History of the IPE Program

"There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm."

--Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

Although the International Political Economy (IPE) Program at the University of Puget Sound has been in existence for a relatively short time, its roots run deep. In a sense there have always been IPE students at the University of Puget Sound. The pages of the college's yearbook, Tamanawas, are liberally littered with the names and faces of students who built an education in IPE out of the raw materials that were at hand -- courses in politics, economics and history, for example, library books, newspaper columns and -- significantly -- each other and the faculty who supported and encouraged them. This was the era of DIY IPE (do-it-yourself international political economy) at Puget Sound. It was a great beginning.

The IPE Program as we know it today was invented as an attempt to help these students study international political economy in a more organized and coherent way. The program has its origins in the components of a "perfect storm" that were brought together around 1989.

It began with an exceptionally bright and talented group of students interesting in knowing more about then-current problems such as the collapse of communism, the Latin American debt crisis, rising U.S.-Japanese economic tensions, the growing influence of the European Union, and the uncertain condition of U.S. hegemony. These students pressed the faculty to work together to help them get even more from courses. They wanted to go beyond DIY IPE.

The faculty was ready to help out. Many of the faculty in economics, politics, sociology and history had come of age intellectually in the 1960s and 1970s, when world events exposed the necessity for an integrated study of world events (see What is IPE? for details.) But the academic world is organized into disciplinary "silos" that make it difficult for faculty to work together to build programs that cross disciplinary lines. All of the structures and incentives of 20th century academia promoted work within disciplines rather than collaborative trans-discipline efforts. Fortunately, the University of Puget Sound was (and is) an exception to this rule.

The University of Puget Sound has a strong tradition of interdisciplinary programs going back decades. The Asian Studies Program, under the leadership of Robert Albertson and Suzanne Barnett, was particularly noteworthy in this regard. Philip Phibbs, the university president at the time, was a political scientist by training, but he always encouraged students to integrate economics with politics and to get an "education for a lifetime" that avoided the silo complex of excessively narrow specialization. Phibbs, along with Dean Tom Davis and Associate Dean Terry Cooney, fostered an administrative environment where the budding IPE faculty and their students could begin to innovate. All that was missing was money, but that showed up before long.

The Hewlett Foundation was interested in encouraging interdisciplinary international programs at colleges and universities. They wanted to create a generation of "global citizens" who would be knowledgeable, active participants in a complex interdependent world. They were willing to fund the development of new courses and programs, if faculty could be persuaded to work together to teach them. The University was invited to send a letter of interest. If the Foundation was interested, too, we'd be invited to apply for funding. Terry Cooney met with the IPE group and wrote our letter of interest. We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to accomplish -- essentially we wanted to organize a faculty seminar on IPE that would produce a new course, IPE 201: Introduction to International Political Economy. The Foundation liked Terry's memo, but they didn't ask us to apply for a grant. They just sent the money and told us to get started. We knew we needed help, so we went looking for a visiting scholar who could get us started and help build our faculty.

David P. Calleo is Dean Acheson Professor and Director of European Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). SAIS is a leading graduate center for interdisciplinary international studies and David is a leading author in IPE (his book The Imperious Economy is a classic in the field). David spent much of the 1991-92 year at Puget Sound leading the Hewlett Faculty Seminar and bringing such notables as Susan Strange and Robert Skidelsky to campus to give talks and lead faculty discussions. The members of that original faculty seminar were: David Balaam, Karl Fields, Arpad Kadarkay, Tim Amen, Leon Grunberg, Margi Nowak, Sunil Kukreja, Nancy Bristow, Ross Singleton, Lisa Nunn, Michael Veseth, Kate Stirling, Michel Rocchi and Ted Taranovski. These faculty worked together to develop collective expertise. Each member was, after all, trained along more narrow disciplinary lines. It is not easy to reach across disciplines, but it was easier for these faculty, good friends and colleagues all, to reach across the seminar table to share insights and opinions.

IPE 201: Introduction to International Political Economy was one result. I taught the first section of this class in Fall 2001. The students were mostly freshmen and sophomores, but the textbooks that we used were written for juniors, seniors and graduate students. The conventional wisdom held that students cannot undertake IPE until they have had several background courses in economics, politics, etc. We thought our students were ready, however, and we all appreciated the need to develop an informed global citizenry, so we tried to build a course that would take them from zero to 60 in a single semester. The course went well, despite the difficulty of the readings, and proved popular. Students actually brought their friends to class with them because the topics were just so darn interesting. When parents visited, they sometimes took the textbook home with them to read, which created a bit of a problem. The passion and excitement that these first students showed towards IPE has remained as one of the hallmarks of the program. The University was impressed enough with the effort to implement a new University Core requirement in International Studies defined around the IPE class. (This requirement was eliminated a decade later when the core was streamlined.)

Dave Balaam got the crazy idea that we should try to write the text materials that this course needed -- to try to write a true beginners guide to global problems. The idea was that Dave and I would write about 60 percent of the material and that several of our colleagues would write chapters in their particular areas of expertise. Leon Grunberg wrote on MNCs, for example, Lisa Nunn on rational choice theory, Karl Fields and Liz Norville on Japan, Ross Singleton on the knowledge structure, David Sousa on NAFTA, and Sunil Kukreja on development, and Tim Amen on OPEC. Too many cooks spoil the broth, it is said, but this soup was good enough and set a new standard for introductory texts in this field. The third edition of the Introduction to International Political Economy textbook was published in June 2004 and is used by many colleges and university at the undergraduate level and even in some graduate courses. (A substantial proportion of the royalties from these textbook projects is given by the authors to the IPE program to fund student initiatives.) Prentice Hall also published a book of readings that we edited along with a brief New York Times reader and a set of edited video clips from ABC News and Nightline. The IPE textbook allowed us to put our stamp on IPE -- to define what IPE is at Puget Sound and to give students and professors everywhere a framework for analysis. Suddenly our students wanted more than just an introduction class -- they wanted to broaden and deepen their IPE studies. We needed a major.

The IPE major came together in 1994 in response to growing excitement about IPE among students and faculty and continuing support by the University. We think it might have been the first undergraduate IPE major in the U.S., perhaps the world. We designed the major from the top down: we decided that it was important for each IPE major to write a senior thesis. The thesis is intended to give coherence to the major and to be sure that breadth of study is balanced by depth of analysis. Then we asked ourselves how we should structure the major, given the resources available, to prepare students to get the breadth and depth we wanted so that they could write a sound thesis. We came up with the basic structure of introduction and intermediate courses, electives and thesis that exists today. Twenty four students jumped at the first opportunity to major in IPE. When they graduated in May 1996 they became the first IPE alumni. (You can read their names and see their thesis topics, as well as those of the other IPE alumni, by going to the IPE Thesis page. You will need to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the class on 1996 information.)

The IPE Program has grown and developed in the years since 1996. Some of the original faculty have moved on, replaced by new professors including especially Patrick O'Neal, Richard Anderson-Connolly, Jan van der Veen, Matt Warning and Hendrik Hansen. The Henry R. Luce Foundation provided funding that allowed us to hire a talented geography PhD, Nick Kontogeorgopoulos, as the Luce Professor of the Political Economy of Southeast Asia.

The size of the IPE major has increased dramatically. The average graduating class was about 20 students in the first several years of the program, rising gradually to the current level of 35-45 majors per year. This makes IPE one of the largest majors at Puget Sound and often the largest major in the social sciences. The quality of IPE students is high, with many earning university honors including election to Phi Beta Kappa. About three-quartersof IPE majors study abroad at some point in their college career, making them as especially "international" group of students. Increasingly, high school students choose to enroll at Puget Sound because they want to major in IPE.

Our students continue to be independent thinkers once they graduate, so it is not surprising that they end up doing all sorts of things. (See What Can You Do with an IPE degree.) I have been surprised by how many of our graduates have ended up in truly "international" jobs and graduate programs and how quickly they have made progress. I have also been interested in how many alumni have ended up working in fields that are directly related to their senior thesis topics. In recent years, the number of IPE graduates going to graduate school has increased, including law school, business school, PhD programs and a variety of masters programs.

The IPE Program took a big step in 2004-05 with the first full-time IPE appointments. Traditionally at Puget Sound professors who teach in programs like IPE are appointed to existing academic departments and must share time and balance commitments accordingly. The rising prominence of IPE permitted Dave Balaam, Nick Kontogeorgopoulos and I to shift our appointments to IPE from Political and Government, Comparative Sociology and Economics respectively.  Brad Dillman was the first tenure-line professor to be hired directly by IPE in 2004.  Pierre Ly came on board in 2008 and Emelie Peine in 2009 when Dave Balaam retired.The institutional structure of the program has evolved to accommodate the needs of our students and the interests of our faculty.

What is the future of the IPE Program?
Prediction is difficult -- especially about the future. The visionary social scientist Kenneth Boulding once did a study of the history of the future. That is, he did research to see what people said about the future in the past -- and then he checked to see if their predictions were right or wrong. What Boulding discovered was this. People always have opinions about the future, but when the future finally comes around they are usually surprised. The best way to prepare for the future, he said, is to prepare to be surprised.

It would be surprising if IPE stayed the same. I think the program has grown and changed in ways that none of us expected back in the late 1980s. It will be interesting to see how new students and new faculty contribute to the program's evolution. It will be interesting, too, to see what global trends, crises and events shape the world and, therefore, change the way we think about IPE. Hopefully the IPE program will find a way to evolve to deal with the complex and changing global system it seeks to understand.

© Michael Veseth, 2004. Posted August 5, 2004. Updated December 3, 2009.