James Robinson, expert in global conflicts, named faculty director of The Pearson Institute

Mark Peters
News Director and Social Sciences SpecialistUniversity Communications

Prof. James A. Robinson, a prominent political scientist and economist who has done influential research in the field of global conflicts and political and economic development, has been named to the newly created position of faculty director of The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the University of Chicago.

The announcement was made by Daniel Diermeier, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy and incoming provost of the University of Chicago, who said the appointment would be effective July 1. In the new faculty director role, Robinson will be named the Reverend Dr. Richard L. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies. He also will retain his title as University Professor at Chicago Harris.

University Professors are selected for internationally recognized eminence in their fields, as well as for their potential for high impact across the University. He is the 21st person to hold a University Professorship, and among eight active faculty members holding that title.

“We’re delighted that James has agreed to serve as the faculty director of The Pearson Institute. His path-breaking work provides the rare integration of methodological rigor and theoretical insights with profound historical knowledge and a broad global perspective,” said Diermeier in making the announcement.

“His leadership and vision will set The Pearson Institute on its path to become the world’s leading institute for analysis and resolution of global conflicts,” he said.

Deep knowledge, broad global perspective

In his faculty director role, Robinson will be responsible for guiding The Pearson Institute’s data-driven, analytical research approach, engaging the international academic community through The Pearson Global Forum, and setting the curriculum for the next generation of educators to instruct in conflict resolution and informing policy, Diermeier said. The Pearson Institute, housed at Chicago Harris, was established in September 2015 through a transformative $100 million gift from The Thomas L. Pearson and The Pearson Family Members Foundation (“The Pearson Family Foundation”). It is the first research institute of its kind devoted solely to the study and resolution of global conflicts.

Robinson’s appointment as faculty director fills one of the two leadership positions at The Pearson Institute. An internationally recognized executive director, who will be responsible for the overall activities and initiatives of The Pearson Global Forum, is expected to be announced in the near future.

“The Pearson Institute will bring data-driven analysis to bear in the search for resolutions to violent conflicts, and James is an outstanding choice to guide this work,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “He has a deep understanding of the origins of global conflicts, as well as the use of quantitative methods to analyze how economic factors affect political instability. He is widely esteemed among his colleagues, and will provide strong leadership in developing The Pearson Institute.”

Thomas L. Pearson, chairman of the Pearson Family Foundation, said, “We’re gratified by the selection of James Robinson for the newly created position of faculty director. This is an important step forward as The Pearson Institute advances toward launching the dual-pronged effort of global research and education that is at the core of its mission to mitigate global conflicts.

“We’re confident that James will bring vast experience and energy to this position and will lead research programs that will provide a clearer understanding of the roots of violent conflict. We selected the University of Chicago for this significant initiative based on its long history and record of success in addressing society’s most vital issues,” Pearson said.

Understanding the roots of violent conflict

A political scientist and economist, Robinson is widely known as co-author of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, with Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT. Translated into 31 languages since its publication in 2012, the book offers a unique exploration through history of why some countries have economically flourished while others have fallen into poverty.

“It is a great honor and challenge to accept this directorship at such a transformative moment for the Harris School,” Robinson said. “Across the University of Chicago and more broadly, there is an immense depth of scholarship and knowledge about the causes and nature of global conflict and how to resolve it. I hope to help make The Pearson Institute the place to be for anyone who works on or cares about these all-critical global issues.

“We’ll be mobilizing the best minds and the most innovative approaches and methodologies to get to the roots of violent conflict. While others may limit their focus to a specific type of conflict or geography, The Pearson Institute will study global conflict in all its forms. Through The Pearson Global Forum, we’ll share insights across the full spectrum of diplomatic, government leadership, legislators, military and other key parties,” Robinson said.

Robinson currently conducts research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Haiti and in Colombia, where he has taught for many summers at the University of the Andes in Bogotá.

“Every day brings news of further international terrorist-directed and inspired attacks, and related news coverage of the many millions of people that are refugees, displaced or seeking asylum,” said Timothy R. Pearson, president and CEO of The Pearson Family Foundation. “James Robinson’s background and experience are an exceptional fit for the mission of The Pearson Institute, which is to identify new strategies now that will address the spectrum of entities engaged in violent conflict.

“We believe that non-state conflicts, from drug cartels to insurgent organizations such as ISIS, increasingly constitute the most important policy issue of our lifetime. As The Pearson Institute and The Pearson Global Forum develop, we’re inviting all interested parties to join with us and embrace the mission to research and understand violent conflict, annually convene the international policy and academic community, and educate the next generation of scholars and practitioners,” Pearson said.