Associate Professor of Economics Robert Murphy was the first director of the International Studies program. He will step down June 1 and be succeeded by Associate Professor of the Practice of Theology Erik Owens. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

International Studies, one of the University’s most popular interdisciplinary programs – and which had the highest number of majors in its history in 2017-18 – will shortly enter a new era, as inaugural program director Robert Murphy steps down on June 1.

Murphy, an associate professor of economics, will be succeeded by Associate Professor of the Practice of Theology Erik Owens, associate director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life.

International Studies offers students the knowledge and skills to meet economic, ethical, political and social challenges in the 21st-century global environment. International Studies faculty members are drawn from the Communication, Economics, English, History, Romance Languages and Literatures, Political Science, Sociology and Theology departments; some have joint appointments with the program.

With this diversity in expertise, IS seeks to spur contemplation and discussion of international issues not only among undergraduates but also across the wider University community, Murphy and Owens say.

“While world events certainly play a part in influencing students’ choice of majors or minors, there’s always been a strong interest at Boston College in exploring international issues,” says Murphy. “The vision for International Studies at BC has been to provide an interdisciplinary approach that enables undergraduates to view these issues from different perspectives. And just as importantly, in adhering to Jesuit, Catholic principles, we work to ensure the ethical dimensions of international relations and policies are understood and appreciated.”

Murphy says the time was ripe for a transition in IS leadership, with the program having recently undergone a self-study and external review that led to a revamping of its curriculum.

“I certainly didn’t plan to stay as director for this long, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to be part of the planning for the program’s next phase. I think that, with Erik at the helm and our talented faculty contributing, International Studies will be able to build on its success.”

Robert Murphy and Erik Owens

Robert Murphy with Erik Owens (right), who will succeed Murphy as director of the International Studies program. (Photo by Peter Julian)

“During his tenure as director, Bob has skillfully managed the program’s growth in faculty and students alike,” says Owens. “He presided over the hiring of all of our joint faculty hires as well as our visiting faculty, all of whom have proved to be remarkable interdisciplinary scholars and teachers. I am immensely grateful for the many, many hours Bob has spent with me this semester, talking about the complex process of leading and managing this dynamic program.”

Murphy’s involvement with the program goes back to the 1980s, when he sat on the board overseeing the then-new interdisciplinary minor in International Studies. Over the years, IS has consistently been at or near the top of BC’s most-enrolled minors; this academic year there were 133, second only to 137 in history.

For years, students wishing to major in International Studies could only take it as an independent major. In the late 1990s, a committee was appointed by then-College of Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph Quinn to recast the International Studies Program with a formal major, which was launched in 2001. Starting with 31 majors, IS tripled that total in five years, and reached 213 by the end of its first decade; the total was 253 for 2017-18.

In addition to Murphy’s management of the program’s growth in faculty and students, Owens praises the support of International Studies Associate Director Hiroshi Nakazato and Program Administrator Patricia McLaughlin, and the program’s academic advisory board.  

Looking ahead, Owens sees a clear role for International Studies in helping contribute to the University’s emphasis on global engagement, as outlined in the Strategic Plan. The program will commit more resources to “building community” among faculty and students, he says, in part through a planned relocation to Connolly House, which will provide a venue for advising, mentoring, meetings and an enhanced array of academic programs and social events – including visits from IS alumni.

For example, Owens will organize a six-week project this fall, the Global Engagement Portal, that will enable members of the University to communicate directly with refugees, field workers, educators, students and others at nearly 30 sites around the world.

Owens says work will continue on the new IS curriculum, which has added new foundation courses and re-framed interdisciplinary concentrations. Program administrators and faculty also will seek to make IS – which he notes has a competitive application process and strenuous academic requirements “that require thoughtful planning and advising” – less challenging for its majors and minors to navigate, he adds, and increase student-oriented programming with a focus on internships and post-graduation jobs.

—Sean Smith | University Communications