Since joining the Princeton politics faculty in 2003, Amaney Jamal has been a leading campus voice on hot topics such as Middle East policy and public opinion in the Arab world. In September, she began a new role as dean of the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), taking over for Cecilia Rouse, who joined the Biden administration as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Jamal says she plans to continue discussing contentious issues as dean while working to advance the school in areas such as increasing diversity and expanding international partnerships. She spoke with PAW about some of her goals.
What do you think is distinctive about SPIA compared to its peers?
There are probably two distinctive features that I think set us apart from other policy schools in the country. The first is that, unlike many different policy schools, our policy school is very intimately linked with the disciplines. Almost all of our appointments come through [other academic] departments, which means we’re hiring some of the best minds in the disciplines to teach our students in the policy school.
So we’re constantly looking for academic excellence, rigor in research and teaching, and disciplinary breadth while paying attention to the policy debates.
The second thing that distinguishes us from our peers: Our program remains relatively small, which means our students get a lot of one-on-one attention. Our class sizes are small, and the mentoring opportunities here are plentiful. So our students are getting really great hands-on training.
How would you like to see SPIA change or grow during your time as dean?
I want to continue the path of academic excellence that SPIA is well known for, both domestically and internationally. I come from the Department of Politics, so I wasn’t a member of the school before I became dean. But something that has struck me is that our alumni are in amazing places in their careers, whether it’s in policy, in government, in the military, internationally, at the U.N. — they’re at all these high-level places. So I want to make sure that we continue mentoring and training the next generation of policy leaders so that they are well positioned to assume the highest positions in the country and internationally.
Under my deanship, I do want us to pay a lot of attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is something that my predecessors have done and something that the University cares a lot about. And I think we can do more in this area. We’re going to pay specific attention to hiring, recruitment, not only of faculty, scholars, and practitioners, but also students, and not only recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, but ensuring that when we recruit them, that they will find this environment here at SPIA one that is supportive and that enhances their overall trajectories here in the school. We want to empower different voices from diverse backgrounds.
We will be paying attention to critical policy debates. So when [President Eisgruber ’83] asks us as a school to reverse or analyze the long-term effects of systemic racism, we, as SPIA, want to embrace that call because we see ourselves, as a policy school, best positioned to be dealing with this. We will always be asking hypothetical questions related to mainstream policy debates, whether it’s about verdicts or trials or ongoing debates in the country. We are always going to ask ourselves whether systemic racism was at play. And if we’re not asking those questions, we are sort of failing the mission of the school.
In November, some students from the Princeton Open Campus Coalition objected to an email that you wrote to students following the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, in which you urged students to investigate racial inequities in the justice system. How do you decide when it is appropriate as a dean to communicate your views on an event or an issue?
I think just as a rule of thumb, as a policy school, we must be engaged in policy debates. We’re not teaching abstract theory at the school. We’re relying on concrete realities happening every day around us.
I’m the type of dean who wants to be hands-on in terms of my communications with my constituents and my students, and we’re often going to ask ourselves a lot of difficult questions. And I think it’s important that we do that. If you look at the role of universities worldwide, some of the best ideas about justice and moving societies forward have come out of universities, not because universities were silenced and not because free speech was stifled, especially at policy schools. So we will watch current events, we will see what’s happening in the world, and if I feel that this is a moment that warrants a response by me to my constituents so that we together can critically analyze the situation, we’re going to do it.
You’ve announced a strategic planning initiative at SPIA. What are some of the areas of focus?
Internationalization is very important for us as a policy school. We have to enhance our international presence. As you can imagine, every time we think we turn a corner with COVID, it sort of sets us back, but we do want to get our students back abroad. We want to get our faculty back abroad. We want to get some of our study-abroad programs going. We want SPIA to be a vehicle that brings international visitors to our campus as well. I would like SPIA represented on every single continent with intellectual hubs at universities where we have easy access to colleagues, and I want it to be a two-way, mutually reinforcing type of relationship where those same people have access to our school. I’ve already started many different conversations along these lines. There’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around this.
Another goal is that we really want to elevate our policy voices in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the world. We just hired Miji Bell — she will be our associate dean for public affairs and communications. She has a wealth of experience in D.C. and has a magnificent network that’s going to benefit the school tremendously. She’s going to be working with our excellent communications team, getting our faculty to be in front of policymakers, key constituencies, decisionmakers, influencers, in D.C.
Historically, SPIA has valued having alumni serve in government. What do your experiences tell you about today’s students and their willingness to pursue careers in government and public service?
We welcome that dedication and that commitment, and our job is to train them to basically assume those positions and do extremely well. So this is another reason why we want to enhance our presence in Washington D.C., our connections there. This is something that is one of our constant goals, to place our students in government service and the service of the nation.
Interview conducted and condensed by B.T.