mid-February, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof kicked
over an ivy-covered hornet's nest when he complained that too many professors
sequester themselves in the ivory tower amid "a culture that glorifies arcane
unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience." The public, he wrote,
would benefit from greater access to the wisdom of academics. "So, professors,
don't cloister yourselves like medieval monks -- we need you!"
Judging by the number of submissions that Foreign Policy gets from doctors of
philosophy, we suspect that more than a few are trying to break out of the abbey.
But the question of academia's isolation from the "real world" is one that FP's editors debate as well. In
fact, three weeks before Kristof's article ran, we convened nine current and
former deans from top public policy schools to discuss when and how scholarship
influences policymakers -- and whether academics even care if their work reaches a
The deans quickly distinguished between policy
schools, which embrace public discourse, and disciplinary departments like
political science, which focus on "pure" research. Nevertheless, the dilemma
remains: Academics may produce incisive foreign policy analysis, but if a
research paper falls in the forest … well, Washington couldn't care less. And
our participants remain concerned, as one bluntly put it, that too many
talented professors and students are doing work that has "nothing to do with
improving the human condition."
Here you'll find an edited transcript of our
lively conversation, along with research conducted by scholars Paul C. Avey and
Michael C. Desch into how policymakers and academics see each other. We've also
included data on another vexing issue: the limited influence of women who
research and write about foreign policy, relative to their male counterparts -- a
problem that our panelists flagged and that was pointedly illustrated by the
fact that eight of the nine were men.
We hope this discussion shows how academics do
and do not impact foreign policy -- and what needs to change.
PETER SCOBLIC: We're here today to talk about the role of academia in
the study and the making of foreign policy -- how relevant the academy is, how it
sees its own role, and how policymakers in turn see it. Bruce Jentleson and Jim
Goldgeier, since you have been running a project called Bridging the Gap, which
works on linking academia with policymaking, why don't you start?
Well, I think you have to distinguish
between disciplinary departments -- like political science, history, and
economics, which have gone off in directions that aren't necessarily conducive
to connecting with the policy community -- and the international affairs schools,
which typically have both faculty and students who are eager to be engaged in
the policy community. I also do believe that younger faculty today -- and I think we've seen this really since
September 11 -- want to be more engaged and are looking for ways to do that.
BRUCE JENTLESON: A lot of
people get into this business of studying international relations because they
care about the world, yet the socialization and the incentive structure in
academia really pushes you to care more about the discipline. And so we are
very realistic about that incentive structure, but we really try to capitalize
on the first and sort of say we're not trying to revolutionize the discipline,
but a little insurgency wouldn't be a bad thing.
We think, frankly, it takes
away from the education we offer, including at the undergraduate level, to have
gotten into this world where we only communicate with others in the
discipline -- where it's all about methods and models. So part of the motivation
is to better fulfill the mission universities have qua universities.
And we see benefits on the
other side of the gap too. It's not that academics necessarily have the
answers, but they do bring into the mix of knowledge a certain perspective that
can be useful to policymakers.
SCOBLIC: Steve, the Kennedy
School is an international affairs school, but I get the sense that there are
still pressures on junior faculty to write for their academic discipline as
opposed to a general policy audience.
STEPHEN WALT: The first point I would make is that academic
disciplines are self-policing. They decide what the norms and incentives are
that are going to be rewarded. So if international affairs or political science
or public policy schools wanted to have a different set of metrics and a
different set of criteria for evaluating faculty, they could decide to do that.
Second, one of our criteria for promotion is in fact contributions to public
policy or public management. We explicitly in a tenure review have to say, "Has
this person's work had any impact, either things they've done in their
scholarly work or things that they have actually done by participating directly
in government?" So by essentially creating a certain set of criteria, we are
telling junior faculty at a school of public policy, "We'd like you to be
Now, in practice, does that
mean every junior faculty has had a big impact? No. I think that we still tend
to weight academic contributions for junior faculty more highly than other
forms, but you could imagine that set of criteria becoming more widely followed
throughout the discipline.
I'd just add a couple of other
things. When you are evaluating someone for tenure, look at how often they are
cited, but also look at how often they are mentioned in LexisNexis. If they
work, say, on terrorism, don't just go to a dozen terrorism scholars and ask
what their work is like. Talk to a few people in Washington who work in that
area and ask if they ever heard of this person's work, has it ever made any
particular contribution. Sometimes the answer will be no, and you might still
think the work is very good. But sometimes the answer would be yes, and you
would want that information if you were judging someone for promotion.
Ed: click here for source information
SCOBLIC: So what is the
sense of the Kennedy School's impact on policymaking?
WALT: I think the Kennedy School
has had a lot of impact, as much by its faculty who then participated in
government, people like Joe Nye and others, and by people getting involved
directly as advisors and consultants. In some areas, I think our scholarly work
has had a big impact.
I think many academics have a
mistaken view of how policy impact is achieved. They think they will write one
book, they will write one article, people will read it, decide it's brilliant,
and immediately change. And what's really required, even if you've got terrific
research and a great set of insights, is an enormous amount of persistence.
Once you have the idea, you can't just put it out there. You have to be willing
to shop it. You have to be an entrepreneur of your own ideas. And that's
something it seems to me most academics aren't really trained to do and aren't
inclined to do.
IAN JOHNSTONE: The
distinction between a school of international affairs and traditional graduate
departments is important, because at schools of international affairs there's a
spectrum of things that faculty do. Some are closest to traditional academic
work, and some are much further away. There's got to be a mix. And so some are
pure academics; others are much more on the public intellectual side. But I
think the incentives have to be in place to cultivate that whole range of
SCOBLIC: Bob, when you were
in government, what, if anything, did you draw from your own Ph.D. and from
academics who were trying to feed material to you?
ROBERT GALLUCCI: Peter,
I desperately want to answer your question.
SCOBLIC: But you're not
GALLUCCI: I don't know if my body
language gave it up, but I was a little uncomfortable with your prior
conversation. There are at least two bodies of conversation we could have. One
is the discipline-policy school conversation. For me, the tragedy of that
mismatch to me hasn't yet been put on the table, and I want to put that on the
table. And then the second part, which I know we all want to talk about, is
whether the policy schools are doing what the people in government would have
them do to prepare their students for government service, which is more your
First part: The way I would
capture it is that there is a mismatch between all the talent that goes into
the discipline-based departments -- the political science departments, the
government departments -- and the policy schools, like Kennedy and Georgetown. It is the difference between the APSIA schools -- the Association of
Professional Schools of International Affairs -- on the one hand. And on the other
hand, the really talented people who are working on things that I would say are
really remote from things that matter in the real world. Some of the very best
undergraduates and graduate students in the country are doing work that has
nothing to do with improving the human condition. Zero.
It's an incentive situation, so
people can have a career and teach. Is it good for policy people? No. They
don't come anyplace near any of those disciplinary journals -- never will. It has
zero impact, I would say, in any kind of direct way.
So what's it for? Is it for
education in some way? Advancing the science of the discipline in some way?
Maybe. But I can't believe, given where we are in education in the country,
that's a good use of educational money, on the one hand, and, two, all that
talent, because as Bruce said, a lot of these young people in these programs
want to actually have an impact on the human condition.
As for government, the first
thing that government people want in international affairs is regional expertise.
I'm sorry to tell you all this, but the first thing they want is somebody who
knows something about the country where the problem is, and the problem never
happens in the "international system." In government, they don't know what the
international system is, but they sure know what Brazil is, and they want
somebody who speaks Portuguese, because that's all they know. So I would say
the first thing is let's save regional studies, because it clearly needs to be
And then after that, there is
a functional expertise, depending on what you do for a living in government. If
you are a security person, it would be nice if someone knew something about not
only the region, but also if it's military, if it's nuclear, if it's
development, or whatever.
A deep third is someone who can
write the front piece of the memo. The front piece of the memo is the one that
tells the decision-maker how this issue fits within the context of America's
foreign policy and America's interest. It's good if you have someone who has at
that point some grip on the history of American foreign policy, on America's
interest in the world, understands the international system, understands that
there may be different drivers now than there were 20 years ago.
Ed: click here for source information
Give me an example of the kind of work that does not
improve the human condition, that is just locked in the ivory tower.
I would say that if you are overly
concerned about models and structures and you are insistent on operating at the
systemic level, you're less likely to be writing stuff that is going to be
easily understood as relating to a policy problem. There are thoughtful people
in government who -- yes, they read Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy -- but they will also read International Security. In other words, they can actually read an
academic journal if the journal is interested in real scholarship that impacts
the policy world they live in. I think if you opened up the American Political Science Review, you would see lots of pieces that no one in the
policy world would dream of looking at. There is a whole lot of work and a
whole lot of schools where I think there are a whole lot of very talented
people who are being incentivized to do work that is not helping people, and that's
SCOBLIC: Cecilia, do you
want to take a crack at what Bob said? He may have let Woodrow Wilson
off the hook there, it being a policy school, but what's your reaction?
CECILIA ROUSE: You're right that the Kennedy School and the Woodrow Wilson School got off the hook, but that doesn't mean that we
don't struggle with these issues.
My own view is that the six
years to get to tenure is really short in the life of a scholar and that I know
I spent a lot of that time learning new things, learning new tools -- things that
if I were trying to play in the policy world at the same time, I would not have
had the time to do. So I think the six years of the junior faculty time is a
time of investment. Then, with the security of tenure, one has time, and one
does have an obligation in a policy school to then break out of the academy and
say, "Well, what does this have to do with the real world?" I mean in a more
public way. I personally think that there's plenty of time for them to do that
after they have tenure.
PETER COWHEY: I'm with Celia in the sense
that I think that junior scholars really are in a position where, if you want
the really bright people who in the long term can contribute to policy but have
risen to a disciplinary system, you've got to allow them to invest in their
That said, I think there are
some things that we can do to take advantage of changes that are going on.
One -- this sort of new empiricism, where the use of massive new data sources and
techniques is creating possibilities for doing research that's really quite
breathtaking and tends to break out of a lot of the conventional boxes that
we've been in. We invest, for example, in something called a "Policy Design and Evaluation
Laboratory" [at the University
of California, San Diego] in order to allow those scholars who do field
research and evaluation and who design public policy interventions to do their
work faster and cheaper -- because the people in, say, USAID, want answers in two years, and the valuation
techniques traditionally take four or five. So there is a big mismatch.
JAMES LEVINSOHN: I think it
was Steve who said that the academic disciplines are self-policing. That's
right, and for better or worse, I feel like that we have to take that as a given.
At least I don't believe that I can have any real impact on how the disciplines
Given that, it changes the
time frame in which I think about trying to have an impact. If you are willing
to take a slightly longer time frame, one of the ways in which I think all of
us can have an impact is by training the next generation and equipping them
with the tools that are really needed -- with language skills, with regional
expertise, with the sets of quantitative tools that they need. But it's not an
impact that shows up in the policy debate right away.
JAMES REARDON-ANDERSON: I'd like to pick up particularly on Bob's comments
on area studies, because I don't think it's too strong to say that we consider
area studies in crisis at Georgetown. Partly it's a generational crisis, and
it's partly a disciplinary crisis. We have five area studies master's programs,
and we are facing the possibility of an inability to staff those as the
generations move on.
I would say, crudely,
economics, to my experience, has almost entirely abandoned this as a focus of
professional rewards. There are some disciplines, particularly history, that
remain essentially rooted in area studies. Anthropology, as well. But the change that concerns me most is in political
science, and as we see the senior ranks of the area-trained political
scientists begin to face retirement, we are very concerned about recruiting a
next generation of people who are really rooted in area studies.
It's less true of China. I'd
say the places where we're most concerned are Russian and Eastern European
studies and Latin American studies. We are still able to recruit people in the
Middle East, but elsewhere it's increasingly difficult.
JENTLESON: Two quick things.
On area studies, I totally agree. There is sort of this talismanic view of the
world in Washington -- everything revolves around us, right? And I think we see
this pattern on both sides of the gap -- not enough sense of really understanding
The other thing is, the goal
seems to me to be how can one operate with what's considered in the
discipline -- i.e., for tenure and promotion -- and do work that is scholarly but is
Some of it is methods. If you
look at a curriculum in undergraduate or graduate, there are a finite number of
courses people take. And there is a tension between how much goes to methods
and how much goes to history, regional studies, language, et cetera. My
concern -- and I think this affects a lot of the APSIA
schools, too, frankly -- is that methods are taking up too much of that turf. So
we have people who say, "Well, of course, I don't really know that much about
these parts of the world. My model still works."
We want people to write these
grand-theory articles. But a lot of us worked with and were inspired by Alexander
George, and he always used to talk about middle-range theory, right? So, for
example, if you're looking at economic sanctions against Iran, it is probably
useful to know from the literature maybe the six or eight factors that are most
likely to make them effective -- not just two factors, but not 50 factors either.
And I don't think middle-range theory is rewarded in the discipline as much as
GOLDGEIER: Jim Levinsohn's point was correct, in my view.
The biggest impact we have is not necessarily directly tying the research to
policymakers but in training the next generation. The people who are
policymakers in this town, they went to school somewhere. They learned about
the world somewhere. So what we do to get them excited so that they want to
study countries and regions is important.
Ed: click here for source information
SCOBLIC: Bob, you got a
doctorate at Brandeis. Did you develop a worldview that you brought into
GALLUCCI: I was a TA my first year of graduate school for Ken Waltz. What an opportunity that was -- to spend all your
time, your first year, with arguably one of the greatest international
political theorists. Did that have an impact on my mind? Yes. Even my mind got
Remember I talked about the
first paragraph you write in those memos? The frame I took to the first
paragraphs was a structural
realist frame: The system
itself is the first thing you look at. So that's my take on it, and it's quite
different from other theoretical approaches that assume different things about
what drives international affairs.
So the short answer is
absolutely yes, and there's a place for that. And it's extremely important,
particularly, I would say, at the undergraduate level. You better give them
that kind of theoretical way of coping with this complex mass of information,
which is only growing, in the international system.
WALT: I want to be a little
bit more critical of the public policy schools for a second, because this
conversation has tended to valorize them and criticize the disciplines. Let me
make two complaints about the public policy schools or international affairs
One is, I think, many of our
schools use an obsolete model. The standard model of a public policy school
will teach people some microeconomics, teach them some statistics, teach them
something we call policy analysis, maybe give them a little bit of leadership,
and then they can dabble in a bunch of other areas. This is a model that's been
around for 30, 35 years.
It shortchanges history. We
don't generally teach history in public policy schools. We should. It
shortchanges law. Nobody gets out of a public policy school understanding very
much about law, either international or domestic.
I think you could -- and
particularly in the international affairs area -- actually do a sort of root-and-branch
rethinking of the public policy, international affairs curriculum that would
put much more emphasis on history, much more emphasis on regional expertise,
much more emphasis on law, and you would end up getting people who weren't the
perfect OMB budget analyst but
might be actually a much more effective policy analyst.
Problem No. 2 is public
policy schools have one danger that disciplinary departments don't have, and
that's the danger of co-optation. The great virtue of academic institutions is
that they are independent. They can be creative, original, dissident voices.
Public policy schools,
because they like to live pretty close to power and live pretty close to the
policy world, are in more danger of being co-opted. If you're an academic who
is thinking you would like to work for the next administration, you may pull a
lot of punches in that next article. You think you'd like to write something
critical of Hillary Clinton, but you know what -- she might be the next president,
and there goes your appointment as assistant secretary for whatever. And
because we like being close to power, because we'd like our students to be able
to get jobs, public policy schools have, I think, a much greater danger of
being essentially co-opted by the world that, at least part of the time, we
ought to be criticizing.
One final point about this.
We never have a conversation in graduate school about the ethics of the
business -- the question that Bob raised at the very beginning. What is our
ethical responsibility to the society at large that supports us and subsidizes
us in all sorts of ways? What's our responsibility as scholars to be giving
back, to be making some kind of positive contribution?
JOHNSTONE: One of the
problems with the disciplines and a methodology-driven approach to research is
it narrows the range of questions you can ask. If you are trying to answer a
question that fits a certain methodology, that puts a lot of questions off the
table, and some of them are big, important questions.
And this sort of gets to the
risk of co-option here. Your tendency is to want to try to answer those
questions in a way that is going to be useful for policymakers, but you may
shortcut the research because you think, "Oh, I can probably come up with a
little evidence that is going to anecdotally answer that question," and that's
going to resonate somewhere in the policy world, but you are not being true to
your academic credentials in doing that.
Dana, you are a staffer here at Foreign Policy and
perhaps have considered graduate school. What's your question from the
perspective of a potential student?
J. DANA STUSTER: I was wondering if you've noticed
from where you sit any change in the merits of master's degrees and Ph.D.s.
When I came to D.C. -- and the advice I've persistently been given by an older
generation -- is, "Oh, if you want to do policy, you get a terminal master's, and
that's what you need. You don't want a Ph.D. because then you will be
shoehorned into academia, even going through the policy school route." But that
doesn't seem to be the case anymore. I interned at a place where now every
single person that interns there, trying to get entry-level positions, has a
master's degree already. What does it take to break into policy, and is the
merit of these degrees shifting?
GOLDGEIER: Part of the issue in recent years has been a job
market that's so challenging that folks who are going out on the market with a
B.A. are applying for jobs that folks with an M.A. are also applying for, and
so employers are saying, "Well, I've got somebody who has got an advanced
On the Ph.D., I think the reason
things are changing is, again, because the academic job market has been so
challenging that most programs offering a Ph.D. -- even the highest-ranked
departments that often judge themselves by their ability to place people in
tenure-track academic positions -- recognize that the range of options for
doctoral students has to become much broader, so that they are successful after
going through a Ph.D. program.
GALLUCCI: If you want to work
in academia, do not get a policy-based degree. Get a discipline-based degree.
That was true 10 years ago, and I think it's true this morning, because our own
schools are prejudiced against policy schools, against policy-based Ph.D.s.
If you want to go into
government and you are a woman, I have been arguing for a long time that it
wouldn't be a bad idea to get a Ph.D. Even after years of the State Department
responding to legal action and doing certain things, I still think that
embedded somewhere in the hearts and minds of those guys was a prejudice, and a
woman needed an extra boost to be competitive in some contexts. Now, my
information is 20 years out of date in government service, so I really don't
know, but I worry that it might still be good advice.
That segues into something I've been wanting to ask
throughout this conversation. This is a very male-dominated group. Building on
Bob's point, is there a problem with getting more women into foreign policy,
into IR [international relations],
and then into positions of responsibility and leadership within the academy
that you feel is not being addressed?
REARDON-ANDERSON: In the last
five years, we've hired 12 assistant professors, nine of whom are women. We've
hired five associate professors, five of whom are men. So I see a big
difference between the entry-level academics, who, based on their own
qualifications and merits, are disproportionately women, and the advancement
routes to tenure which tend to weed them out and weed the men in.
Ed: click here for source information
SCOBLIC: Cecilia, can I ask you to speak to this as a woman who is
now leading one of the top public policy schools?
ROUSE: I think we struggle with it
here. We do have a professor who is very strong who is doing IR, and we have other tenured faculty
that work in IR. But here in the
Woodrow Wilson School, there's more focus on security -- that's our policy
manifestation of many of these issues. We are looking for ways to increase the
number of applicants among women in our ranks. I hear about more women being
interested, but we're struggling with it a little bit here.
COWHEY: Two quick points. The
first is that, in the last six or seven years, we've clearly seen a maturing of
the pool of women coming out of the assistant level that is really quite
remarkable. The second point is that this issue of long-term advancement -- not so
much I think to tenure, but towards leadership positions -- remains a central
problem. And we shouldn't be surprised because it's exactly the same problem
we've seen in major law firms, where the entry-level classes into the associate
positions are predominantly women, but when you get to the long-term
shareholding partners, the number drops sharply. So I think we have a long-term
structural issue to be addressed.
The vast majority of our Ph.D. students
are women. You are seeing a lot of women going into the field, and schools want
to be hiring more women. So, I do think we are seeing a change.
I do think there is the need for
really strong mentorship for women moving up the ranks. And I find that at the
associate professor level, a big issue is that women academics are much more
likely to be willing to do service in their schools or departments. It's easy
for them to get trapped into contributing a lot of service, taking away from
their research, and that's a problem I think schools really need to be focused
on in order to ensure that these women move up through the ranks to full
SCOBLIC: Before we close, I want to do a speed round of the top
challenge that the policy schools need to address right now.
JOHNSTONE: The biggest challenge I
think is keeping up with the pace of global change without sacrificing
analytical rigor; in other words, staying ahead of the curve in terms of the
issues that need to be addressed, but not doing it in a way that just stops
doing serious research.
A little more specific is
putting some meat on the bones of this notion of interdisciplinary research,
figuring out what that means. We all talk about how important it is, and I'm
not sure we've figured out exactly how to make that real.
JENTLESON: Two quick things. One
is the cost of graduate education. Second, I think it's the fundamental problem
of global cooperation. All the liberal internationalists said, "Oh, it's all
going to come together. It's a collective-action problem, and we'll just solve
it." I don't think we know much about how to get nation-states to cooperate. I
think that's a fundamental problem that affects pandemics, climate change,
terrorism, proliferation, et cetera.
GOLDGEIER: Two points. One, for
the international affairs schools, really being able to make clear to
prospective students why they should go into those schools versus getting a law
degree, a business degree, or even an MPP
[master of public policy], where the curricula for those schools is much more
clearly defined. There's a lot more heterogeneity among the international
affairs schools. Thinking about what a real strong international affairs
curriculum should look like, as Steve was talking about earlier, is important
Second, in the '80s, we did a
great job bringing together scientists and social scientists to study issues
like nuclear weapons. Climate, cyber issues, we have to be bringing them
together, the climate scientists and the social scientists. We have to be
bringing together the computer scientists and the social scientists on these
big issues, the way we did at the end of the Cold War.
WALT: For the schools, it's avoiding irrelevance while
maintaining a critical, independent stance and, second, convincing students
that it's still worth the money to come here. In terms of policy issues, I'd
say it is unwinding the post-9/11 security hysteria in the United States, without
going too far, climate change, and the rise of China.
ROUSE: I would say it's
interventional. I would say that it's helping to do research, but helping it to
break out of the academy. In terms of issues, I completely agree that there are
so many big issues where bringing together the social science with the
technical side is very important -- cyber, climate, health.
LEVINSOHN: In terms of curriculum, we have been building
links with law, been putting history into the core curriculum, strengthening language
requirements. I tend to want to double down on all of those.
made a couple of bets. The first is that the interaction of science,
technology, engineering, and medicine with international policy is at the
center of the next vortex. On the other side, I think that the long-term shift
in the world because of the dispersion of economic growth and technological
know-how is so fundamental that our ways of even knowing how to cooperate
aren't properly framed. They're all still based out of the 1945 institutions,
and that is not going to cut it.
For the policy schools, I think getting that balance right between a
very high-quality core to the program and then a very tailored approach to the
individual student that fills in the gap between what they're capable of and
what they know and what they want to do next.
Thank you all so much for this great conversation.
In crafting strategy for Afghanistan, did General David Petraeus consult the American Political Science Review? What’s
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answer in a survey of 234 current and former senior government
officials. Their findings, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of International Studies Quarterly and are previewed below and in the pages ahead, provide a window into the role of academics in foreign policy.
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Photo: Christopher Leaman