New Wilson School dean silent on whether she personally supports reforms
In the days following her appointment as the new dean of the Wilson School, Cecilia Rouse is declining to say whether she personally supports the recent overhaul of the undergraduate program — the most significant in the school's history — that she will now be in charge of implementing.
The University announced on Monday that Rouse, a top education policy analyst and a former economic adviser to President Barack Obama, will lead the Wilson School beginning in September, taking the wheel of the institution as it prepares to end selective admission and overhaul its curriculum.
Rouse initially declined to comment on whether she supports the recent reforms she will oversee. Rouse did say in a brief interview that she planned to implement the changes — pushed by her predecessor — and respect the vote of the faculty, who voted in favor of the reforms.
But Rouse, who has taught at the University since 1992 but was on leave during much of the debate over selective admission, declined to comment on her opinion of that vote, saying the faculty vote was confidential.
“I think it’s too early to judge how successful [the reforms] were,” she said in the brief interview.
In a later statement to The Daily Princetonian, Rouse reiterated her commitment to implementing the reforms, noting her respect for the work done by the Wilson School faculty in assessing the undergraduate program. But while Rouse said she would faithfully implement the changes, she did not address whether she supports them.
“At this point, the emphasis needs to be on ensuring that the reforms are implemented in a way that leaves Wilson School majors with the strongest possible learning experience in public and international affairs,” Rouse said in the statement.
Rouse spent two years, from March 2009 to March 2011, on President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, where she focused on issues in postsecondary education. During that time, a Wilson School commission reevaluated its undergraduate education, eventually recommending that the school scrap selective admission. The school also revamped its course offerings and requirements, placing a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary learning in what administrators described as a “reinvention” of the concentration.
The reforms were commissioned by Rouse’s predecessor, then-Dean Christina Paxson, who began as president of Brown University on July 1. Wilson School professor Anne Case GS ’88 has led the school as an interim dean over the summer and will be replaced by Rouse on Sept. 1, when the new dean begins her tenure.
Paxson's departure amid the implementation of her reforms could threaten their durability; Rouse has not stated her position on the changes to the undergraduate program publicly in the past.
But other Wilson School professors suspected that, despite Rouse’s silence, she did indeed support the reforms even though she missed much of the debate within the faculty while she was in the nation’s capital. Professors noted that though they had not spoken to Rouse directly and did not know for sure if Rouse supported the changes because she was mostly absent from the debate, they speculated that she would have been a vocal supporter and said that she had never voiced any objections to the reforms.
Wilson School professor Robert Keohane, who supports the changes and called Rouse an “inspired choice,” said he thought Rouse probably agreed with the direction in which the Wilson School was headed. If she wasn’t, Keohane argued, then the search committee probably would not have offered her the position, and Rouse probably would not have accepted it.
“She would presumably not have taken the position if she weren’t sympathetic with [the reforms],” Keohane said, adding that he applauded that the school chose an internal candidate during a time of institutional change.
The search committee for the new dean formed shortly after Brown announced that it had chosen Paxson as its 19th president in March. Wilson School professor David Lee, who chaired the search committee, said in an email that the “planned undergraduate reforms were taken as a given” and that the Wilson School did not use the professor’s opinions on the changes as a criterion in its selection process.
“The priority for the search committee was identifying candidates who understood the rationale for the reforms and could successfully implement them. We have every confidence that Professor Rouse meets both criteria,” Lee said.
Nolan McCarty, the chair of the politics department and one of the co-chairs of the committee that proposed the reforms when he was associate dean of the Wilson School, explained that the debate over the reforms was not especially controversial and that he assumed Rouse would share the view of the majority of the faculty.
But even the few defenders of the old Wilson School undergraduate education, who voted against the reforms, also assumed Rouse would be a supporter.
“I’d be very surprised if she wouldn’t be sympathetic to the new plan,” Wilson School lecturer Stan Katz, a vocal opponent of the plan, said. Katz added that as a trained economist, Rouse would likely support the elements of the curriculum changes that place a greater emphasis on methodological competence and rigor.
Rouse's term in Washington overlapped with much of the reevaluation of the Wilson School. In October 2010, the Wilson School announced that a committee chaired by McCarty and former University president Harold Shapiro GS ’64 would comprehensively review the undergraduate program. By the time the review began, Rouse had already been working in Washington, D.C. for a year and a half.
Over the rest of the academic year, the committee met frequently to discuss potential changes. And in April 2011, only a month after Rouse returned to the University, the Wilson School faculty voted to approve the changes ultimately recommended by the committee.
Rouse was no longer on leave when an implementation committee crafted the exact parameters of the new curriculum, which was unveiled this past February.
Wilson School professor Doug Massey said that, despite Rouse’s absence, she was “party to [the committee’s] decision" and is invested in the reforms.
“She was involved in this, and it’s not like she’s from the outside,” he said.
In the interview, Rouse made clear that she would follow the vote of the faculty and implement the reforms, regardless of her opinion. Rouse takes over at a juncture for the Wilson School that may confine her agenda as dean: Much of her early time in office will be spent following through on policy changes determined under Paxson.
Paxson, who said she has not yet talked with Rouse about her new position, explained in an email that Rouse should not feel compelled to simply follow through with the reforms that her predecessor set into motion, but should rather feel free to pursue her own agenda.
"I expect that she will work with the Woodrow Wilson School faculty to make the best choices for the School and, most likely, to move it in interesting new directions," Paxson said.