#CGAat15 Faculty Interview Series: Jens Rudbeck

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This year, The Center for Global Affairs (CGA) celebrates its 15th Anniversary. To mark this occasion, GAR sat down with Professor Rudbeck to discuss his tenure at the CGA and his current position as head of the International Development and Humanitarian Assistance Concentration. Professor Rudbeck earned an MS in development studies and a PhD in political science, focusing on democratization in sub-Saharan African. His research has focused on the interaction between social movements and the state. Professor Rudbeck currently teaches classes focusing on development, humanitarian assistance, food security, and social movements.

Global Affairs Review: Can you share with us how your journey at CGA began?

Professor Rudbeck: I came to the CGA in September 2009, so I am into my tenth year now. My first year at the CGA, I was an adjunct professor, and then after a year, a full-time position came up. I applied for it and got it. So I’ve been full-time for nine years, ten years altogether.

What have the last 10 years at the CGA meant to you?

I came to the United States in 2008 and was supposed to spend a year at Columbia to work on a post-doc project. Then, of course, 2008 came to be a historic year. I arrived in New York in August, right before the economic crash, where the whole economy went upside down. It was also the time during which Barack Obama was running for president, so it was an exciting time to be in the U.S. I was only supposed to be in New York City for a year, but I fell in love with the city and thought I would see if I could find a job and stay. Because of the economic crisis, a lot of people were laid off on Wall Street, and as a consequence wanted to go back to school to change their careers. With CGA being a professional studies program, a lot of people joined the CGA to further their careers.

During this time, the CGA was looking for someone to teach in the area of development, which is what I had focused my PhD on. That is how the opportunity of me joining the CGA opened up. Coming from the European tradition of teaching, which is different from the American way, my first year at the CGA was all about figuring out how the system works and how a large and well-established institution like NYU works. In addition, I also had to figure out how to best interact with students, as I come from a tradition where large classes and lectures were the norm, with little emphasis on discussions. The CGA works differently, operating on smaller courses where faculty are encouraged to mentor their students and often meet one-on-one. It was a wonderful transition into something which allowed me to have a much more personal contact with the CGA students.

As I joined the CGA, the program was beginning to rethink its concentration structure. When I started to work at the CGA there was a private sector and development concentration, which focused on the topic from the point of view of economic institutions, including the IMF and the World Bank. Many students were also interested to learn about the social issues of development, such as poverty reduction and education. This is why we decided to create a concentration that focused on International Development and Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA), looking at short-term aid responses and longer-term perspectives that come with development work. It was an incredibly interesting time to join the CGA, as the program was rethinking its structure and concentrations, which also meant that new classes were introduced to the concentration, allowing for a balanced focus on humanitarian assistance and international development issues and topics.

The period around 2010-2012 was also a time when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were coming to an end. This meant that there were a lot of discussions about ”what’s going to come next,” which, of course, were the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): moving a small development agenda onto a global scale. This was a good moment for the IDHA concentration, as this shift to “global goals” was in line with much of what the CGA was doing and continues to do today, addressing global issues and challenges, whether its in the field of gender studies, peacebuilding, energy and the environment, or even international law. With CGA building up its different concentrations, I began to feel that the program was, and still is today, extremely well structured to address all of the sustainable development goals, not just in the IDHA concentration, but as a program as a whole. Each CGA concentration addresses the gigantic SDG agenda in its own way, which was great for me, as it is impossible to cover all aspects of the SDGs in my courses and concentration.

What do you think is distinctive about the CGA community?

I believe the kind of students that the CGA has, which has developed over the past years, makes the CGA community distinctive. The CGA student body is incredibly involved, both with student government (SAGA) and student clubs. Our students are committed not just to CGA classes but also to creating a community around the issues they are interested in. Clubs like THRILL (The Human Rights and International Law League), PACT (Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation), the GWG (Gender Working Group) and others popped up while I have been here, organizing critical and well-attended seminars and events on global issues. So that’s definitely one thing that stands out, the students that come in deeply engaged and committed.

Another thing that I think makes the CGA distinctive is the close relationships between professors and students. Professors always have time for students. Students can send an email asking for a meeting, to which professors respond that their door is always open. I feel that, in comparison to my previous experience at other universities, where many professors are protective of their turf, the CGA, because of the concentrations, has less competition among faculty. There are no fights over resources or students, which is often happening in other departments. At the CGA, professors will always refer students who work on an issue that focuses on the field of another faculty member, to that person. That is the kind of culture at the CGA, and an atmosphere where you can tell your students to also consult with another professor, while providing them with your input as well.

What three words would you use to describe the CGA?

Committed or dedicated: There is a strong commitment from the faculty to the program and to the students, as well as a strong commitment from the students to the program. I feel students come because they’re interested in the global issues that are facing the world today. They are not just interested in the degree or a perfect grade. The students are at the CGA because they are studying a topic or area in which they are genuinely interested in building a career that they want for themselves. This kind of commitment or dedication is what every program wishes for.

Innovative: The CGA is innovative in a several ways. We do things differently from other programs, and I think that makes us stand out. There are other global affairs centers across the world, but I feel they often come from a tradition of either political science or sociology. These programs are set in the old tradition of thinking, focusing on economics or politics. At the CGA, we approach global affairs in a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary way, looking at issues from different perspectives through our concentrations. I think this sets the CGA apart and makes the program an innovative global affairs hub.

Student-oriented: We are deeply focused on our students. It is not that I would say that we are not doing research; a lot of research is taking place, but if we have to prioritize time, I think compared to other programs across the world, the CGA faculty puts a lot of time into mentoring, interacting, and working closely with students. In other programs, faculty often focus heavily on their publications and research, allocating less time to their students, because that is how you are evaluated in this industry: research and publications in well-regarded journals.

What do you envision for CGA in the next 15 years?

Looking back, there has been an effective restructuring of concentrations. For example, the IDHA concentration was restructured, the Global Economy concentration was renamed, and other concentrations were added as issues in global affairs emerged. The CGA has also just this past year introduced a new M.S. in Cybersecurity, another new development. Looking forward, I think that the CGA will do more of what it has been doing, adapting to the needs of students, tweaking concentrations to the changes in the world. When I began to work at the CGA, there were discussions about turning the concentrations into separate master’s programs, for example, to allow students to obtain a degree specifically in peacebuilding or IDHA. This idea, however, never went far. Now that we have a Cyber master’s degree, it might be possible to add other degrees, if the new master’s programme in cyber is a success model, bringing in students who want to specialize.

What else might be important for the CGA for the next 15 years is the apparent backlash against globalization on a global scale. That is worrying, especially for those of us who grew up in Europe or smaller nations with a history of nationalism and what it led to. It is also worrying from the point of view of the CGA program, because if globalization is not seen as a solution to the problems in our world there might be fewer students. So, hopefully this is just a short-term trend. Historically, the field of global affairs came out of the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, universities across the world introduced their global affairs programs, in addition to the international politics programs they were already offering, from the belief that more comprehensive approaches were needed to understand and explain the changes the world was undergoing.

My hope for the CGA is to welcome more students and maybe even more concentrations. However, I think the upcoming years should focus on solidifying the program, before we reassess and reflect on the field of global affairs and potentially diversify further. If CGA grows its student body, further diversification might make sense. Right now, we have 8 concentrations, a good number compared to the number of students that we have.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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