From the Director

This article first appeared in ISAW Newsletter 14, Winter 2016.

Roger Bagnall
Leon Levy Director

Of all the leaps of faith involved in ISAW’s founding, the greatest was surely the creation of a new doctoral program—not only because it took in its first students in the depths of the Great Recession, but because no one could really say for sure whether the individualized program of study we planned, true to ISAW’s mission of crossing boundaries of time, space, and discipline, would work. Would we get able students prepared to take the risks of coming to a new and untested program? Would we suffer from the high attrition and long time-to-degree that have been the bane of doctoral education? Would our students produce work worthy of the investment of faculty time and fellowship stipends in their educations?

As you can see in this issue, the first results are in. Our first two dissertation defenses took place this fall, those of Randolph
and Erik Hermans. Both are extraordinarily wide-ranging in topic and materials, and both are excellent pieces of
scholarship, with many original findings. I was a member of both defense committees and enjoyed reading both of them greatly.

ISAW puts great emphasis on scholarly community. Our doctoral students form a cohesive and mutually supportive group, and they also form close ties to our visiting research scholars, research associates, and other members of the community. At the same time, they broaden that community by working with faculty members of other institutions. The defense committees for these two students included faculty from Princeton and Harvard Universities and the Institute for Advanced Study. Because of this emphasis on community, we have shaped the dissertation defenses to be inclusive events. Each defending student presents the dissertation publicly, taking questions afterward; then there is a seminar-like private meeting with the committee; and finally, a celebration in the Oak Library. These were joyous affairs.

More are to come. Mehrnoush Soroush is scheduled to defend in April, and we look forward to a couple more at the beginning of next fall. In the seven years the program has been in existence, we have only once had to part company with a student, and all of our students are on track to finish within or just barely after the seven-year canonical period laid down by the Graduate School. There is much to be proud of. We worry still, of course, because our first graduates are coming out into the world in the worst job market since the Great Recession and at a moment of great stress in higher education. But we believe that their breadth of preparation will stand them in good stead in the years to come. And the big questions with which we launched the program have been answered in the affirmative.

As I write this, the search committee for my successor is nearing the moment of reporting to NYU’s new president, Andrew
Hamilton. I look forward to introducing ISAW’s second director in the spring issue of the Newsletter.