Paxson selected as new dean of the Wilson School
Economics professor Christina Paxson was more than 3,000 miles away from Princeton, atop the mountains of Oregon, when she received an e-mail from President Tilghman notifying her of good news.
Paxson, chair of the economics department and founding director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing, said she immediately accepted upon learning last week that she had been selected as the new dean of the Wilson School effective July 1.
“When I finally found a cell phone that worked and learned that I had been selected, I was pretty excited,” Paxson said. “I cannot think of anything I would rather do.”
The announcement comes more than four months after Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 ended her six-and-a-half-year tenure as Wilson School dean to become director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department. Economics and public affairs professor Mark Watson had been serving as interim dean.
In an e-mail to The Daily Princetonian, Slaughter called Paxson a "fabulous choice."In early January, sociology professor Douglas Massey GS ’78 was appointed chair of the committee responsible for finding Slaughter’s successor. Massey said he worked closely with President Tilghman and Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, meeting weekly, to identify candidates in the United States and abroad and created a list of 90 candidates.
“By early May, we were in the position to forward a list of five potential candidates,” Massey explained. “President Tilghman and [Eisgruber] met with students and faculty, and there was broad consensus that she was the right person.”
Both Massey and Tilghman said that Paxson was a popular choice when she met with the search committee — which consisted of several Wilson School professors and alumni — on June 9. Massey added that there was “some preference” for a candidate from the University because such a candidate, if selected, would be able to start almost immediately. An outside candidate, he explained, would probably not have been able to begin their tenure until 2010.
“This is good for the Wilson School, which hasn’t had a permanent dean for two years,” Massey said. “We needed to get someone good into place so we wouldn’t be left hanging for another year.”
While Slaughter is credited with revamping and strengthening the Wilson School’s international affairs program, Massey said he expected Paxson would provide “balanced leadership in both domestic and foreign policy.”
Paxson said that she would step down as director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing. A search for a new director for the center will begin in the next few weeks.
Since founding the Center for Health and Wellbeing in 2000, Paxson has overseen the creation of a graduate certificate program in global health and health policy in 2003 and a similar certificate program for undergraduates in 2008.
Paxson has also directed the Adel Mahmoud Global Health Scholars Program and Lecture Series in Global Health since 2007 and leads the University’s Health Grand Challenge, part of an initiative that studies infectious diseases around the world and especially in developing nations. In the late 1990s, Paxson served as faculty chair for the Wilson School’s master in public affairs program.
A graduate of Swarthmore College, Paxson joined the Princeton faculty as a lecturer in 1986 and earned her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1987.
Rethinking the Wilson School
Massey explained that part of Paxson’s appeal was her familiarity with the Wilson School and her understanding of the difficult decisions she would have to make.
“The Woodrow Wilson School has not been unaffected by the current economic crisis, and we have some belt tightening to do,” Paxson said, adding that much of the school’s funding is from endowed funds, which have been hit hard by the economic recession.
“We’ve grown substantially in the last five to six years, and we’re now in the era of budget constraints and need to make the school more coherent,” Massey said. “It’s really not a period when we need to expand the school, but capitalize on what we have.”
Tilghman echoed Massey’s remarks and noted that Paxson would need to evaluate which programs within the school would be prioritized.
“I trust her judgment to identify within the school things that need support and things that have been outlived,” Tilghman said.
Paxson said her leadership of the interdisciplinary Center for Health and Wellbeing equips her to revise the curriculum and lead the Wilson School, which has embraced even more disciplines over the years.
“The faculty has grown substantially and broadened into new areas and new disciplines in recent years,” Paxson said. “This has happened so quickly that the curriculum — what we teach — no longer matches who we are. We need to think how to best build on the talents of our new faculty members.”
Paxson added that she would like the Wilson School to offer more 200-level courses to allow more students to take courses at the school.
Tilghman said she expected a review of the curriculum to be one of Paxson’s highest priorities.
“It hasn’t been done in a comprehensive way for a long time, and where I agree completely is that it’s important to step back on how and what one teaches on a pretty regular interval,” Tilghman said. “When people aren’t paying enough attention, things sort of start drifting.”
Both Tilghman and Paxson said the selectivity of the Wilson School was a topic worth discussing. Paxson explained she did not view the admission process for the school’s undergraduates as a necessity, but she added that, like all major decisions, she would consult with faculty and alumni before making any change to the policy.
“It’s one of the things that should be reconsidered from time to time,” Tilghman added. “There is nothing sacred about that.”