A bright future awaits SAIS at the Newseum

September 26, 2019

By Dennis Murphy

Photo Credit: Celine Bteish

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been about half a year since the news broke that Johns Hopkins SAIS had purchased the Newseum as a future location for the Washington, D.C. campus. The move has been the subject of much rumor and speculation since. On September 26, the SAIS Observer met with Dean Eliot Cohen to put to the record some useful facts about the move, and what it means for the student body here in Washington.

As it turns out, the idea to change the Washington campus is an old one, and is related to the broader issue of consolidating Johns Hopkins University’s programs in the Washington area. As such, the Carey Business School, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and several others will also find a home in the new location. 

While the Newseum location will cast a big tent, SAIS will comprise about 70% of the new location. Other schools will contribute faculty and students, but only SAIS will make a complete transition to consolidate its Washington presence.

One of the potential benefits to SAIS of the new location at 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW to will be its closer proximity to Capitol Hill. SAIS and its graduates enjoy a close relationship with the executive branch’s departments and agencies, which employ hundreds of former SAISers across the Treasury, State, and Defense departments, among numerous others. At the Newseum, SAIS will be within walking distance of Capitol Hill as well, facilitating greater opportunities for SAISers to pursue internships and foster connections that might just be their big break. The first floor of the Newseum will be open to the public, and it is to be hoped that this space will help to foster career-shaping interactions between these students and the powerful institutions that have made their home on Pennsylvania Avenue. Such is the power of location.

SAIS has enlisted architects to ensure the Newseum can fit all of SAIS—which currently takes up three buildings on Massachusetts Avenue—as well as Johns Hopkins’ other Washington programs. Floors, walls, ceilings–anything that can be rearranged, may be rearranged, as SAIS appears to look to its Bologna campus as a guiding example.

Dean Cohen invoked the Bologna campus as he stressed the importance of commensality. He wants people from all over our school to constantly be stumbling across each other, in the process finding a good place to sit with each other, eat with each other, and build community. He expressed a strong desire for there to be an excellent cafeteria and an excellent coffee shop at the new location, so that students could have a great place to share meals together and bond.

This was one of the great secrets to academic life, Cohen continued, that Oxford and Cambridge discovered. It seems clear that Cohen envisions the same type of close camaraderie fostered at Bologna to play a powerful role at the new campus.

Dean Cohen underscored that this spirit of camaraderie should not be limited to students’ sense of community with each other. Rather, he hopes that faculty, administration and students will constantly be bumping into—and getting to know—each other. It is hoped that the close quarters will foster greater integration across social lines. One of the great things about being at SAIS, Cohen remarked, was that MIPP students and BA/MA students could sit together in the same class and learn and grow from each other. One should expect even more of these types of interactions at the Newseum.

As the move takes place, there will be a home for new degrees, joint degrees, and other types of affiliations with SAIS in the new Washington, D.C. Hopkins Center. The DIA—a practitioner’s Doctorate in International Affairs—is one of those new degrees, as is the MIEF—the Masters in International Economics and Finance. Dean Cohen mentioned that a dual degree program with the Carey Business School is likely to take shape, and hinted toward future discussions about other dual degree programs. Currently, MA students account for about 80% of the SAIS student body, but this may change in the future.

Most importantly for current students who will graduate long before they will be able to enjoy the new state-of-the-art classrooms in the Newseum location, the future of SAIS will be one where greater alumni interaction with the school will be encouraged. Discussions are taking place on how best to allow SAIS graduates to share in the future of SAIS—but the dean stressed the importance of having many different kinds of Hopkins alumni come back and spend a day to a few weeks at the new location. Dean Cohen wants this new school to be a home to us, even after we have graduated.

At its heart, the main reason for the move is this: It will provide for greater interaction and collaboration across all of the schools, and among all the students, faculty, and alumni, that form Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.

2023 is a long way off for us current students, who will be long gone by then. Should the new school fulfill its promise, we will have the good fortune to have a home at SAIS in Washington, D.C. as we move forward into the unknowns of life.