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In memoriam: Prof. Ronald L. Watts

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Prof. Ronald L. Watts, a leading scholar on federalism, who passed away on 9th October.

You can find an obituary on the website of Queen’s University.

Tribute by John Kincaid at the Memorial Service for Ronald L. Watts at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 30 October 2015:

Donna Watts, members of Ron’s family and Donna’s family, distinguished friends and colleagues of Ron.

I’m not worthy to stand in the shadow of such a towering figure as Ronald Watts. But I convey the sincere condolences and warm remembrances of all members of the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies.  The association also assembled for Donna its members’ spontaneous responses to the sad news of Ron’s death.

Ron was a world-renowned scholar, a status achieved early in life. He was an outstanding and highly respected student of federalism and intergovernmental relations worldwide.

To me, Ron was also Mr. Canada.  Ron embodied the best of Canadian values; he was proud to be Canadian; and he never shied away from letting people know that.  When he met President Bill Clinton at a Rhodes Scholar reunion, what impressed Ron most was that Clinton asked him a question about Canada.

One of the first works I read by Ron was his 1987 article in the Journal of American History comparing Canadian and American federalism. The article reminded us that there are two important federal countries north of the Rio Grande.

Earlier, I had worked with Ron in my capacity as Associate Editor of Publius: The Journal of Federalism on recruiting his 1986 article on “The Macdonald Commission Report and Canadian Federalism.” This article marked Ron’s return to federalism scholarship after a ten-year hiatus as Vice Chancellor and Principal of Queen’s University.

Ron’s best-known work internationally is his Comparing Federal Systems. Its third edition appeared in 2008.  I fondly recall the inscription he wrote in the copy of the book he sent me.

Comparing Federal Systems is the most widely cited book on comparative federalism and will be cited for many years ahead. The book captured attention in part because it is elegantly simple, free of jargon, and unencumbered by faux intellectualism. Ron had a gift for communicating complex ideas straightforwardly.

This is one reason why he was frequently invited to summarize and critique conference proceedings. He was always thorough, accurate, logical, and fair. By the end of Ron’s conclusion, I would think: “Oh, so that’s what this conference was really about.” Indeed, we should have asked Ron to read all the papers in advance and give us an insightful 30-minute commentary so we could spend the rest of the day out on the town.

Ron’s commitment to federalism scholarship also was reflected in his role as a founding member of the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies (IACFS) in 1977.  There were ten founding centers, of which Queen’s University’s Institute of Intergovernmental Relations was one.  Ron and his friend Dan Elazar gave the association its initial vitality. Ron also served as the association’s president from 1992 through 1997. The association, which meets every year in a different country, still thrives at age 38. Ron attended almost every conference. Those conferences will not be the same without his thoughtful, gracious presence.

Ron also helped found the Research Committee on Comparative Federalism and Federations (RC28) of the International Political Science Association. He remained a member for the ensuing 30 years.

How can we account for Ron’s passion for federalism and intergovernmental relations? These subjects bore most people. If you have insomnia, open a book on intergovernmental relations. Ron’s passion for federalism, I believe, stemmed from his passion for peace, democracy, and the dignified coexistence of the diverse peoples who inhabit our planet.

About 40 percent of the world’s people live in a federal arrangement, not counting the European Union as a quasi-federation, and seven of the world’s eight territorially largest countries have a federal structure. China is the exception.

Most important, federalism, especially federal democracy, seeks to achieve unity while preserving diversity by combining shared rule with self-rule. Unity requires peace; peace can be achieved by a covenant guaranteeing the continued identities and cultures of diverse peoples united by a federal arrangement in order to achieve democratically the goals they need to achieve together in a common polity rather than killing or oppressing each other because of language, religion, nationality, or skin color. Ron knew full well that the path to federal democracy lies not in revolutionary romanticism but in the nuts and bolts of constitutional design, institutional structuring, and cooperative intergovernmental relations, along with what German federalists call Bundestreue.

This passion also accounts for Ron’s many non-academic pursuits. Ron worked on issues of federalism and constitutional design in many countries, some of which, such as South Africa, have succeeded. Among others, Ron addressed federalism challenges in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, the former Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Cyprus, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and, most recently, the Solomon Islands. Just mentioning these places makes one realize both the importance and the difficulty of Ron’s chosen work.

Ron also was a founding board member of the international Forum of Federations from 2000 to 2006. He helped develop the Forum’s intellectual capital and its Global Dialogue on Federalism—a joint program of the Forum and International Association of Centers for Federal Studies. The Global Dialogue involved thousands of scholars, government officers, and students in cross-country discussions of federal ideas and practices. The Global Dialogue also produced nine scholarly books and popular booklets on different facets of federalism around the world.

Ron’s founding roles in the IACFS, IPSA’s RC28, and the Forum testify to another side of Ron’s lifetime contributions, namely, his skills as an institution builder. All three of these institutions, which are the leading international organizations dedicated to federalism, owe a tremendous debt to Ron.

Ron was the most pleasant and gracious academic I have known. During a career, one develops many relationships, but only a few blossom into genuine affection. Ron was a man for whom I have great affection.

My wife Lucille and I also enjoyed spending time with Donna and Ron outside of conference rooms. Lucille enjoyed, too, exploring different countries with Donna while Ron and I conferenced all day. Outside the conference venues, I discovered different sides of Ron. One vivid memory is of renting ATVs in the Brazilian jungle. In the rainforest, I realized that Ron was born not only to be a scholar but that Ron also was born to be wild.

Ron had a largeness of spirit, an openness to young scholars, and a generousness of heart that endeared him to all. Having started my academic career late, I was a 35-year-old assistant professor when I met Ron.  He welcomed me on the same footing as seasoned colleagues.

Because of Ron’s abundant personal and scholarly qualities and his happiness to mentor young scholars, the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies voted without dissent last week to name its young researcher award after Ron. It is the only award made by the association. The Ronald L. Watts Young Researcher Award will be one of Ron’s many lasting legacies. This annual award will evoke fond memories for Ron’s fellow federalism fans, though it will not change the fact that we will miss you very much, Ron.

Thank you for having enriched our lives.

30 October 2015

In memoriam: Prof. Frank Delmartino

Our research committee is saddened by the death of Prof. Frank Delmartino, a prominent scholar on federalism and a former vice-chair of RC28, who unexpectedly passed away on 21 June.

You can find an obituary on the website of the University of Leuven: http://soc.kuleuven.be/fsw/nieuws/obituary-em-prof-dr-frank-delmartino

A Tribute to a Creative Colleague, Frank Delmartino, (1939- 2015)

By C. Lloyd Brown-John, Founder and former Chair, IPSA Comparative Federalism Research Committee.

Frank came into my life through the International Political Science Association and a call for papers for the 1982 World Congress in Rio de Janeiro.

I had been intrigued by the apparent tendencies of some federally constituted states towards greater centralisation while others, Canada included, appeared to be moving competencies more to component units of federal political systems.

The panel, as proposed, was to consist of six papers. Frank Delmartino, already sensing the immense political shifts emerging in Belgium, proposed a paper, which I accepted, paving the way for our first meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio attracted a wide range of participants. It also tended to divert attention away from the IPSA World Congress and to the local beaches… However, on the day of our Comparative Federalism Panel, the weather did us a great favour – it rained in Rio! The room was packed with academics interested in federalism. So enthusiastic was the turnout, then IPSA Secretary John Trent suggested I propose the creation of an IPSA Study Group. Within weeks our proposal was submitted, with Frank Delmartino as one of the Executive Members of the proposed Study Group.

I then tapped into the list of World Congress attendees and developed a book proposal, “Centralising and Decentralising Trends in Federal States” (University Press of America, 1988) [IBSN: 9780819168955], which eventually appeared after a meeting with the late Dan Elazar and our joining forces with his federalism circles. Frank was a key contributor and served as a second reader for several contributions, especially those pertaining to Europe.

Between the Study Group’s founding in 1982 and the IPSA World Congress in Paris in 1985, the first annual conference of the Study Group was convened in Murten, Switzerland (1983). Frank Delmartino was co-chair.

By 1984, the Study Group was attracting a wide range of scholars. So Frank and I proposed the Study Group be upgraded to a Research Committee in time for the 1985 Paris IPSA World Congress. We organised three panels for that Congress, chaired by Dan Elazar, Frank Delmartino and myself. Also in 1985 I settled into a sabbatical in Luxembourg, which included a visiting professorship at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and therefore allowed Frank and I to work together more closely.

From 1985 onward Frank’s astute mind and enthusiasm propelled the new IPSA Research Committee into several new endeavours including our tradition of an Annual Conference. He provided a constant source of ideas, critical comment and intellectual stamina. Between us we organised annual meetings including a crucial meeting in Brugge from which emerged the book Federal-type Solutions and European Integration (University Press of America, 1995) [ISBN: # 9780819195494]. Frank Delmartino reviewed every essay in that collection prior to publication but did not ask for credit. Indeed, he proved an often modest colleague who worked hard on everything he undertook while keeping to a behind-the-scenes role.

In the years that followed I was able to spend time in Leuven on several occasions, where Frank and I worked on aspects of the developing European idea and tended to the enormous efforts of Belgium’s complex federalising process through a non-profit organisation known as the Coudenberg Group.

It was in those years that I was a guest at the Delmartino’s home in Leuven for a lovely dinner. It was also during this period that, unable to join us, Frank assigned his oldest son Dirk to guide me through some of the wonderful beers available in Belgium. Dirk Delmartino later attended my course in Comparative Federalism at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, as part of the Erasmus programme.

During another sabbatical in 1993 and after the Comparative Federalism Research Committee was involved in a project focused on South Africa’s emerging new constitution at the Kwa Maritane Conference Centre in South Africa (1993), the Delmartino family offered my wife and I use of their summer cottage in the Ardennes. We left Frank and family a small legacy for across the road was a herd of dairy cows, each of which we named along with a matching challenge for Frank and three sons. While this may have had nothing to do with federalism, the herd concept did become a theme…

Frank Delmartino was serious and studious but he also had a lighter side. Over the years, we spend many joyful hours debating Europe’s future, which became Frank’s passion. His personal contribution to the development of the IPSA Comparative Federalism Research Committee was both enormous and highly valued. Without his wisdom and support it would have been a much more difficult task. I will always remember him as friend, colleague and exceptional quiet advisor.

Dr. C. Lloyd Brown-John, Founding Chair, IPSA Comparative Federalism Research Committee.

Lloyd is currently Professor Emeritus (University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada) and, most recently, the founder and Director of Canterbury ElderCollege.

10 July 2015


In memoriam: Prof. Richard Simeon

Our research committee is saddened by the recent passing of our longtime friend and RC28 member, Richard Simeon. We extend our condolences to Richard’s family. Research and writing on Canadian and comparative federalism would not be the same without him. Please visit IPSA’s obituary to learn more about his life and contributions.

30 October 2013


In memoriam: Prof. Juan Linz

Our research committee is saddened by the recent passing of Juan Linz and extends its condolences to Mr. Linz’s family. Research on federalism, multilevel governance,  decentralization, and related topics owes much progress to the writings and teachings of Prof. Juan Linz. Please consider adding your tributes to IPSA’s obituary.

6 October 2013


RC28’s New Name: Comparative Federalism and Multilevel Governance

IPSA-RC28 has a new name! It is now called Comparative Federalism and Multilevel Governance (Fédéralisme et gouvernance multi-niveaux comparés in French). At RC28’s annual meeting in Madrid, Spain, July 2012, our members voted unanimously in favor of changing RC28’s name to better reflect the mission and objectives of our Research Committee as well as our membership base, which increasingly spans federal and non-federal countries. Read more.

The name change was approved by IPSA’s Executive Committee in May 2013. Read IPSA announcement.

31 May 2013


Six-Year Renewal of RC28

In the summer of 2011 our Research Committee was asked to submit a report of its activities over the previous six years. The report was sent to the Committee on Research in Training (CRT) in September 2011. A notice of the renewal of our RC membership for the next six years (2012-2018) was sent by the CRT and IPSA Executive in April 2012.

7 June 2012


RC28 Executive: Election Results

Dear Colleagues,

Also on behalf of Bertus de Villiers I take pleasure in informing you that the recent elections of the new IPSA RC 28 Executive unanimously endorsed all candidates on the ballot as suggested in their functions by the Nominating Committee. This therefore means that the new Executive consists of the following office holders:

Chair and Liaison with the APSA Section on Federalism: Michael Stein, Canada

First Vice Chair and Programme Chair: Sonja Wälti, USA

Second Vice Chair and Liaison with the Forum of Federations: Wolfgang Renzsch, Germany

Publications Chair and Liaison with the Regionalism and Federalism Section of the ECPR: Wilfried Swenden, United Kingdom

Recruitment Chair: Rekha Saxena, India

Since all candidates expressed their willingness to accept the responsibilities of the respective positions, Bertus and I assume that they will accept to be elected, unless a note to the contrary by August 25th.

Both of us congratulate all elected officers on this vote of confidence, and we wish them all of the energy and good luck they will need to make the Federalism Research Committee even more successful than it has already been in the past.

Since our terms of office end with this election –(that of Bertus after three years, mine after nine)– we would like to let you know that we, indeed, appreciated the always diligent and reliable co-operation of those who were already members of the outgoing Executive (i.e. Michael and Sonja). It was a pleasure working with you in a good team.

With best regards to all of you from both of us,

Uwe Leonardy

The Minutes of the Santiago Business Meeting available here.

31 January 2010