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Tierney, Peterson orchestrate major IR survey

  • Assessing the world
    Assessing the world  Professor Sue Peterson and students Lindsay Hundley (left) and Alex Atkins discuss the 2011 survey of International Relations scholars in the U.S. and 19 countries conducted for the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) project.  Stephen Salpukas
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The most comprehensive survey ever made of International Relations scholars started at William and Mary in 2003 with two elementary questions.

The first was asked of Mike Tierney, Hylton Associate Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary and Co-Director of the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations (ITPIR). Student James Long (’03) wanted to know why Tierney placed so much emphasis on the causes of war and realist theory in his Introduction to International Politics class. Tierney didn’t do research on war, and he did not employ realist theory in his research either.

At the same time, Tierney and colleague Sue Peterson, Reves Professor of Government and International Relations and Co-Director of ITPIR, had been bandying about the issue of why U.S. foreign policymakers routinely ignored the research and suggestions made to them by IR scholars, even when those scholars were largely in agreement.

Attempting to answer Long’s query meant delving into the relationship between teaching and research and whether other faculty members taught to their research interests -- or whether issues raised in class informed their research projects. Asking those questions of W&M faculty quickly morphed into the idea of surveying IR scholars throughout the United States and, later, the world.

The second question, Tierney and Peterson agreed, couldn’t be answered until they possessed more complete data on what was being taught in the IR classroom and what kind of research was being done within the “ivory tower.” That led to the launching of a series of Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) surveys and the compilation of the most comprehensive database of IR research articles that are classified in terms of their methods, issues studied, regions covered, theories employed, time periods examined, among other categories.

Former W&M undergraduates Long and Daniel Maliniak (’06) have joined Peterson and Tierney as principal investigators on the TRIP project.  With administrative support from ITPIR, and an ever-evolving team of researchers that also has included Assistant Professor Amy Oakes and 15-20 undergraduate researchers including Jennifer Keister ’03, Brandon Stewart ’05, Ryan Powers ’06, Richard Jordan ’10, Will Brannon ’11, Alena Stern ’12 and Lindsay Hundley ’12, the TRIP principal investigators have conducted four surveys since 2004.  In addition to the United States, the team now surveys IR faculty in 19 other countries.  Some of the results of the 2011 U.S. survey recently appeared in a Foreign Policy magazine article entitled “Inside the Ivory Tower.”

Like the previous three Foreign Policy articles on the TRIP project, the latest includes IR scholars’ opinions on the best schools in the country at which to study IR, whether at the undergraduate, masters, or Ph.D. level. This year, for the first time, TRIP researchers, also asked respondents about the best feeder schools for inside-the-beltway jobs.

Other topics covered included “How IR scholars see the world”; “Leading scholars on China’s rise, America’s decline – and more”; “Why academics and policymakers don’t get along”; and “What the Ivory Tower survey gets wrong,” an op-ed piece by James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C.  (Click here to see the full survey and response.)

“Foreign Policy always tends to focus on the lists of best schools, which is not surprising, given who their advertisers and readers are,” said Peterson, “but the survey has always been about so much more.  It really is about the state of the IR discipline, what we teach our students, what we study in our scholarship, and what we know or think we know about the world around us that might be of use to policy makers.”

Asked if the 2011 U.S. survey, which encompassed nearly 100 questions and was distributed to all IR scholars at four-year colleges and universities contained any surprises, Tierney deadpanned, “Where to start?”

Among the survey’s findings:

•    IR scholars believe that East Asia has already become more important to U.S. national security than the Middle East.  “This is a big shift from the 2008 survey,” Tierney said, when large numbers of scholars chose the Middle East.

•    The number of women studying international relations is growing very rapidly.

•    George H.W. Bush was judged to be the best foreign policy president over the past 20 years. His son, George W. Bush, was judged to be the worst, by far.

•    Twenty-eight percent of IR scholars have cited a blog post in their academic research, “a huge surprise to me,” Tierney said. Also surprising to Tierney was the fact that 14.6 percent of professors permit students to cite Wikipedia in their research papers.

“We don’t allow our students to cite Wikipedia or any other unattributed source, whether electronic or print,” added Peterson.

•    In the past two years, more than 20 percent of IR scholars have worked in a paid capacity for the U.S. government.

“So much for being isolated in the ivory tower,” said Tierney.

•    More than 60 percent of IR scholars claim they supported the use of U.S. military force in Libya, but only 21 percent say that they would support the use of force in Syria.

“The real surprise,” noted Peterson, “is that the IR experts are highly skeptical of military intervention, whether to stop war between Sudan and South Sudan or to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

•    More than 25 percent said they “don’t know” whether the Arab Spring will be good or bad for the U.S.

“We have been doing these surveys for a long time, and I don’t think we have ever had such a high ‘don’t know’ rate from the professoriate,” Tierney concluded.

The survey closed in November, and the team still is not done standardizing and analyzing data from all 20 countries.

“We will present some papers using these data in April this year at the International Studies Association Meeting in San Diego,” Tierney said.  “And, we will host a conference next fall in Williamsburg where 20-30 IR scholars from around the world will descend on Williamsburg to analyze these data and share their findings.”

Peterson added:  “Then we will invite policymakers and scholars to sit down together to discuss our findings and think about the role of scholars in the policy process and the place of policy analysis and policy-relevant research in the academy.”