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U.S. Universities as Foreign Places

U.S. Universities as Foreign Places
 

At the end of May I’m privileged to give a talk at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow on why (and why not) to study at American universities. Mason has a number of partnerships with the Higher School, whose novelty and vigor are impressive. We send students to each other and have explicit dual degree programs in economics and philosophy. We’re also sharing the development of our new undergraduate global problems minor. I’m using the occasion to comment on aspects of American institutions that Russians might find odd. Here’s my current list, but I invite other comment:

  • Cost:  A combination of low states funding, commitment to elaborate university life activities, and high faculty salaries make this an interesting and undeniably challenging feature.
  • Decentralization, including the public/private mix: We obviously have an institutional pecking order, but it’s much more debatable and fuzzy than a Russian might anticipate.
  • Consumerist features, including the commitment to elaborate social activities, particularly sports: I look forward to exploring these aspects in an international context because I don’t fully understand them myself.
  • The commitment to liberal and general education resulting from a distinctive (and, to me, desirable) educational philosophy and from the mixed, often poor, pre-college preparation of many American students.
  • The delight in diversity and accessibility, tempered increasingly, of course, by the cost factors and by real problems of university completion that reflect serious social inequalities.

I always enjoy a balanced discussion of American strengths and weaknesses to an international audience, which might expect a more boosterish approach. Certainly, American universities abundantly illustrate the yin-yang qualities of American life more generally.