A Dean’s Perspective

Then 1986: The founding of our School

by Peter A. Gourevitch, Founding Dean

Thirty years ago, our School – then the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) – was formed in a context quite different than the one which led to its renaming as the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) in 2015.

In 1986, the U.S. economy faced acute competition from Asia and Europe, notably Japan and Germany. Cars and electronic goods poured into the U.S. from abroad. The term “rust belt” emerged. The country became aware that the U.S. had to rethink how its economy related to the world’s changing division of labor, and how it made sense of the rapid rise of East Asia, led by Japan. The USSR still dominated the Soviet Block, and China, while starting to grow, remained poor.

Closer to home, the UC San Diego construct was one of emerging growth. The systemwide administration saw the need to absorb a rapid influx of students into the UC system. UC San Diego Chancellor Richard Atkinson wanted to promote graduate programs and professional schools so that we would not be uniquely undergraduate in our focus and better resemble the other flagship campuses like UC Berkeley and UCLA.

UC President David P. Gardner had a keen interest in international studies, as did one of the UC San Diego founders, Roger Revelle. At that time there was no professional school of international affairs in the UC system. In fact, there wasn’t one in a public university anywhere in the U.S., few West of the Mississippi, none focused on the Pacific region, and few concerned with trade and economic growth rather than security matters and the North Atlantic.

Our campus thus broke precedent when it created the School and joined the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs. Our curriculum broke new territory as well.

The tradition at American universities had been to separate studies into distinct branches with their own institutions.  All too often, “international” meant area studies – culture, language and history of various world regions, each treated as a distinct civilization whose differences were more striking than were common problems or challenges. Or it meant international politics among countries – security studies and trade issues drawing on political science and economics looking at international treaties and institutions. Lastly, it might have represented the professional schools of business, law and public policy, built to study how businesses behaved and explore the national policy toward them, with little global dimension.

Our curriculum found these boundaries obsolete. We knew business, economics and security issues operated in a global context where knowledge of historical and cultural differences mattered greatly. Within professional schools, the disciplines and area studies all interacted, and the great civilizations, while different, all faced a common set of problems, which could be analyzed with similar tools and concepts.

One of the marks of our early success was that within a few years our curriculum became less distinct; other programs noticed what we were doing and began to build an integrated, multi-disciplinary core. We also began seeing an increased focus on Asia and Latin America. It was pioneering in the mid-1980s to focus on the Pacific region, but now everyone sees the importance of these regions and fields of study.

Many changes have occurred since our founding in 1986: the collapse of the USSR and the Soviet bloc, the rise of China, the relative stagnation of Japan, growth in India and parts of Latin America and Africa, and the revival of many sectors of the U.S. economy. But we have also seen growing inequality within and between countries, problems of global warming, terrorism and mounting tension in the Middle East.

The boundaries of the world have continued to fragment and so have the analytic boundaries among the fields of knowledge needed to understand these changes and to train people to work in the international arena. Our School broke boundaries in 1986 and continues to do so today!

Now 2018: Navigating the Pacific Century

by Peter F. Cowhey, Dean

Taking up the mantle of dean over fifteen years ago has provided me a unique vantage point from which to observe the evolution of the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). Those who came before me did a remarkable job of creating an institution that brought together scholars from multiple disciples to work collaboratively – long before it was trendy to be labeled interdisciplinary – and truly look at global problems through a variety of interconnected lenses. This tradition continues today.

GPS researches and teaches about solutions to society’s challenges and opportunities in the 21st Century. We begin with a special position of strength for global issues because of our commanding expertise on the Pacific region, Asia and the Americas, the new fulcrum for global dynamics. Our centers on China and Mexico have special preeminence in their fields; understanding the specificity of processes within countries and regions remains of paramount importance.

Our faculties in international relations and economics are among the highest ranked in the world. They are asking fundamental questions about how to construct the rules of the global order and security in an era that will rely less on the singular leadership role of the U.S. They probe the future paths of democracy and authoritarianism.

We have also expanded our horizons as the world evolves. Digital technologies enable more powerful initiatives for change, both positive and negative, across the local and regional levels in every corner of the world, so we train our students to attend to the local as well as the global. Digital technology also allows us to mount and assess experiments on new approaches to poverty reduction around the world. Intertwining our diverse capabilities in novel ways has led to the country’s top program analyzing the trajectory of Chinese technology capabilities and their implications for military security. It has also created big data projects on monitoring the great Chinese firewall and fresh approaches to examining the economic and environmental impacts of infrastructure projects in every part of the world.

Many important opportunities for betterment come from inventive mixes of public, private and non-governmental partnerships, and GPS faculty convert their careful empirical research into the training of leaders capable of navigating this changing landscape. Our alumni are equipped with the tools of careful conceptual analysis covering economics and politics, appropriate foreign language acquisition, clear writing and quantitative training spanning econometrics, big data and geographic information systems. As our alumni praise their diverse GPS toolkit of skills, our faculty are continually imagining and creating new tools to fill that kit.

GPS has embraced UC San Diego’s strengths as a preeminent university in science, engineering and medicine. Our faculty now includes scholars with doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, who also publish as skilled policy analysts. Many of our social scientists are expert in fields ranging from energy modeling and engineering through epidemiology and the economic dynamics of digital platforms. We collaborate with the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on the environment and energy, and together, are working to train a set of professionals truly capable of solving the global challenges our societies face in the coming decades. To better serve our students, our degree offerings have grown to cover both international affairs and public policy, an executive education masters, and integrated five-year options for UC San Diego students yielding both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In this year of celebration, we will continue to look to the future. We will, of course, take the time to celebrate the past accomplishments of our students, faculty and alumni, but this School is best known for its foresight.

We have a year’s worth of programming on crafting 21st century policy and strategy, finding ways of fusing technology and policy, and navigating an evolving political economy. We hope you’ll join us as we move into the future together.