From the Director
One of the best things about working in a research center at Harvard University is having the opportunity to improve how it operates. With a highly efficient staff, challenging intellectual community, and some of the most creative and productive Faculty Associates to be found anywhere, the WCFIA is well positioned to try new ideas when they surface. Intellectual and operational innovations abound, and I would like to share a few of these with you.
One of the Weatherhead Center’s primary areas of innovation has been in its sponsorship of faculty research. What do faculty want and need? Time. In order to address this problem, the Center has inaugurated the Synergy Semester—open exclusively to our junior Faculty Associates—which supports one semester leave to be followed by a semester in which a new course related to that research is offered to Harvard College students. It is a win-win outcome: additional leave for Faculty Associates, and a new course for undergraduates.
The Weatherhead Center’s research incubation funds are another innovative concept in faculty funding. These funds are specifically designed to support “start-ups”—new research projects whose goal is to eventually find significant outside funding to support the research in the long term. Principal investigators can use incubation funds to arrange meetings in order to develop their projects, consult with grant-writing specialists, and strategize with the Harvard University Office of Sponsored Research. This is one of the few purposes for which the Weatherhead Center will provide a salary supplement; research incubation funds are a great way to leverage Center funds, encourage faculty to take risks, and educate graduate students who hopefully will be involved in national grant-writing competitions.
Sabbatical opportunities for Faculty Associates are important, but the Weatherhead Center wants to bring together scholars and not just encourage them to “go away.” The Weatherhead Center Executive Committee is beginning to discuss plans to have an annual competition among faculty teams for funds to support research clusters that would include visiting scholars, postdoctoral fellows, as well as graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in a broad but well-defined research theme of particular importance. A rich array of seminars and conferences will exits on a three-year cycle, with a new “cluster” in residence each year.
Innovations in Center permanent programs are also taking place, such as the programmatic refocus on transatlantic relations. The Weatherhead Center has been working with the Harvard Kennedy School and the Center for European Studies to inaugurate a new “Program on Transatlantic Relations,” generously sponsored by Pierre Keller (Fellow 1979–1980) and directed by Karl Kaiser. Through this program, European-American relations are significantly restored among the Center’s intellectual offerings.
The Canada Program has been especially dynamic recently, as the William Lyon Mackenzie King endowment continues to support year- or semester-long visits of particularly prominent scholars of Canada. As of 2007, it also supports Canada Research Fellows, who are graduate students studying Canadian issues in a broader context, from the Holy Land to Mumbai, from Manila to Québec, involving concepts such as aboriginal apartheid, transnational and national migration, Evangelical political socialization, and prisoner and refugee law. The Center is now in the process of searching for its first William Lyon Mackenzie King Fellow, likely a fairly recent doctoral recipient who will add further depth to course offerings and research relating to Canada. Helen Clayton, administrator of the Canada Program, has been crucial in moving the ball forward in implementing our expanded vision of Canadian studies at Harvard.
The WCFIA has a strong commitment to its Undergraduate Associates, and recently has strengthened this constancy even further. While for years the Center has supported undergraduate research through its Undergraduate Summer Travel Grant program, Dunwalke Associate Professor of American History and director of Undergraduate Student Programs, Erez Manela, has expanded the Weatherhead Center’s vision for how to better support these young scholars both intellectually and professionally. Organized by Student Programs coordinator Clare Putnam, the Weatherhead Center now convenes an annual two-day conference, in which twenty undergraduates present their work to Weatherhead Center affiliates as well as students and faculty from a wide variety of departments. It is truly a time of discovery and professional development for Center-affiliated undergraduates, supported by the curious minds of a broader intellectual community.
Much less visible to most casual observers, staff members have initiated creative solutions to a number of inefficiencies in Center operations. Take the problem of financial reports, for example. Patrick McVay, director of finance, has implemented a new system that both simplifies and clarifies the financial standing of each and every program administered by the Weatherhead Center. The resulting reports provide summaries by several different sorting fields, plus the same detailed information they used to receive in the old reports generated from queries of the central data warehouse. Finally, a financial report anyone can understand!
Thanks to Shinju Fujihira, associate director of the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, the Center is even improving its social connectedness. His vision is to facilitate interaction across the broader international and area studies community—interregionally, interdisciplinarily, and intergenerationally—by hosting the occasional reception with scholars from regional studies centers (such as the Asia Center and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies). From Cambridge Street to Kirkland Street, the WCFIA fosters exciting conversations among those who share common research interests—democratization, the global economy, and global governance—in different regions of the world.
The Weatherhead Center works so well because personnel are an indefatigable source of fresh ideas, contributing to novel ways of thinking and doing. Executive Director Steven Bloomfield has helped in crucial ways to modify Center governance structures to better reflect its interdisciplinary constituency. He sees the opportunities to adapt to changing intellectual environments and works to implement needed adjustments in sensitive ways. Two staff members, Adelaide Shalhope and Lawrence Winnie, co-chair an administrative forum in which both exempt and union staff cooperate and solve problems of all kinds in the workplace in the best and most imaginative ways. Flexibility, openness, and problem solving are the guiding philosophies of the Administrative Action Group (AAG).
If I’ve managed to impart the impression that life at the WCFIA is perfect, it is completely unintended. It’s just that as a Center we are good—very good—at recognizing weaknesses and tackling them in innovative ways.
Beth A. Simmons,