Experts at the University of Virginia Tackle Tough Questions at Global University Seminar

November 17, 2010
November 17, 2010 — The question of what constitutes a "global citizen" took center stage Monday at a University of Virginia seminar, where scholars and practitioners from around the world gathered to consider the future of the global university in the 21st century.

Richard Handler, an anthropology professor in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences and the director of U.Va.'s Global Development Studies Program, challenged the very notion that such a being can exist. "I recall one definition of the term in which the global citizen is a person who speaks several languages, who crosses cultural and national borders easily, and who can feel at home, or at least learn to get along in a culturally-sensitive manner, anywhere in the world," he said.

"This is, of course, a fantasy."

Handler was moderator of the seminar's first panel, "Preparing Global Citizens." Panelist Uliana Gabara, Dean and Carole M. Weinstein Chair of International Education at the University of Richmond, had a different view.

"In today's world, we have no choice in the matter. We are, willy-nilly, global citizens," she said.

Gabara said last year's outbreak of swine flu "affected all of us. You would not have to travel internationally to get swine flu."

The international education expert shared "snapshots" of some of her current and former students who studied abroad and majored in a variety of disciplines. "Not one of them is monolingual. They all have the experience of living and studying in at least two countries and cultures, and all chose to become involved in important social problems."

Carol Anne Spreen, an assistant professor in the U.Va. Curry School of Education's Department of Leadership, Foundations and Public Policy, said having a positive disposition toward people, tolerance toward cultural differences and the recognition and ability to negotiate across different contexts is extremely important.

"These are the things that are really, I think, the nuts and bolts of being a global citizen," she said.

Institutes for higher learning, however, do not value these qualities because they are very hard to measure, she said, offeringthe example of one of her doctoral students, who is trying to measure the effects of civic engagement and study abroad on students. "And you can't just do it from a survey, so administrators are just not interested in it," she said.

The seminar also focused on ways to balance local, national and global priorities and strategies to fund the global university. Shelia Slaughter, the Louise McBee Professor of Higher Education from the University of Georgia, said funding graduate students does not present much of a hurdle. "Undergraduates at research universities generally subsidize graduate students," she said.

Rebecca Dillingham, the associate director of U.Va's Center for Global Health, said raising funds for global projects is very challenging. She is working with James Smith, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science, to secure $25,000 to build a factory that will manufacture inexpensive, point-of-use ceramic water filters.

"In the grand scheme of things, that's nothing," she said. "But it has been hard for us to get."

She and Smith are working with partners in the McIntire School of Commerce and the Darden School of Business to help raise the money. But she readily admitted she is not an expert fundraiser.

"I think that is the question," Dillingham said. "How do you develop an implementation arm to help?"

The two-day seminar was hosted by U.Va.'s Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs and the Curry School of Education and featured 16 noted scholars from multiple disciplines and world universities.

Simon Marginson, an internationally respected expert on higher education from the University of Melbourne's Center for the Study of Higher Education, opened the seminar Sunday evening with a Dome Room keynote address, "Creating Global Public Goods." He told an audience of nearly 100 deans, scholars and practitioners that "because knowledge lends itself to global flows, in a knowledge-intensive age, research universities have already become important creators of global goods – though this is under-recognized."

He pointed to examples of collaborative research on global problems including climate change, water, food, and epidemic disease.

Marginson said, however, that institutions of higher learning must "break out of the iron-bound, national-level struggles over public good and private interest."

He said universities are very good at cutting across local, national and international barriers. "If nations and their cultures want to shape global society, they must become global to do it. And that means being part of the global commons.

"You have to be in it to win it," he said.

— By Jane Kelly