Beth A. Simmons
The past seven years have been extraordinarily positive ones for me and for the intellectual life of the Center. I assumed the directorship one year after moving into the glorious Knafel Building at 1737 Cambridge Street. The new surroundings were the symbol of the Center’s vigorous intellectual life, and our close connection with the other international area centers and the Department of Government. The building has been filled with a stunning array of seminars, conferences, and workshops these last seven years. Our affiliates have grown in number as have the height of the trees from my office window that now almost completely block out William James Hall. Smile. The corridors of the building are dense with our long-term denizens as well as refreshing waves of visitors from all over the world.
We have accomplished much in the past seven years. The WCFIA has funded the research of some 100 faculty (many with multiple projects), 250 graduate students, and 150 undergraduates. All told, this support has totaled an estimated 10 million dollars. We have done excellent work under very difficult financial conditions, doing more and more of real intellectual value for our affiliates and the broader Harvard-related community with fewer resources. We reconfigured our research-funding model to encourage synergies between teaching and research, by establishing synergy semesters for our junior faculty. We have worked to encourage our affiliates to seek outside funding by offering incubation grants. And we have sought to impact the University and to strengthen its ties internationally by funding research clusters, of which the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History cluster is the inaugural example. All of these projects have signaled our intent to rationalize our research support in an effort to assure its greatest possible reverberation Center-, University- and world-wide.
Over the past seven years we have had to adapt to new financial and technological realities. We reorganized our processes and output in many different ways that reflect an ongoing effort to run a tight ship. Some of these—such as the conversion of our paper publications to electronic media—have been both necessary and easy, while others—like learning to increase our use of virtual meetings and conferences—are still underway. We have fashioned new ways to strengthen ties between our scholarly community and practitioners by giving the latter the opportunity to join the Center for variable terms and with closer ties to faculty. We have reduced the size of the Executive Committee, while enhancing its representative nature and rotating its members. These simple adjustments have led to a governing team willing and able to take on difficult governing challenges and better equipped to speak clearly in the interest of scholarship on international affairs where that has been necessary. I will always be grateful that members of the Executive Committee nearly unanimously took a position in writing on the importance of retaining a say over the use of WCFIA research resources when these were at risk of being re-designated for purposes other than research in international affairs. Both the Executive Committee and the Steering Committee have generously shared their judgment and expertise, and are largely to thank for directing WCFIA resources toward the most promising projects and scholars.
Over the years, the WCFIA has also benefited from the sage insights of our Advisory Committee. When I assumed the directorship, I was fortunate to have Adele Simmons as a steady friend of the Center and chair of the committee. Last year, I was pleased to have Kenneth Juster assume this leadership role. They have taken time out of their busy schedules to share their wisdom on a broad range of governance and resource issues. I have been fortunate to have them to turn to.
I am reminded daily who is at the center of the Center. It is the staff. They have worked to make the WCFIA the professional exemplar that it is. I took over the directorship the same year that Steve Bloomfield became the executive director, and it is clear that I simply would not have known what to do without him. I commenced my second three-year term at the height of Harvard’s financial crisis, and I can attest to the fact that we made many of the right decisions because of the timely, precise, and transparent management of our finances by Pat McVay. We have made some important enhancements to our Fellows Program over the past few years, and these have been possible because of Kathleen Molony’s willingness to innovate. Michelle Eureka has done what few other human resources officers would have the professional and personal skill to pull off: developing and retaining a flexible staff ready to step up to any challenge. Throughout it all, Tom Murphy has been at the front desk for Lo! these many years, as our indispensable face to visitors and the broader public. Every member of this staff—Nirvana Abou-Gabal, Jessica Barnard, Kristin Caulfield, Helen Clayton, Megan Countey, Caitlin Cronin, Ashley DiSilvestro, Shinju Fujihira, Jaronica Fuller, Emily Gauthier, Sophia Holtz, Kathleen Hoover, Marina Ivanova, Karl Kaiser, Catherine Himmel Nehring, Bill Nehring, Clare Putnam, Charles Smith, Xiao Tian, Ann Townes, Monet Uva, Larry Winnie, and many others who have walked these halls—has performed way, way above expectation. I know of no other Center that has a better reputation for staff professionalism than the WCFIA. Thanks to you all.
This will be my final message in these pages to the Weatherhead Center community. As many of you know, I resigned as director of the WCFIA on April 10 of this year. My formal term would have ended June 30, but I tendered my resignation in response to the recent interactions between the Center and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences regarding financial contributions to the FAS. Unable to make headway on a governance arrangement that would assure the Center’s participation in decisions about levels and purposes of FAS support, I felt it was my duty to the Center as well as our donors to resign as director. The process of selecting a new director is underway at this writing. I will of course continue to serve our community in every way possible, and wish the new director the very best as he or she takes over the leadership of one of the intellectual jewels of Harvard University.
Beth A. Simmons