Faculty Perspectives: Jonathan Wiener

Jonathan Wiener.

Jonathan B. Wiener, William R. and Thomas L. Perkins Professor of Law, Professor of Environmental Policy, Professor of Public Policy

Bass Connections Project Teams: Regulatory Disaster Scene Investigation; Reviewing Retrospective Regulatory Review; Developing Departmental Energy Reports and a Carbon Pricing Program for Duke University; Governance and Adaptive Regulation of Transformational Technologies in Transportation; Decisions on Complex Interdisciplinary Problems of Health and Environmental Risk; DECIPHER: Case Studies in Drinking Water Quality; and DECIPHER: Decisions on the Risks and Benefits of Geoengineering the Climate

“I came to Duke 25 years ago in order to be part of the multidisciplinary community here,” says Jonathan Wiener. “Duke was poised to launch a series of cross-cutting initiatives, and it was my good fortune to be part of creating some of them.” He has been involved in numerous research collaborations involving faculty and students from across the university, including six Bass Connections projects. Below are excerpts from his remarks for the Duke Interdisciplinary Studies website.

Expanding networks

Collaborative projects have been crucial to my engagement with colleagues and also with students across the university. [Bass Connections has] enabled me to work with teams to investigate complex topics like protecting the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer and climate, how to assess and manage emerging technologies such as automated vehicles and how to protect drinking water. [They] also enabled us to bring in speakers from outside Duke to enrich our conversations – for example, environmental diplomat Ambassador Jennifer Haverkamp, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Bass Connections projects are also useful for connecting with students from different schools with different skills. For me, it was a good opportunity to connect with undergraduate students in particular, because most of my teaching is in the Law School, Sanford School and Nicholas School. Duke’s undergraduates are so impressive, smart and energetic. Bass Connections invites them to see how research projects are developed and to participate in a research team.

Publications from a team of researchers

Bass Connections projects can be very fruitful as funding for a team of researchers. I think it’s most fruitful when students help to design the research and produce a team project report.

Together with Ed Balleisen from the History Department, Lori Bennear from the Nicholas School and Energy Initiative and Kim Krawiec from the Law School, we recently published a book, Policy Shock, that included a chapter coauthored by student contributors from the Regulatory Disaster Scene Investigation project. An external grant enabled us to have a series of authors’ workshops with multiple chapter authors. We were able to bring in other colleagues at and outside Duke to broaden our set of case studies – on oil spills, nuclear power accidents and financial crashes – so we could generate more comparative insights and lessons.

A graduate student in the Law School, Daniel Ribeiro, and I published a paper called “Environmental Regulation Going Retro” as an outgrowth of another Bass Connections project, Reviewing Retrospective Regulatory Review. This paper drew on Daniel’s dissertation research and my earlier work on the same topic.

One of last year’s Bass Connections projects was about adaptive regulation applied to the emerging technology of automated vehicles. Associated with that project, Lori Bennear and I are undertaking our own research and writing on the different options for adaptive regulation. We received a grant from the Provost’s Office, and we are writing a paper about how regulations can be designed to be adaptive as we learn more about changing technology, science and society.

Approach to teaching

I think one challenge has been in orienting everyone, students and faculty, to seeing the Bass Connections projects as collaborative team projects, rather than as conventional courses where faculty teach the students. There is a tendency by everyone to revert to the familiar default model of a professor conveying information to the students, whereas I think Bass Connections projects work best where everyone is a member of the team investigating something interesting, and at the beginning we don’t yet know exactly how we want to proceed.

Another aspect of Bass Connections is that these are team projects with multiple professors, and we faculty have to be able to share the time with each other and to collaborate on designing what the project will cover and what materials we’ll ask people to read. It’s very helpful to have a point person to coordinate that. This person can be a faculty member, a graduate student project manager or both.

See other faculty perspectives and learn how you can get involved in Bass Connections.