History of the BU International Relations Department

Hermann Eilts

Hermann Eilts, First IR Department Chair

The Center for International Relations, the predecessor of the Department of International Relations, was founded under the leadership of Ambassador Hermann Eilts in 1982. Eilts, one of the architects of the Camp David Accords, served as the director of the center and, later, as the chair of the Department of International Relations.

Although it grew primarily out of the History Department, the center endeavored to bring together expertise from a variety of different fields. It offered an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in International Affairs that allowed students to take various courses and put together their own program under the guidance of the faculty. The center launched a Master of Arts in International Relations in 1984. In similar fashion to the baccalaureate degree, the MA program consisted of coursework chosen from a list of approved classes offered by a variety of departments, selected by the student with the guidance of a faculty adviser. The center served to coordinate faculty and courses across multiple departments but did not have its own faculty or offer its own courses.

As the demand for the IR programs increased, the need for a more consolidated organization became apparent. To meet this need, a separate Department of International Relations with its own faculty and courses was founded in 1989. The Center for International Relations was subsumed into the department and was transformed into the public outreach arm of the department, organizing conferences, speakers, and other public events. Hermann Eilts served as the first chair of the new department. When Ambassador Eilts stepped down in 1993, he was succeeded by David Fromkin and subsequently by Dr. Erik Goldstein.  Dr. Goldstein served as chair from 1998 to 2010, overseeing a period of great growth for the department. Dr. William W. Grimes succeeded Dr. Goldstein and served until 2013, when he was in turn succeed by the current chair, Dr. Andrew Bacevich. Prof. Husain Haqqani is the current director of the Center for International Relations.

In order to meet the evolving needs of students seeking careers in international affairs, the IR Department has added a number of specialized joint and dual-degree MA programs over the years. In the late 1980’s, a joint MA in International Relations and International Communication was introduced in conjunction with the College of Communication, as well as a dual-degree MA in International Relations and Master of Business Administration in conjunction with the Graduate School of Management. The joint MA in International Relations and Environmental Management (later renamed International Relations and Environmental Policy) was established in partnership with the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies in 1989.  A dual-degree MA in International Relations and Juris Doctor was added in 1992 in partnership with the School of Law. In 2003, we launched an MA in International Relations and Religion, a joint project of IR and the Department of Religion.

In 2009, the department undertook a substantial revision of our core MA program, introducing a new two year MA in International Affairs as our flagship degree and transforming the original one-year MA in International Relations into a mid-career program.  In that same year, we also introduced an innovative MA in Global Development Policy, a joint project of the IR, Geography, and International Health departments.  Our newest program, which began accepting students in 2011, is an MA in Latin American Studies.

Students in most of our MA programs are also able to complete a Certificate in African Studies, under the joint direction of the IR Department and the African Studies Center, or a Certificate in Asian Studies, under the joint direction of the Center for the Study of Asia.

In the time since its founding, the number of faculty in the department has increased to more than thirty. Most have International Relations as their sole or primary appointment. The IR Department’s course offerings have expanded dramatically.  We now offer over 100 courses each year, including 60 or more at the graduate level. In addition, students have been able to continue to draw from the rich course offerings of other departments and schools, including Anthropology, Communication, Economics, Geography and Environment, History, Law, Management, Political Science, and Sociology.

The International Relations Department now has one of the largest undergraduate enrollments of any department in the College of Arts and Sciences at BU with over nine hundred students. It also boasts one of the largest graduate programs, matriculating 50 to 60 students each year. The IR Department has developed particular strengths in the areas of security (teaching more courses on intelligence than any other civilian school in the US) and in regional studies of East Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia/Eastern Europe, and Western Europe.

Image of IR Department BuildingsThe Department of International Relations, at the Corner of Silber Way and Bay State Road