily, we couldn’t do alone what will be needed to stabilize and rebuild the country and to create genuine political opportunity. If we will need the United Nations on the landing, it’s better to have them on the takeoff.


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