Bringing a global perspective to the ivory tower
STANDING in the midst of Florida International University, it's not difficult to associate the school with its middle name. Low concrete buildings with names like Primera Casa, Viertes Haus, and Atheneum are separated by blooming tropical plants and warm, humid air. Spanish is a common tongue among passers-by, and the variety of skin tones are products of more than just the Florida sun.Skip to next paragraph
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But according to officials of the newest of Florida's state universities - it opened in 1972 - the task of developing an educational program that incorporates that middle name into every student's experience has at times been daunting. How to make a reality of one of the school's goals as set out by the state Board of Regents - to cultivate effective members of a modern global society - has not been obvious.
''The (Florida) Legislature gave us the middle name, but without ex4ensive rationale for choosing it,'' says Steve Altman, Florida International's provost and vice-president for academic affairs. ''We really struggled for the first few years to define what that meant.''
That struggle is not unusual. Colleges and universities across the United States are looking for ways to bring a global perspective t/ the ivory tower: by internationalizing their curricula, making the world an integral part of more courses and majors; by encouraging more Americans to study overseas; and by better tapping the potential offered by a growing number of foreign students in the US.
The reasons for the new emphasis on international education are partly humanitarian. With international travel and global telecommunications becoming commonplace, the world continues to shrink - even as risks of misunderstanding, between individuals or nations, continue to grow. In addition, college and government officials are pointing out with increased frequency that US security and international standing are threatened if the country fails - as many say it has - to train the experts it needs in diplomacy, area studies, and languages.
But the reasons are also economic. The US is increasingly dependent on the global market for its prosperity. In the early years after World War II the US economy operated without great impact from the rest of the world. But today fluctuations in international prices and production have direct effects on American lives. One in 8 US manufacturing jobs depends on foreign trade, according to the Commerce Department. In 1970, US manufacturers exported 14 percent of their production; by 1980 they exported 29 percent.
As Joseph Downer, vice-chairman of Atlantic Richfield, told a recent gathering of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) , ''The only relevant market today is the world market.'' Very few college graduates are sufficiently prepared in world affairs and foreign cultures, he added, but increasingly they are taking jobs that require some knowledge of the world.
The stories are legion of lack of sensitivity on the part of US companies operating in foreign cultures. General Motors named a small car it marketed in Brazil ''Nova,'' without regard to the fact that ''no va'' in Portuguese means ''doesn't go.'' And no one at Gerber realized that drawings of the Gerber baby, so familiar to American consumers, were not appropriate for the packaging of baby food in the Philippines, where labels carry likenesses of the edible contents.
In the eyes of many, US students will have to overcome a number of American traits - ranging from isolationism to cultural condescension - if they are to open their education to encompass the world. ''We are in an isolationist period, '' says Robert Kaplan, professor of applied linguistics at the University of Southern California and outgoing president of the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs. ''I think we have ample evidence that Americans' knowledge of and interest in the rest of the world have diminished over the past 40 years.'' Adds Carl Rosberg, director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, ''There is no concerted effort, no consciousness, that students should really know something about the international environment despite the great changes going on in the world.''
But according to Mark Mancall, director of Stanford University's foreign studies program, ''The country is not so much in a period of isolationism. It's more of a conservatism,'' he says, that leaves students thinking first about professional pursuits guaranteeing financial security.
Still others tie the lack of interest to a dearth of humility. ''The attitude cultivated of the outside world is often caricatural, if not snide,'' says Duncan Smith, associate dean for foreign studies at Brown University. Adds Norman Greenberg, dean of international education at Western Michigan University , ''What we really need in this country is to de-ethnocentrize our curricula.''