Changes Approved to Woodrow Wilson School Undergraduate Program
Faculty at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs have overwhelmingly approved a plan to restructure its undergraduate program. Based on a year-long effort by a committee headed by WWS Associate Dean Nolan McCarty and Princeton President Emeritus Harold Shapiro, the plan underscores the School's commitment to providing a liberal education in public and international affairs; multidisciplinary in nature and distinctive from other educational opportunities found elsewhere at Princeton.
The new program is motivated by a number of interrelated goals, all of which aim to provide students with an outstanding education in public and international affairs: 1) provide students with a curriculum that is coherent yet flexible; 2) strengthen the capacity of WWS majors to conduct excellent senior thesis research on a range of topics in public and international affairs; and 3) increase faculty engagement with students in the program.
Notable changes to the program will include the introduction of prerequisite courses, an expansion in the core curriculum, and a requirement that students choose courses from one of several multidisciplinary “clusters” that cover broad themes in public and international affairs. To preserve flexibility, students will be able to apply to complete a self-designed cluster. The clusters will be planned by a faculty committee over the coming year. These changes, and others described below, will take effect for students in the Class of 2015.
The junior year independent work requirements will also be modified. Currently, WWS students fulfill this requirement by completing two Policy Task Forces or one Policy Task Force and one Policy Conference. Policy Task Forces are frequently led by policy practitioners. Under the new program, one of the Policy Task Forces will be replaced by a Policy Research Seminar, in which a faculty member supervises a group of students engaged in research on a specific topic in public and international affairs.
Finally, the faculty voted to change its admissions process. Currently, students must apply for one of a fixed number of slots in the program. For students in the class 2015 and beyond, all those with a deep interest in public and international affairs and have met the prerequisite requirements will be welcomed into the major.
Woodrow Wilson School Dean Christina Paxson, who initiated the review last spring, was very pleased with the work of the committee. “This group left no stone unturned,” she stated. “They collected data on the program, and discussed at length the various alternatives with students, faculty, alumni, and administrators at both the School and University level. Their overall conclusions were that although there is much to be admired in the current program, it is time for significant change.”
Probably the most controversial part of the new plan is the ending of selectivity admissions. The widespread support among the faculty for open admissions reflected the principle that students who gain admission to Princeton University should not be subsequently barred from the experience of studying public and international affairs. This belief outweighed a concern, expressed by some alumni and current students, that open admissions might diminish the prestige of the major. However, others indicated that selectivity had become a proxy for prestige of the program. Princeton President Emeritus Shapiro supported this view, noting that, “The prestige should come from the strength of the program, not the selectivity of the admissions process.”
Dean Paxson and the Committee acknowledged that ending selectivity could increase the number of majors. The School has been working with the University administration to develop contingency plans which will ensure that the necessary resources will be available regardless of the size of the program. WWS Associate Dean Nolan McCarty noted that part of the key to the plan’s success is the Administration’s concurrence with the recommendations. “We are grateful to President Tilghman and others in Nassau Hall for all the support they have given and will give as we roll out this plan,” McCarty stated.
The committee’s recommendations also received strong support from members of the School’s Advisory Council. Said WWS Advisory Council co-chair Lynn Thoman ‘77, “These proposed changes will ensure that all students interested in a multi-disciplinary education in public and international affairs will now be able to concentrate in the Woodrow Wilson School.” Tom Byrne ‘76, another member of the Advisory Council, applauded the decision to end selective admissions. “I have had the opportunity to meet Princeton students who applied to the Woodrow Wilson School out of a sincere desire to pursue lives of public service, and were devastated when they were not accepted,” he said.
Committee members included: Christina Davis, Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs; Nannerl Keohane, Laurance S. Rockefeller Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Affairs and the University Center for Human Values, President Emerita, Duke University and Wellesley College; Daniel Oppenheimer, Associate Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs; Alan Patten, Associate Chair Politics Department, Professor of Politics; Peter Quimby, Deputy Dean of the College; Harvey Rosen, Master, Whitman College, John L. Weinberg Professor of Economics and Business Policy; Mark Watson, Howard Harrison and Gabrielle Snyder Beck Professor of Economics and Public Affairs; and David Wilcove, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs. The committee acknowledged the help of Melanie Thomas and Pamela Garber in the year-long effort.