From Maxwell Perspective...

2011-16: The James Steinberg Years

Following are six ways in which the Maxwell School changed, grew, and celebrated during Dean Steinberg’s five-year term.

The Tenth Decade Project

Closing a Five-Year Chapter
In 2014, as part of the School’s 90th anniversary celebration, Dean Steinberg announced plans to put citizenship front and center.

Ninety isn’t one of those round-number anniversaries that people universally choose to glorify. But, as it approached for Maxwell, Dean James Steinberg recognized that 90 is a beginning as much as an ending — the beginning of a home stretch toward the School’s 2024 centennial (a big deal in anyone’s book).

He leveraged anticipation of the centennial to bolster focus on the School’s core topic, citizenship. At the 90th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C., in November 2014, he formally announced the Tenth Decade Project and fund-raising initiatives to support it.

Thus far, the Project has manifested as five interdisciplinary, faculty-driven projects, and the naming of three citizenship-oriented Tenth Decade Scholars. Steinberg sees this as just the beginning. Donors demonstrate strong support for citizenship priorities, and there is virtually no limit to the manner of interdisciplinary initiatives that might be launched between now and 2024.            

Joining the Faculty

Maxwell has added a large number of  new professors, both in high-profile posts and among the junior faculty.

Since James Steinberg arrived, Maxwell has hired 43 new faculty members (including the cohort incoming this fall), and it has proven a strong group.

Key appointments to named chairs include (pictured, l-r) Merril Silverstein, Marjorie Cantor Endowed Professor in Aging and a towering figure in that field; Moynihan Professor of Public Affairs Amy Ellen Schwartz, who conducts pioneering studies on public-school policies and student wellness (covered on pp. 10-13 of this magazine); and Rafael Fernández de Castro, first-ever Jay and Debe Moskowitz Chair in Mexico-U.S. Relations; among others.

Just as important, though, are junior appointees who are already making a mark, and whose excellence will serve the faculty for years to come. Among the many are, in political science, Christopher Faricy (whose influential book on income inequality appeared last year) and Danielle Thomsen (who won a major dissertation award as she was arriving last fall); sociologist Jennifer Karas Montez, well-regarded researcher on women’s health and life course; and, in history, Jeffrey Gonda, author of a recent book on housing discrimination and the civil rights movement.

Still Tops

Maxwell remains number one in the U.S. News ranking.

One notable piece of news over the past five years is something that did not change. In 2012 and again this year, the U.S. News & World Reportranking of graduate programs in public affairs placed Maxwell number one. Public affairs rankings have been conducted seven times since the category was introduced in 1995, and Maxwell has topped each of them (twice sharing the prize with another school).

The U.S. News ranking is not an empirical assessment of program attributes, but rather a reputational ranking that is, in many respects, even more valuable. Peers in the field — those who know public affairs intimately — judge Maxwell to be the best. The benefits of that perception seep out to every student, alumnus, and faculty member connected to the School.

Top Experts, in the House

Maxwell has hosted a roster of guest speakers likely unrivaled in any other five-year span.

With a career weaving between federal government, think tanks, and academe, Dean James Steinberg has tapped a reservoir of personal connections to bring important guest speakers to Maxwell’s podiums and classrooms.

Bookending them were then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 (shown above, with Steinberg’s undergraduate honors class) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (see page 1). Steinberg upped the stature of graduate convocation speakers, attracting Samantha Power (soon thereafter named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations), former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, Washington Post correspondent Karen DeYoung, and former USAID administrator J. Brian Atwood. Other notables: former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley and Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, among many others.

Ratcheting up the D.C. Presence

In 2014, Maxwell’s Washington, D.C., operations moved to the headquarters of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

For any school specializing in public affairs and international relations, Washington is key. In January 2014, Maxwell significantly upped its game in D.C. when it took up residency at the bipartisan, nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a prominent think tank near Dupont Circle.

Not only did Maxwell’s Washington staff and students find themselves in impressive new facilities, but opportunities for collaboration were instantly possible. Over the two-and--a-half years since, major policy presentations were based there (plus the School’s 90th-anniversary dinner); the Public Diplomacy Program’s annual student-run conference occurs there; and students in D.C. seeking work or internships do so calling CSIS home — benefiting not only from location and facilities, but the caché such an alliance implies.

Happy Birthday To Us

Anniversary celebrations included a year-long focus on variety and quality.

On October 9, 2014, the broadest possible representation of Maxwell community were joined by visitors from SU’s Orange Central alumni weekend for a very big bash — a 1920s-themed party (pictured at left), marking 90 years of the Maxwell School.

In truth, this party was the centerpiece of a year-long observance. Throughout 2014-15, departments and centers staged special events (e.g., lectures, panels, etc.), branded “90 Years” and showing off the breadth and depth of the Maxwell School’s programs and people — an ongoing assessment of what nine decades had built.

This article appeared in the spring 2016 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2016 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail