Internationalization effort begins to take shape

Thursday, May 3, 2007

A new center to coordinate the University’s global health activities and an Africa development center are among the projects Brown’s internationalization committee will consider, members of the committee and its working groups told The Herald.

The internationalization committee, chaired by Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98, was appointed last October to serve as a cornerstone for the University’s official effort to raise its international profile. It has since broken into working groups, three of which – global health; global humanities and curriculum; and language instruction and study abroad – will present their findings to the full committee today. The remaining three – global science and technology; global environment and poverty; and inequality and development – will report on May 10.

The groups’ preliminary recommendations will likely form the core of the full committee’s report, and they provide a first glimpse of the sorts of projects President Ruth Simmons, the provost and the vice president for international affairs slated to be appointed this summer may elect to pursue in coming years.

Other recommendations in the working groups’ reports include greater support for Brown’s development studies program, an initiative in the nascent field of international investment, creating a summer institute for international humanities and encouraging more science and engineering students to study or do research abroad. Common in many of the reports is the need to better coordinate Brown’s current and future international activities.

Assistant Provost Shelley Stephenson, a member of the committee, said the full committee will meet on May 22 to begin producing a final report from the working groups’ suggestions, but no timetable has been set for it to produce the report.

Poverty, inequality and developmentThe report of the poverty, inequality and development working group will center on three main recommendations – the international investment initiative, the Africa center and the improvement of development studies – the group’s chair, Professor of Economics Ross Levine, told The Herald.

The investment initiative would aim to “establish a very prominent reputation for Brown both in terms of teaching and research in the area of international investment,” Levine said.

By bringing together scholars and students with a business-centered focus on profitable investing with those concerned about social justice and living standards in developing countries, Brown could potentially be a pioneer in a new field, Levine said.

Those two groups rarely interact in modern academia, Levine said, but the working group believes collaboration would allow them to ask, “When is international investment a win-win situation for both recipient communities and businesses?”

“All of this stuff is very open from an intellectual perspective,” Levine added. “We don’t know the answers.”

The group also recommended creating a center for development in Africa because that continent represents “a particularly challenging case,” and Brown has ties with a number of African universities and research institutions, but its disparate efforts there are not currently well-coordinated, Levine said.

The center, which Levine said could be a subset of Brown’s existing Population Studies and Training Center, could bring more faculty with expertise in Africa to Brown.

The working group also recommended improving resources for the interdisciplinary development studies program, which Levine called “intellectually very ambitious” and “quintessentially Brown.”

Students and faculty have criticized the program in recent years because of its lack of dedicated resources and faculty, a problem that plagues most interdisciplinary programs at Brown.

A revamped development studies program could follow the model of Commerce, Organizations and Entrepreneurship – an interdisciplinary concentration with administrative support that is prioritized by the departments with which it is most closely associated, Levine said.

Global healthThe global health working group’s report emphasizes better integrating Brown’s existing international health projects and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, said its chair, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dan Smith.

The group will propose the creation of “some sort of umbrella institute that would be the home for major projects and a coordinating mechanism for existing activities,” Smith said. The institute would not “subsume existing” entities, Smith said, but rather facilitate coordination among them.

“It’s not aimed to create another level of bureaucracy, but to create a more centralized approach to things … to make it easier to manage everything that’s going on,” said Samira Thomas ’10, a member of the working group.

The working group’s hope is to foster cross-disciplinary approaches to problems, Smith said, noting that Brown is an ideal school for work “at the nexus between the biomedical sciences and the social sciences and the humanities.”

“An appropriate niche for Brown would be to try to better understand the social disparities in health,” Smith said.

Global humanitiesThe global humanities working group focused on four ideas, said Rey Chow, a professor of modern culture and media who chaired the group.

International programs run through the Cogut Center for the Humanities, the continuation of the International Writers Project, a new international humanities summer institute and improved coordination of existing humanities exchange programs are the group’s four suggestions, Chow said.

Chow pointed to a new international humanities postdoctoral fellowship program that will bring four internationally-minded humanities scholars to the Cogut Center for the first time next year as an example of how the center can cultivate an international focus.

The group’s second recommendation focuses on supporting the International Writers Project, which brings writers from around the world to Brown and is “one of the most visible components of Brown’s commitment to global humanities,” Chow said.

The proposed international humanities summer institute would provide “workshops, seminars and lectures on diverse topics relevant to humanistic studies by nationally and internationally prominent scholars, in such ways that we can involve the participation of faculty and students from Brown and possibly other institutions,” Chow said.

Lastly, she said, the report urges the new vice president for international affairs to centralize information about existing international exchanges and other programs, which “tend to be spread out across campus.”

Global science and technologyThough the global science and technology working group, which will present on May 10, has not yet settled on a final slate of recommendations. Professor of Physics Chung-I Tan, its chair, said the group is interested in involving more science and engineering students in study abroad and building on overseas collaborations.

Tan declined to comment on specific ideas, but working group member Tung Nguyen ’09 said the group has discussed a program that would allow science and engineering concentrators to graduate in five years after spending one of the years doing research abroad.

International savvy and extensive research experience would give students an edge in applying to graduate schools, Nguyen said.

The committee has said that creating more English-language opportunities for scientific study abroad might also help because science and engineering students often have more concentration requirements, which discourages them from studying a foreign language, Nguyen said.

Collaboration with universities in other countries, especially in East Asia, has also been emphasized, Nguyen said.

“Duke and MIT and Harvard all have joint programs with foreign universities,” Nguyen said. “We think it’s time that Brown also have those kinds of programs.”

The committee is also interested in attracting foreign scientists to Brown, Nguyen said. This could be accomplished through programs that would bring visiting scholars with expertise in areas of strength for Brown, such as nanotechnology, to campus for a period of a few years, he said.

Global environmentThe global environment working group tried to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Brown’s current environmental efforts, said Professor of Biology Osvaldo Sala, the working group’s chair and director of the Center for Environmental Studies.

Environmental issues are a logical focus of Brown’s international efforts because global warming and other global environmental challenges cannot be solved by a single country, Sala said.

The group identified five ways for Brown to focus on international environmental issues: research collaborations overseas, bringing visiting scholars with environmental expertise to Brown, sending students overseas on short trips to learn about other countries’ environmental problems, organizing conferences to attract world leaders in the field and developing courses that focus on global environmental problems, Sala said.

The group also identified several areas of particular interest for study, including climate change, biofuels and the social and economic determinants of land use.

Within these parameters, he said, the group has tried to identify where Brown is already doing a good job, where more resources could be focused and where the University may not be doing anything yet.

Two weaknesses the committee has identified are interdepartmental coordination and Brown’s curricular foundation for students pursuing solutions to environmental problems, said group member Elizabeth Dickson ’07.

The group also identified specific strengths that could be used to draw foreign students and scholars to campus, such as land-use research, Dickson said. Brown has some of the best technology in that field and could better publicize its strength in that and other areas, she said.

Curriculum, language instruction and study abroadThe final working group – charged with reviewing the international aspects of Brown’s curriculum, its foreign language offerings and its study abroad programs – had “a slightly different mandate … more of a fact finding mission,” said Susan Alcock, a professor of classics who is one of the group’s co-chairs and also director of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World.

“Brown is very active in the international sphere, but it has not been capitalizing on those strengths,” she said. “Everyone’s sort of doing their own thing.”

Brown could present itself in a more welcoming manner to international students, she said. Brown’s Web site “assumes you know where Rhode Island is,” she added.

Brown could also do a better job teaching students about certain areas of the world, she said.

Area studies like South Asian studies and Middle East studies are currently weak at Brown, due to a lack of dedicated resources and course offerings, said Alcock and her co-chair, Associate Professor of History Kerry Smith.

The University must also centralize its support systems for international students and foreign visiting scholars, they said.

In study abroad programs, the group found that Brown already stacks up well against its peers, even though it is “probably not generating enough” non-traditional opportunities, such as internships and volunteer service abroad, Alcock and Smith said.

Though the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in language classes favorably compares with peer institutions and has increased by 40 percent over the last 15 years, the sharply rising enrollment numbers have strained certain programs, like Arabic and Chinese, Alcock and Smith said.

The group thinks language enrollment could further expand if more concentrations incorporated some kind of language requirement.

Alcock said the group’s efforts have produced extensive information about Brown’s offerings.

“I think the new vice president is going to have very rich material to work with here at Brown,” she said.

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