"Guiding Students Toward Global Citizenship," Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the Council of Independent Colleges
October 10, 2006 | Speech

The challenge of preparing young undergraduates for an interconnected global society was very much on Kingman Brewster's mind when he assumed the Yale presidency. I was an undergraduate at the time. His inaugural address made an impression on me, as did his proposal for a 5-year BA that would enable students to spend a year in a radically different culture.  In his words:

If we are to serve well our most ancient public purpose, we should be willing to entertain radical departures from the collegiate pattern … Might we not consciously break the sequence of testable learning somewhere between five and twenty-five, not …for a fancy "grand tour" but as part of a programmed educational pattern which splices experience with learning, especially in exposure to contrasting cultures."

He also said, "Despite the sharp contrasts which a small world holds, we do little to develop a healthy tolerance of strangeness and a healthy impatience with complacency."

I was tempted to try the five-year BA, but did not.  I was caught up in the American civil rights movement and there was plenty to do at home.  But I was also too timid.  An American history major, I knew little about the rest of the world except Europe.  Language was a tough requirement to suffer through. Careers in international relations were all about the Cold War and American power.  I had no idea about ancient cultures of the Middle East and Asia, or the depth of poverty and despair in Africa.

A PhD at Yale in American History did not broaden my worldview.  Indeed, I remained ignorant and innocent into my 40’s, until my service on the Board of Human Rights Watch brought me face-to-face with the dark side of humanity in places like Uzbekistan, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and many of the 70 countries Human Rights Watch monitors.

That education about the world expanded exponentially at MacArthur. We work in 65 countries, with offices in Moscow, New Delhi, Abuja, Mexico City -- and soon, Beijing.  About $75 million of our $200 million in annual philanthropy goes to international programs in Human Rights and International Justice, Population and Reproductive Health, Conservation and Sustainable Development, Migration and Mobility, and International Peace and Security.  At home we work on urban renewal, digital learning, juvenile justice reform, and affordable housing preservation.

Given all this, “guiding students toward global citizenship” is of great interest to me.  All the more so since I look back on my own education and feel a sense of lost time and opportunity. 

All of us who are or have been college presidents know the limits of the bully pulpit.  Colleges are, by design, deeply conservative institutions when it comes to changing cultures and curricula.  As we seek to prepare students for the reality of an interdependent global society, we need to go beyond special programs for a few, like the five-year BA, or pepping up the language requirement, or having more courses on other parts of the world. 

I do not under-value what American colleges are already doing, including colleges represented here in this room.

• This fall, Goucher College became one of the first colleges in the country to require study abroad for graduation.

• Since 1961, Concordia College has conducted its well-known summer language villages, now offered in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and Russian – just  to name a few.

• Arcadia University has one of the top study-abroad programs in the nation, used by over 3000 students from 300 other colleges each year.

I know I am only scratching the surface. What I have to say is anchored in respect for the leadership of liberal arts colleges in preparing their students for global citizenship.  Before working on this talk, I confess I was surprised to learn from the 2005 report of the International Institute of Education that independent liberal arts colleges send and receive the largest percentage of foreign students each year. 

I should have known better, because liberal arts colleges often set the pace for higher education.  You are more nimble, more willing to experiment, less tyrannized by entrenched disciplinary borders and curricular orthodoxies. 

Knowing this, I want to suggest that you take the lead in an even more thoroughgoing change in the culture of higher education.  The imperatives of education for global citizenship are urgent and real.  The time for change is right, the building blocks are here, the stars aligned, and the means clear.

Here's why:

  1. First: as Kingman Brewster saw on the horizon forty years ago, our graduates are going to live their lives fully in a globalized world where the private market, civil society, and international agencies pull along national governments.  The most interesting jobs will go to students with a global perspective.
  2. Second: students will be attracted to colleges with cosmopolitan campuses and an international curriculum.
  3. Third: it is in our national interest that our students know and care about the rest of the world.  At a time when anti-American attitudes are growing, it is important to show the world the real face of America through contact with its people. 

Let me elaborate. The latest Pew poll shows America's image on the decline. Among traditional friends like Spain, Germany, and France, our approval rating averages around 35 percent.  In Britain, our strongest ally, it is a mere 56 percent. The results are worse in the countries where we need friends the most: barely 30 percent have a positive view of the US in Indonesia, Egypt, and Pakistan. In Jordan and Turkey – two moderate nations we count as allies – just 15 percent of the public likes us.

One way of challenging these negative perceptions is more direct contact with America and Americans.  That is why visa requirements discouraging students from coming to the U.S. are counter-productive.  Right now, we benefit from foreign leaders who were educated here and know our people:

  • The UN's new Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon [Harvard];
  • Japan's newly elected prime-minister, Shinzo Abe [University of Southern California];
  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia [University of Colorado; Harvard];
  • Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong [Harvard];
  • Jordan's King Hussein [Georgetown]; and
  • Gloria Arroyo [Georgetown] from the Philippines, to name just a few.

Even if the flow of future foreign leaders diminishes, we can compensate by increasing the number of Americans deeply interested in the rest of the world.  Americans working for NGO’s like Human Rights Watch, CARE, and Save the Children earn enormous good will for our country.

Being more international is good for individual students, the competitive position of colleges and universities, and very much in the national interest.  Liberal arts colleges have a key role to play.  Indeed, they may be better than large universities for what I have in mind.

I am not sure I have the right term to describe it: "comprehensive," "integrated," "immersion experience," are all possibilities.  I think of four elements.

  1. The first is obvious: a curriculum so infused with international content that a student can’t escape.  I am not talking about a new version of distributional requirements with a few courses set up to satisfy them; rather, a comprehensive rethinking of the curriculum.
  2. The second is to cultivate a way of thinking about the world that is not U.S.- centered – a way of looking at an issue, problem, opportunity, or conflict from multiple perspectives. 
  3. The third is comfort with difference – diverse cultures and traditions, as well as respect for people of different races, ethnicities, classes, and ideologies.
  4. The final element is the practical ability to work in radically different cultures. It requires more than a knowledge of other places learned on campus. A meaningful study or work experience abroad is essential.

As we think about the implications of advancing these goals, I doubt anything I am about to say is new to you.  But I am not talking about model programs or experimental opportunities for a few students.  I am talking about doing all these things for all students.

1. Let’s start with the students.  Most, if not all, of us believe that students learn a good deal from each other, both in and outside of class.  At the undergraduate level, about 2 percent of four year enrollments are from abroad.  Is that enough?  I think not.  Do the countries of origin reflect where the action will be in the century ahead—both the economic trends and the moral implications? Consider this: nationwide, there were only 22,000 undergraduate students coming from Africa last year.

 Liberal arts colleges can take the lead in attracting students from under-represented countries.

2. Let's move to content.  The obvious points we know: more emphasis on foreign languages, refreshing existing courses, adding more classes and majors that address international issues. 

But there are two other challenges ahead.  The first is to articulate a rationale for a new way of thinking globally, the kind of real working knowledge that opens up layers of nuanced meaning essential to understanding another perspective.

 The second – and very interesting – challenge is how to make judgments about content.  It is useful to have a conception of what the world will look like 20-40-60 years from now. 

Let me suggest some questions to guide this search.

a) What societies are on the ascension?  I won't surprise anyone by saying that China and other Asian countries will be economic, political, and military forces to contend with.

b) What places are overlooked, but important for humanitarian reasons?  I would offer Africa for starters – there is a lot to learn about Nigeria, the largest sub-Saharan country, struggling to build a stable democracy; or about the troubled Albertine Rift countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, and Burundi.

c) What issues are likely to be front and center? 

• Persistent poverty for sure – there is a lot to learn about success and failure in development efforts as we expand the concept of security to include human security. 

• The role of norms in restraining terrorism is an understudied topic, as is the rise of new institutions like the International Criminal Court that are meant to bring human rights abusers to justice and deter future acts of genocide. 

• The environment and the future of the planet might be another candidate.

 I offer these examples merely as illustrations – my call goes beyond simply expanding language studies and adding international content.  It invites a deep conversation about the future and framing a hypothesis of what the world will look like that might guide the evolution of the curriculum.

3) The extra curriculum also offers a rich opportunity for broadening a student's perspective.  Most, if not all, colleges have high-profile speakers from other countries and that is good.  But more would be better – and from some of the countries we were just speaking about: those on the rise, those neglected, and those representing issues and international institutions critical for the future.

Not all speakers have to be high-profile.  Your own foreign-born alumni or Americans working abroad are good sources.  Think about a theme for a semester with events including younger staff of international NGOs. They can be effective role models for students. I think of organizations like Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee, Conservation International, or The Population Council.

 Encouraging chapters of groups like Amnesty International, Student Pugwash, UNICEF, or Habitat for Humanity International is another good way of cultivating the habits of civic engagement.

 While we are talking about the extra curriculum, let me mention technology. 

We are all aware that news gathering, reporting, and broadcasting are being fundamentally changed by digital technologies. As a result, new creators and commentators – often amateurs – are posting material on the Internet and reaching a wide audience more directly. "Citizen journalists" around the globe are taking advantage of these tools – and could be an important resource for helping connect your students to the rest of the world.

4. My final basket of ideas goes back to Kingman Brewster’s five-year BA.  Deep experience abroad is critical to the four goals I have described, especially the last one: learning how to navigate on the ground in a different culture.

 Junior-year abroad programs in Paris and Rome remain a good thing.  But the opportunity should be expanded and made more flexible: semesters or summers in remote places are opportunities that need to be developed, maybe collectively.  Even without language proficiency, places like Makerere University in Uganda, the Indian Institute of Technology, or the University of the South Pacific in Fiji are good places to go. 

 Internships with NGOs working in the field might also be required.  I could imagine a student spending a summer or a semester working with the CLEEN Foundation on police reform in Nigeria; with the Matma-Health Institute for Mother and Child in India; or with Mahonia Na Dari in Papua New Guinea protecting endangered coral reefs.

These are just a few of the ways I would approach making my college more international.  All obvious, but think of what it would mean to do them all at scale.  Some lend themselves to joint activity, and I know associations like the CIC are active. I think of the Center for Original Research in Amman as a good example.

A foundation president doesn't need to tell you that raising funds for these ideas is vital. A place to start is talking with the International Program Committees of the Council on Foundations and the Independent Sector.  I think a joint approach to a number of large foundations might also be a good idea, since no large foundation is likely to fund a single college.

But large foundations may not be the best place to turn.  We tend to have well-defined strategies, often preferring to invest in NGOs on the frontlines of international issues.  New foundations might be a better possibility, or some of the small or mid-range ones.  You may also have a role to play in helping wealthy individuals in your area – or among your graduates – begin to work abroad by supporting one or another of the ideas I have been talking about.

In closing, let me return to some first principles.  What is the larger purpose of internationalizing American higher education?  It is certainly about more than making the United States more competitive in a global economy.  And it goes beyond enriching the lives of our graduates, as important as that is. 

When the history of this period is written, I believe it will be said that the nation-state diminished in importance.  Some have argued that international business, international organizations like the U.N., and regional bodies like the European Union or ECOWAS are eroding the primacy of the nation-state. That may be true, but I would argue that an even more potent force is the power of individuals working directly with each other or through the organizations of civil society, tackling the most pressing issues of the day.  This is the age of the non-governmental organization and of the Internet, two forces that empower individuals to take control of their own destiny.

If I am right that individual action is more important than ever on a global scale – a topic for another talk – then it is important that Americans play a meaningful leadership role. It is a role for which they must be prepared in college.  I remain convinced that as much as we have to learn from the world, we have a lot to teach as well.  Norms and values count and ours are fundamentally good, even if they are not always perfectly reflected in the actions of our government.

People abroad see these values at work when they see dedicated individual Americans tending to the environment in Madagascar, fighting AIDS in South Africa, reducing maternal mortality in Chiapas, Mexico, building schools in Vietnam, defending dissidents in Russia.  Such individuals represent the best of America as the city upon a hill our founders imagined.  I know that there is a strong strain of idealism and passion for civic engagement that lies within our youth.  Our challenge is to unleash that idealism by preparing our students for a life of responsible, committed, and engaged global citizenship.

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