Internationalization takes shape in report

Monday, September 10, 2007

Aiming to establish Brown among the world’s top universities, a report released today calls for the University to invest significantly over the next several years in a spate of new initiatives designed to highlight its international strengths.

The wide-ranging report of Brown’s Internationalization Committee provides guidance for plans to raise Brown’s global profile, highlighting potential projects ranging from a new global health institute to an expansion of the University’s existing International Writers Program, which provides a haven for persecuted writers from around the world.

The report represents the first major step in the larger internationalization effort that President Ruth Simmons put at the top of the University’s agenda last fall. Likely to guide University policy for the next several years, internationalization will shape everything from faculty hires to new academic partnerships.

“The best universities in the United States in the future are going to be judged in good part by their standing not simply in this country, but in the world,” Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98 wrote in a campus-wide e-mail sent today announcing the report’s release. “This means having a world-class faculty and the world-renowned graduate programs and research that go with them, as well as a world-class undergraduate program. Brown must be one of the major meeting-grounds of the world’s greatest scholars and intellectuals.”

The 21-page report represents the conclusions of the Internationalization Committee created in October 2006 and chaired by Kertzer. Charged with investigating ways Brown could improve the international quality of its education and become a more significant player in global higher education, the committee stopped short of prioritizing its proposals or presenting a detailed blueprint for executing its goals. That task will fall to a new vice president for international affairs, whom University Hall officials expect to introduce within the next several weeks. The new vice president is expected to take office Jan. 1.

“Students can expect the effort to ramp up rather dramatically, beginning in just a few months,” Kertzer told The Herald.

In the meantime, the report calls for “seed funding” to develop new internationally-focused programs and initiatives. That funding will be available mainly to faculty in increments normally up to $10,000, but possibly as much as $20,000 in a few instances, Kertzer said.

Many of the report’s proposed initiatives represent attempts at coordinating the University’s existing international scholarship and activities. The new institute and an accompanying spate of new initiatives proposed by the committee’s global health working group, for example, are intended to consolidate internationally-focused health research and scholarship already occurring at Brown. Suggestions such as a possible initiative in the nascent field of international investment or a summer institute for internationally-minded humanities scholars, would aim to hone Brown’s reputation in other current areas of strength.

Other proposals include expanding participation by minority students and science concentrators in study abroad, better supporting international students and scholars on campus, broadening Brown’s environmental efforts, an initiative to improve the international quality of Brown’s science and technology education, a center for the study of African development and improving support for the development studies and other internationally-focused interdisciplinary programs on campus.

The University must be “ambitious” in carrying out its international plans, the report urges, but it also cautions that any approach should be “distinctive” to Brown. This can be accomplished by focusing on areas where Brown has already established a reputation and by recognizing Brown students’ penchant for interdisciplinary study and instinct for service, Kertzer told The Herald. Because Brown lacks high-profile professional schools and the international contacts that accompany them, it will likely focus on building partnerships – rather than physical satellite campuses – overseas, he added.

“What we want to avoid is a sort of me-too-ism,” said committee member Peter Andreas, associate professor of political science and director of the international relations program. “Lots of universities around the country are trying to internationalize, and Brown needs to do this … in its own way.”

“The way to do that is by building on some of Brown’s own already self-evident strengths, rather than trying to completely reinvent itself,” he added.

The report’s broad scope could significantly impact decisions throughout the University and is likely to become a priority in future faculty hires and University spending through the Plan for Academic Enrichment, Simmons’ blueprint for expanding the faculty, improving academics and reshaping the University’s physical campus.

“The committee has urged us to increase our faculty and other resources in a number of key regions whose importance is likely to grow in this century,” Kertzer wrote in his e-mail, identifying China, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America in particular. “Adding strength in these areas will require both new resources and possibly reallocating some existing resources.”

Internationalizing Brown, the report concludes, will require “a significant number of faculty hires.”

The report also suggests continued focus on raising the profile of Brown’s graduate programs, for which applications have doubled in the past five years. Both the report and Kertzer’s e-mail state the importance of a strong reputation in graduate education as a crucial component in fostering international recognition.

Yet the committee did not intend to focus on any one segment of the University, said committee member Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president. Because the proposed initiative “builds on and expands the strengths of the Plan for Academic Enrichment,” its benefits – such as more internationally-focused faculty, research opportunities and partnerships – will be felt throughout the University.

“We’re talking about Brown’s having a much greater leadership role in higher education around the world and in the world more generally,” Spies said.

Committee members told The Herald they hoped the report’s release would catalyze campus discussion about internationalization and perhaps generate further ideas to guide the effort.

“The idea is to provoke and inspire a lot of conversation,” Andreas said. “(The report) is still very much a work in progress. … It’s the beginning of a larger conversation and therefore a larger project.”

Despite recommending that Brown continue to improve and expand its international activities, the report found the University’s efforts already impressive in some areas.

In many cases, the committee found Brown is already active on the international stage. Study abroad programs and language study are strong, a diverse range of curricular options and international research interests already exist and foreign students and faculty make up a substantial part of the University population, the committee found. But, its report said, although the University is already “highly internationalized … Brown’s current repertory of international engagement and commitments requires increased communication, cohesion, and expansion.”

Some work that began in the committee will now continue beyond the release of the report, Kertzer said, giving as an example the global health working group’s intention to continue working through the fall to help bring about its envisioned institute.

The committee approached its work from a disciplinary perspective, breaking into six working groups that focused on areas ranging from the study of international poverty to science and technology and the environment. The report’s 10 appendices include the full findings of all of the working groups.

For geographic perspective, the committee received presentations on Brown’s current involvement in Africa, China, the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia.

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