Faculty Spotlight: Dr. William Norris

With multiple years of teaching under his belt in the Master of International Affairs (MIA) department at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, Assistant Professor William Norris’ influence on the program has begun to spread. He was initially attracted to the Bush School because of its national reputation and the strength of its foreign policy and security studies programs. Norris especially liked the way the School matches rigorous scholarship with practical applications.

“I believe academia has a responsibility to help improve society, and the Bush School is an excellent demonstration of that kind of thinking,” he said. He also noted that he was impressed by the unique collegiality of the Bush School and the wider Texas A&M University community—something he says is not seen at many other institutions.

Before coming to the Bush School, Norris was a postdoctoral research associate at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs and a fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, a joint program created by the two universities to foster the study of China in the field of international relations. Norris earned his PhD in the Security Studies Program in the Department of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he specialized in the link between economics and security studies, focusing on the role of economics in contemporary Chinese grand strategy.

Norris teaches courses in East Asian security, Chinese domestic politics, and Chinese foreign policy. He encourages students to take the class on domestic Chinese politics before taking the class on foreign policy.

“Very few students come in with non-Western studies knowledge. Students need to know the history and institutional legacy of China to understand how they impact current decision making,” Norris says.

Though he says it is a “riskier” approach, Norris prefers teaching his classes in a discussion-based seminar setting, often utilizing the Socratic method. This style offers less professorial control than a traditional lecture method, but Norris feels the students can develop a better command of the material since they have a more interactive opportunity to grapple with it.

“Research shows that actively learning by asking about readings, making connections between those readings, and generating and challenging ideas is a more effective way to learn than via a traditional lecture approach,” Norris said.

Because of his background in international relations and security studies, Norris’s research looks at the relationship between economics and wider foreign policy strategies in East Asian countries.

“In our field, the relationship between economics and security studies is under-developed,” Norris said. “There has been much research on the nature, application, and limitations of military power; but I believe the same level of attention needs to be given to the economic dimensions of national power.”

He pointed out that the field still lacks an overarching theory of the relationship between economics and security. The major work written on this subject is thirty years old and posed the question of whether nations can use economics to achieve non-economic ends. Norris’ research takes that question a step further by addressing exactly how nations can do this.

“Even though economic tools are difficult to use, when states do use them, they can be very powerful in terms of grand strategy,” Norris said.

When asked about hobbies, Norris says that spending time with his eight-month old son is his main hobby; but in his rare spare time, he enjoys cooking, fishing, and collecting old books too. He also enjoys wine and traveling with his wife to lesser-known wine regions such as the Pacific Northwest.

“My perfect day would be reading an excellent book in a boat, and fishing in a quiet, natural, and pristine environment. These are some of life’s simple pleasures that I am looking forward to sharing with my son in the years ahead,” he added.

For more information on Dr. Norris, visit his Bush School Bio.