University facilitates students’ globalization

by Sascha Matuszak

There is no question that the University is and will continue to be a global institution. The massive size of the campus, the large student body and the diverse faculty guarantee it.
The large scope of the University has also necessitated a “decentralized” administration where academic units basically govern themselves. Decisions about academics, student services, budgets and even the process of internationalization are made by college deans, not their superiors.
“This University doesn’t work well when somebody sits at the top and says we will do this or that,” said Steven Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
Despite the University’s history of decentralized administration, some critics within the University feel that a more centralized approach to internationalization would be more effective.
International subjects are inherently interdisciplinary, but decentralized management can hinder cross-college communication.
“Environmental issues, for example, involve almost always social sciences as well as the physical sciences,” said Gloria Raheja, director of the Institute for Global Studies.
The “connective tissue”
In terms of a central international office, the closest the University comes is the Office of International Programs.
“Most of the international offices that don’t exist in the colleges are connected to us in some way,” said Gayla Marty, communications coordinator at the international office. “We are the central administrative set of offices that deals with the whole campus, across college lines.”
The office is an umbrella organization that encompasses the Global Campus, the International Student Travel Center, the International Student and Scholar Services and the China Center.
But the office is not an academic unit; it’s an academic-support unit. As such, its duties are to help the colleges in their efforts to internationalize and provide a web of support for international students and scholars and travelling Americans.
The office cannot allocate funds or provide international programs for credit that are independent of the colleges.
“We try to serve as a kind of ‘connective tissue’ for things international at the U, and that includes the four campuses,” Marty wrote in an e-mail.
Although the office provides a central body to which colleges and students can go for information and support for international activities, some still see a need for something more.
“There is no highly placed official whose primary responsibility is the promotion of international and global education,” Raheja said.
This can be a problem, she said, because without a centralized effort, some endeavors might never be undertaken.
A series of evaluations of the University’s international programs done in April 1997 mirror Raheja’s concerns.
Lynn Paine — author of the 1997 evaluation and faculty member at the College of Education at Michigan State University — noted the lack of a coherent strategy for internationalization, due in part to fragmented ideas of how to do it.
The dispersion of programs and ideas across the campus can be attributed to the size and complexity of the University and its decentralized structure. The result is a perception of international education as “an isolated activity,” the report said.
Both Paine’s evaluation and another study by Maurice Harari, an international education consultant based in California, mentioned a lack of communication between the colleges and between the University and the local community.
The evaluations did not state that the University was weak internationally, but that the coordination among the colleges and the Office of International Programs made the internationalization effort inefficient and, at times, invisible.
But administrators counter that decentralization has also been a boon for many colleges.
“The Law School has a very focused, very conscious strategy to provide international perspectives for their students,” said Robert Kvavik, an associate vice president. “There is no reason that should leave the Law School.”
One of the core issues is how one defines internationalization and globalization, because each college does it differently, said Kathleen Sellew, director of faculty services at the Office of International Programs.
“The sense of what’s going on at this University really needs to come from the colleges as well as from us. That’s really the challenge of decentralized organization,” said Gene Allen, executive director of the Office of International Programs.
A need to change
The debate over whether to centralize the University’s internationalization efforts is important in that it will affect the scope of those efforts.
But as long as the University continues moving forward with internationalization, the debate remains secondary to progress.
Only 2 percent of the University’s student body takes international relations courses.
Study abroad, although improving, is still a luxury for most students and invisible to many others — only 800 students left the country last year for credit-receiving trips abroad.
Also, U.S. schools are not the best in the world and Americans have much to learn from other countries, particularly in K-12 education.
“That (deficiency) needs to change,” said state Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.
One way the U.S. education system can remain a leader is by introducing international perspectives into the K-12 schools, Pogemiller said. This way, the importance of knowing your neighbors, both in Minneapolis and Shanghai, is learned early on.
But according to the Department of Education, enrollment in foreign languages in grades nine through 12 is down almost 20 percent. And most of those languages continue to be Western European.
The University’s Center for Advanced Research in Language Acquisition works with local Twin Cities teachers on providing better language instruction for Minnesota students.
One of the center’s main objectives is to teach “less commonly taught languages,” including Asian and Eastern European tongues, according the center’s mission statement.
Interestingly, the local business community and the Carlson School have interests in Asia and Eastern Europe. Yet more than half of university students nationwide pick Western Europe as their study-abroad destination.
Conversely, more than half of foreign students enrolled in U.S. universities are Asian.
In the Twin Cities, more than 20 languages are spoken in elementary, middle and high schools, with East African, Hmong, Spanish and Russian dominant among those.
“People are clinging more and more to their history, so cultures are becoming more important,” said Josef Mestenhauser, professor of educational policy and administration. “We need to be quicker. Just as globalization has sped up everything, now (internationalization) needs to be sped up.”
But there is reason to be optimistic. The United States does better than any nation in international relations at the university level.
And European universities, which often don’t have the same amount of funds as U.S. universities, are experiencing the growing pangs of internationalization.
“This is a universal problem,” Mestenhauser said.
“I am impatient in that I know how good it would be for our students to be overseas, but I am optimistic that we’re headed in the right direction,” Kvavik said.
And students aren’t necessarily responsible for knowing seven different foreign languages and the concise history of Egypt.
“The faculty doesn’t need to teach students a lot about China — they can learn — but you need to let them know that … as Americans, we need to have openness to accept new ideas,” said Andrew Feng, a doctoral candidate in water resources science.
Confucius once said: When three people walk together, one of them must be a teacher.
The United States does not walk alone in the world and all of those with whom we walk are potential teachers.

Sascha Matuszak covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected].