Going Global

Brown seeks its place on the world stage

By and
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

When Ashfia Rahman ’07, a native of Bangladesh, was applying to college, she researched Ivy League schools online and ultimately chose Brown because of its economics offerings. But upon reaching her final decision, she made an interesting discovery: very few people around her had actually heard of Brown University.

“In Bangladesh, the only (Western) schools people know about of are Harvard and Oxford,” Rahman said.

It was precisely Brown’s lack of presence abroad that President Ruth Simmons had in mind when she and Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98 announced the University’s internationalization initiative last fall. They created a committee chaired by Kertzer and called for Brown to hire its first vice president for international affairs.

The effort may already be paying off. International applications to the College rose by more than 15 percent for the class of 2011 over the previous year’s numbers. According to a poll conducted by The Herald last fall, over 70 percent of students approve of internationalization as a goal for the University. But what exactly is an international Brown, and how far is the University from that goal?

Though international students and study abroad programs have been fixtures of College Hill for years, the formal internationalization initiative is fresh and, according to Simmons, vital to the future of all Brown students.

“Brown goes back to its original mission, which is to educate students for a life of usefulness and reputation. There is no such thing as usefulness in the modern world without that international perspective,” Simmons said. “We are pursuing internationalization … to serve our students better, to bring to their attention the need to focus on international issues (and) to bring to the attention of the world Brown’s seriousness about being involved as a member of the international community.”

This potential for increased visibility and involvement is at the heart of internationalization.

“This is all about people hearing about Brown around the world, and anything we can do to make that happen, given our resources, we’ve simply got to do,” Simmons said. “Until we are on people’s mind in that way …we are not going to be the international university that we want to be.”

Not only is visibility in international circles essential to attracting the best students from abroad, it is a key component of Brown’s larger goal of improving its image among all universities – both in the United States and abroad.

“Virtually every major university has a very aggressive effort in international education, and in order for us to be in that peer group and to have legitimacy in that peer group, they have to be aware of what we are doing,” Simmons said.

Brown’s internationalization effort will focus on improving Brown’s international image by coordinating resources already at the University and forging new ones through strategic planning and development, according to Kertzer.

“Brown already is highly international,” Kertzer said. “Though we have institutional links with many universities around the world, these have tended to be in the province of individual departments or individual faculty members, and hasn’t been part of a larger, university-wide strategy.” By coordinating these existing programs, the University hopes to take advantage of what is already available to improve its international profile.

The challenges ahead

Though many specific goals relating to the internationalization initiative will be tackled in the next few years, administrators are quick to point out that Brown will have to be careful to prioritize. The University’s relatively small endowment and alumni base means it cannot compete dollar for dollar with peer institutions’ large and expensive international programs.

“We are not going to have a lot of the things that MIT and Harvard and Cornell and other large universities are doing, and so it is naturally harder for us to gain the kind of traction that they have because we are smaller and we are not going to make the same level of investment in other parts of the world as some might,” Simmons said.

So what’s the answer to the money crunch? Taking advantage of existing networks and establishing partnerships across the world will, ideally, help Brown overcome its present shortcomings, Simmons said.

One important aspect of ramped-up networking efforts is “a different kind of travel,” as administrators seek out relationships with other universities across the world.

“Before, we waited for opportunities to fall into our laps,” Simmons said. Now, “we are saying to people in different parts of the world that Brown is an international university, that there are many opportunities at Brown for international research and scholarship and that Brown students have interest in internships and study in their universities.” These networks may provide Brown students new opportunities in places like China, India, Brazil and Africa.

“We also hear the same thing from alums when we go (abroad) and that is ‘you are not doing enough here,'” Simmons said. “If you are an alum in China, it is irritating to see MIT, Yale and Harvard all the time. What you are longing for is for people to know about your university, and how good it is, so when we go to China … and give visibility to the fact that Brown is a part of the international community, it makes a huge difference to the alums there.”

She continued: “Our goal is to connect (alums) to us, give them a sense that we are helping them if they try to advance Brown’s interests in their part of the world and to come up with concrete suggestions for what we can do to enliven the effort.”

Specific initiatives

Crucial to laying the foundation of Brown’s international future is the committee on internationalization, which, under Kertzer’s guidance, will recommend areas of focus and possible new initiatives. A report from the committee will serve as a blueprint for Brown’s international efforts in the coming years.

In late April, members of the committee and its working groups told The Herald that an Africa development center and a new center to coordinate Brown’s global health activities were among projects the committee would consider.

(At press time, the committee had been divided into subgroups, including global health; global environment and poverty; and global humanities in curriculum. All subcommittees were to have reported to the full committee by May 10. Assistant Provost Shelley Stephenson told The Herald in late April that the full committee would begin producing its final report on May 22.)

One working group on the committee is heading the search for a vice president for international affairs, a new administrative position focused on globally representing Brown and coordinating the University’s international initiatives. Brown received over 300 applications for the position, the duties of which include acting as a liaison between the University and international organizations, such as governments, non-profit organizations and corporations.

Not all aspects of the internationalization effort will take place in other countries, as the University can also stimulate international understanding through “fixing holes in the existing curriculum,” Kertzer said. For example, the East Asian studies department’s strength lies in literature, language and history, but it has major gaps in the study of contemporary East Asia, especially China, according to Kertzer. Patching these holes in the curriculum will strengthen Brown’s international focus academically.

Other efforts already underway include supplementing financial aid to international students and increasing the diversity of foreign language offerings, Kertzer said. The creation of the new Rhodes Center for International Economics will facilitate international studies by improving collaboration between the economics department and the Watson Institute for International Studies and funding a high-profile professorship in global trade or finance.

Kertzer also pointed to the appointment of former Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke ’62 to the Watson Institute as an important forward step in internationalization.

Simmons is working with Ronald Margolin, vice president for international advancement, to create regional advisory counsels, composed of “alumni, parents and friends of Brown” in crucial regions and countries throughout the world. The first of those, in Asia, are already in the works and will be in place by the end of the next academic year, Margolin said.