U skips out on International Education Week, says campus does enough already

Nov. 14 to Nov. 18 marks International Education Week, a joint initiative of the U.S. departments of State and Education aimed at promoting global studies and exchange programs in the United States.

But not at the U.

On the heels of various events such as Islam Awareness and Asian Awareness weeks, Director of the International Center Bill Barnhart, who was involved with the Association of International Educators in establishing the week of recognition about five years ago, said the U is already doing enough.

“Normally, we would sponsor a colloquium or special activity, but frankly, international activities and projects have become so prominent on campus that we feel like it’s been ‘International Education Year,'” Barnhart said. “When it came around this year, I just thought, ‘Good Lord, there’s so much stuff going on right now, I don’t have time to stop and designate a single activity.'”

He cited recent events such as last week’s colloquium on sustainable development by the Asian Development Bank and Monday’s School of Social Work Faculty Development Workshop on Global Social Work.

Barnhart added that much of the rest of his time is taken up with the Presidential Task Force on Internationalization of the university, which is helping fund programs in international public policy, Latin American studies and Asian studies. He is also helping to develop seven new faculty study abroad programs for 2006-and that’s in addition to the 15 already in place.

“It’s been a very busy year,” he said.

Area studies at the U

One of the most consistently visible international programs on campus is the Middle East Center, which is celebrating its 45th year at the U. It is the only Title VI-funded area center on campus and the only Middle East Center in the state.

“We’re one of the top Middle East Centers in the country,” Barnhart said.

Director of the Middle East Center Ibrahim Karawan said the center is proud to be part of the small number of institutions that have received support from the Department of Education. He said it is imperative that education reflects the nature of the world, which is now intrinsically transnational because of globalization.

“We need to prepare students with the skill structure necessary to cope with the changing world,” he said. “Education will become increasingly inadequate if it is not retooled or reconceptualized.”

While Karawan is adamant about international education, he said that focus does not negate the national focus.

“There is always room to study each individual country and its specific communities with their own characteristics,” Karawan said. “But we cannot look at states as closed entities. We are interested in seeing what is common and what’s distinct…The collapse of the Iron Curtain does not mean states are not relevant-just modified.”

The Middle East Center’s annual lecture series has branched out to account for the international nature of the world by broadcasting sessions via the Internet.

“It’s fascinating for people in the Dumke Auditorium to know they are not listening alone, and it’s also good for the speakers,” Karawan said. “We’ve had questions from Israel and Lebanon…this leads to a pluralistic discussion through different political, ideological and philosophical perspectives.”

The U has other area studies programs such as British, Asian and Latin American studies, all of which are trying to move their programs to the level of adding their own center, Barnhart said.

“There are other programs, but we need more centers where these particular areas of focus could be,” Barnhart said. Barnhart said the new trend of heavy international focus at the U has increased exponentially since Sept. 11, 2001.

The Sept. 11 effect

The tragedies of Sept. 11 had a two-pronged effect on international studies at the U.

First, the terrorist attacks and policy changes that followed impeded the flow of international students and scholars coming to campus because of VISA restrictions. Recently finalized enrollment figures show the U suffered a net loss of 60 students in the past year.

“This is a trend across the nation,” Barnhart said. “I think this will begin to change as policymakers in Washington (D.C.) are now beginning to understand that some security measures are too stringent and are actually causing serious problems in U.S. research capabilities at universities.”

The other post-Sept. 11 effect has been more positive.

“It’s also heightened awareness and everyone is starting to realize, ‘Hey, there’s a lot we don’t know about the world; we need to spend more time learning,'” Barnhart said.

As a result, more students have been inquiring about study-abroad programs, resulting in more faculty and departments becoming involved in internationalizing education.

Study-abroad programs have been a major focus on the national stage lately. On Monday, the Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program called for sending one million students abroad annually by the 2016-2017 school year.

According to the commission’s report, “What nations do not know exacts a heavy toll.” The commission also reports that “the stakes involved in study abroad are that simple, that straightforward and that important.”

Some of the nation’s foremost lawmakers agreed with the bipartisan commission’s report.

“Today, America’s national security, and our competitive ability, are increasingly dependent on our relations and understanding of the rest of the world,” said Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

President Young’s efforts

Despite all these contributions, the most significant push behind international education has been U President Michael Young’s emphasis on international studies, Barnhart said.

Young has been working on an international task force and has helped fund programs in international public policy including Latin American and Asian studies.

The U now offers more international academic degrees than ever. The newly established International Studies major is up and running, and last year more than 50 students graduated with certificates in International Relations-the most ever in a graduating class, Howard Lehman, IR certificate adviser, said. International Relations is the largest undergraduate certificate program at the university. The School of Social Work is also introducing an International Social Work degree.

And that’s not the end of the road.

The administration is still in the process of passing an international requirement that would add a course to every student’s general requirements.

Young was unavailable for comment because he is conducting business in Korea, but he spoke of the importance of international education during his inauguration speech April 15.

In an imaginary tour of the U campus in 2015, Young said students will speak dozens of languages learned on campus and honed to perfection in dozens of study-abroad programs, programs which are undertaken by virtually every student at the university.

“The (U) has more international resources than any other major state university-untapped resources to be sure, but resources just the same,” Young said.

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Johanna Watzinger-Tharp said whether learning foreign languages and cultures at the U, studying abroad or getting to know international students, university study almost inevitably involves international experience.

“The university is certainly looking for ways to promote and enhance international experiences for students,” she said.

With all these recent activities ultimately aimed at bolstering international education, Barnhart said there was no need to add special events for International Education Week.

“Everyday there’s something going on now,” Barnhart said. “We’re really cranking it up, so to speak.”

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