PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A $50-million gift to Brown’s Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International and Public Affairs will fund construction of a new building, expansion of the institute’s faculty, and initiatives aimed at deepening the University’s impact in addressing some of the world’s most vexing policy challenges.
Three long-time supporters of the Watson Institute made the gift jointly in support of Watson’s drive to become one of the leading centers for the study of issues of security, development, and governance. The gift is part of the early fundraising recently announced for Brown’s $3-billion comprehensive campaign. The consortium of donors comprises alumnus Stephen Robert, former chairman and CEO of Oppenheimer & Co. and chancellor emeritus of Brown; Alice Tisch, a trustee of New York University Langone Medical Center and the Museum of Modern Art, and Thomas Tisch, an alumnus, current Brown chancellor and managing partner of New York investment firm Four Partners; and the Thomas J. and Olive C. Watson Jr. Foundation, administered by David McKinney, retired senior vice president of IBM and retired president of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“This exceptional demonstration of support arrives at a significant time for both Brown University and the Watson Institute,” said Brown President Christina Paxson. “This gift will significantly enhance our ability to influence world affairs on such topics as food and water security, health care, and cross-cultural conflict. A central theme of the University’s strategic plan and our comprehensive campaign is ‘creating peaceful, just, and prosperous societies,’ and these resources help position Watson to lead in this area.”
The Watson Institute last year strengthened the expansion of its research and teaching beyond international studies by incorporating the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy. A building at 59 Charlesfield Street is being renovated to provide the public policy program with expanded teaching and conference space. Now, a new 20,000-square-feet building funded by the $50-million gift from the consortium of donors will create new spaces for growth in teaching and research for country- and discipline-specific programs.
“The Watson Institute brings together scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines to engage in policy-relevant education, research, and service to confront some of society’s most pressing issues,” said Richard M. Locke, Brown’s provost and director of the Watson Institute. “This extraordinary gift will ensure that the institute is able to continue to attract and support the most talented individuals to conduct this work and to do so at a scale required to make a profound impact in areas ranging from economic uncertainty and new global security threats to environmental degradation and poverty.”
Committed to strengthening Brown University’s teaching, research, and public engagement on international and public affairs, the members of the consortium of donors said they made the joint gift to support the momentum of Watson’s growth as a premier center for policy and education.
“International relations and public affairs — these are not theoretical pursuits, because they are being practiced every day,” Robert said. “It’s been said that war is the failure of diplomacy, and I think that’s true. Therefore if we want a more peaceful world, we have to be better as a society at international relations and diplomacy than we have been. Research and teaching that furthers that is very useful.”
New space for a growing area
Approximately $25 million of the new gift will be used to fund new space for the Watson Institute. A proposed 20,000-square-feet building will allow for expansion of the program and accommodate additional faculty. With the funding in place, site selection and design can proceed.
“This will provide students with greater opportunities to expand their knowledge of international affairs and public policy,” said the Watson Foundation’s McKinney. “It’s more and more important for Brown graduates to be knowledgeable about these issues. And it allows faculty to make more advances in their fields of study and to inform policymakers.”
Beyond the new building, the other half of the $50-million gift will support the hiring of additional faculty and support existing research and teaching programs.
Thomas Tisch said his and his wife’s motivation in contributing toward the $50-million joint gift was to support the Watson faculty and the educational programs housed at the Watson Institute.
“For us, it’s the importance of scholarship and educational excellence,” Tisch said. “Building the Watson Institute builds Brown’s capacity for interdisciplinary study, teaching, and research. There is a strong foundation for Watson to really be in a leadership role in terms of scholarship in the field.”
Inspired to give back
Stephen Robert, a 1962 graduate of Brown, served as the University’s chancellor from 1998 to 2007. His contributions to Brown are extensive, including establishing the Chancellor Stephen Robert Fellowship for doctoral candidates and serving as the lead donor for the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center. As a political science major, he had a special interest in investing in the role Brown can play in international relations, he said.
“When Chris Paxson and [Provost] Rick Locke came to Brown and began to expand Watson and move it to being one of the top institutes in the country, contributing to that — as part of my service to Brown — became very appealing,” Robert said.
Thomas Tisch, a 1976 graduate of Brown, has served as a member of Brown’s Board of Trustees since 2002, becoming the 20th chancellor of the University in July 2007. In addition to serving as a trustee of multiple prominent organizations, Alice Tisch is president of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. Both Thomas and Alice Tisch have made serving Brown a priority in many ways over the years, including contributing numerous endowed professorships, establishing special funds for a variety of undergraduate initiatives, and making many gifts to support University priorities.
“This is a moment when Brown takes off,” Thomas Tisch said. “There’s a lot of discussion about social good and impact, but what I like is that Watson stands for excellence in scholarship.”
David McKinney has a long history of engagement with Brown, including serving two terms as a Brown trustee and serving as fellow emeritus of the Corporation of Brown University. He has been associated with the Watson Institute since its establishment at Brown in the early 1980s with a gift from the Watson family. As a member and former chair of the Watson Board of Overseers, he helped establish the new institute, build its programs, and raise its profile on campus and beyond.
“The Watson Foundation’s contribution to this gift is about the generosity of Tom Watson when he endowed the foundation,” McKinney said. “It’s consistent with the mission of making Brown a more internationally oriented campus that prepares its students to deal with a world where security issues and development issues are more important.”
The gift also is intended to continue the “rapid acceleration” the Watson Institute experienced over the last three years under now-provost Richard Locke, and “to continue that momentum with the institute’s great new director,” McKinney said. In January 2016, Edward Steinfeld, who serves as the Dean’s Professor of China Studies, director of the China Initiative and professor of political science, will become the Howard R. Swearer Director of the Watson Institute.
“Under Rick Locke's inspirational direction and with wonderful support from members of the Brown community, the Watson Institute has seen a surge of strength,” Paxson said. “This very generous new gift will ensure that Professor Edward Steinfeld will be positioned to continue the Watson Institute’s transformation.”