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A Little Global Review?

A Little Global Review?

One of the advantages of no longer being Provost, but retaining interest in some of the issues that attracted me before, is that there is an opportunity for additional thinking and reflection. This can be slightly embarrassing, when one realizes that some of the thoughts should have been thought before, when there was more chance for direct implementation, but the result may still be worth consideration.

One of the disadvantages of no longer being Provost is that one has even less chance for any systematic sense of what is going on at the University, which means in turn that some thoughts may be duplicative, irrelevant or counterproductive. But of course I’ve never let possibilities of this sort form undue impediments.

So in this context, and stimulated by some recent conversations with Higher Education students here at Mason, and with international officers from several other universities, it occurs to me that a few questions and suggestions might be in order, about the important but challenging topic of global education.

Mason is a global university in many ways, with a branch in South Korea, a growing number of international students, and a commitment to expand study abroad. Some other global goals have been mentioned, for example in the institution’s strategic plan, but progress may be a bit more uneven.

Granting important and hopefully successful commitments, I do wonder if we are paying enough attention to the foundation of global education, in our own curriculum. We have a batch of really good majors. We have a global component in the general education program, that receives some recurrent evaluative attention. But I wonder if, without great expense, we could do a bit more – particularly, perhaps, toward the twin goals of greater foreign language competence (particularly for native English speaking students) and greater global awareness in the student body at large.

So a few questions: as we successfully expand undergraduate research, are we providing any explicit encouragement to students whose projects involve active work in a foreign language. And if not, could we consider this? Without imposing unrealistic language requirements on freshman applicants, are we at least making it clear that foreign language achievement will be a plus in the application process – and then following up in ensuing decisions?

Are we thinking as imaginatively as we should about combining domestic and international students, to mutual benefit? There are some good conversations going on with our INTO staff, about for example getting discussion groups together to take advantage of what international students know about their own countries, but translating ideas into actual experiments may take an additional push.

Are we actively encouraging academic units that don’t have as clear a global stake as some – and the reference here is particularly to engineering and science, apart perhaps from environmental science and public health – to develop some relevant global components in their own programs? This is a widely shared issue, but its generality should not discourage some local initiatives.

How successful are we in delivering – within our gen ed package – the two primary components almost always defined as essential in basic global education: a grasp of international processes and an appreciation of cultural and institutional diversity. Our gen ed mission statement covers both, but in fact global programs typically do much better on the second point than on the first. Are we satisfied with our combination?

And a hardy perennial: how successful are we in combining the curricular and the cocurricular in this area, always an opportunity and a challenge?

And finally, deriving from the above to the extent that topics seem valid, are we best organized to oversee and encourage curricular strengths and experiments in the global arena? Would an appropriate inter-unit faculty review, with some modest incentives attached for renewed innovation, be timely? Could/should we return to a bit wider campus conversation about this aspect of our educational mission?