II In Retrospect: Building Strong, Building Light: Building 'the International' at the U-MSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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On July 1, 1999, Michael Kennedy assumed the new position, and responsibilities therein denoted, of Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the International Institute of the University of Michigan. On August 31, 1999, I will step down after six years service as the International Institute's first director. The overlap of the completion of one appointment and the beginning of the next allows for an especially positive transition in leadership at the II and is another of the often wise and sometimes simply fortuitous circumstances that have permitted this large and complex university to sustain its leadership in so many arenas of scholarship, training, and service.
When I arrived in Ann Arbor from Evanston, Illinois, in the summer of 1993, I was charged with the responsibility of building the Institute. The II saw its first phone, fax machine, table and chair installed in Lorch Hall that summer. Our first substantial furniture order, placed in the hands of Henry Halloway's office in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, was for folding tables and chairs, denoting the sense that the Institute's beginnings would necessarily be flexible and adaptive. Our first "hires," after associate director John Godfrey - recruited like myself from Northwestern - were three very smart advanced graduate students: Charlotte Droll, Kaja Sehrt, and Tom Wolfe. Indeed, they were founding editors of the Journal. Their appointments at the II reflected the extraordinary quality of training and scholarship developing in the University and also the openness and uncertainties of the Institute's new staff needs.
The Institute was the latest and longest-deferred creation by a great North American university of a framework for organizing "the international." On the other hand, the new institute brought together many long distinguished centers of excellence in the study of the world, especially our several national resource centers in area studies. Thirteen previously independent centers and programs were assembled within the II at its foundation. The Institute faced at the outset two distinct sets of expectations: first, it would be essentially an administrative umbrella, bringing some order to a disparate group of units that each reported to the Dean of LS&A; and second, it would bring both established and new resources to the service of internationalization across the University. With an excellent staff and with strong and dedicated center and program directors, the Institute is able today to demonstrate success in response to both sets of expectations. Certainly, we can do far more in both areas, and there are important opportunities to bridge the excellent work of the II's centers and programs with other nodes of international research, training and service throughout the University.
In 1993, the Institute drew together long established resources and emerging opportunities to bring support to internationalization efforts across the U-M. But it also drew on, and inevitably built upon, earlier efforts to establish a university-wide framework to promote internationalization. John Jackson (formally of the Law School) and Harold Jacobsen (Department of Political Science and the Institute for Social Research), pressed forward important ideas and initiatives that led to the Institute's founding.
In many senses, the Institute's pre-history has an importance equivalent to the history of its years since 1993. For two decades and more, the University was the site of significant conversation and debate, plans and prototypes, that reflected not only the quality and intensity of thought on the future of international scholarship, but also the eminent position that the U-M commanded in national and international conversations regarding the organization of international training and expertise within higher education. By the time the II was founded, virtually all of the directors of the centers and programs had developed critical insight into the debates over different approaches to the study of and training for the international.
The resources brought within the new institute, together with the contributions of the first center and program directors (most of whom were appointed to their responsibilities before the Institute was founded), underlined the University's long-standing distinction in context-grounded scholarship and training. The challenge, as I saw it, was to strengthen such context-grounded scholarship and training, first by encouraging such an orientation to research and training to find new challenges and points of linkage with the physical and biological sciences and with the professions and professional training; second, by supporting self-critical engagement with the precepts and paradigms of context-grounded scholarship and training; and third, by building resources to enable the conceptualization and implementation of work that crossed world areas and engaged global processes.
Against each of these challenges, the Institute and its constituent centers and programs have achieved considerable distinction and visibility both nationally and internationally, and many schools have tried to emulate "the Michigan model." Positively and productively, these challenges have been worked through in ways that join the two sets of expectations faced by the II when it was established: maximizing the advantages of a new "umbrella organization," and taking up the task of bringing context-grounded resources to the service of internationalization of the entire university. A salutary example: the Institute's very first "seminar" (around those folding tables that to some looked a little more like Northwestern purple than Michigan blue) provided an opportunity for the then managing editor of Time International and a graduate of the master's program in Southeast Asian Studies, the late Karsten Prager, to lead faculty to begin work on the reinvention of European Studies at the U-M around the core problem of citizenship in the "new Europe." But there were other challenges as well.
When the Institute was founded, there was a question about the viability of this great university in what seemed to me at the time a rust-belt state and region. The U-M today enjoys a leading presence in one of the most dynamic export-oriented regions of the world.
When the Institute was founded, there was a question about the viability of support for area studies in a post-Cold War era. The long-rehearsed national interest claims of area and international scholarship seemed outmoded in the setting of Washington funding and in the setting of a rising discourse on globalization. Today, the values, purposes, and relevance of context-grounded scholarship are strongly underlined, if not satisfactorily underwritten, by both the certainties and uncertainties of recent events around the globe. And they have been underlined by the University, which has provided an excellent facility for the Institute at the corner of South and East University avenues in a wing of the School of Social Work Building.
When the Institute was founded, the international presence of the great North American research universities was being challenged by the rise of global expertise at numerous alternative nodes, from Amnesty International to the World Wildlife Fund, to Motorola University and the like. Today, the pre-eminent values of university-seated scholarship and training are re-empowered by our new understandings of the workings and complexities of global and regional processes.
When the Institute was founded, the claims of computer-based learning to command the future of higher education were strongly articulated. Such claims were especially challenging to the realms of international scholarship and instruction, which tended to be seated in languages other than English, with esoteric and often pre-modern sources only partially inventoried in sometimes imperiled archives. Moreover, international scholarship tended to be just that, involving the construction of working relations among scholars in dispersed institutions, and our counterparts and partners abroad were often behind in opportunities to access new technological resources. Today, faculty and staff across the University are exploring the opportunities and limits of web-based instruction in every field of learning, disciplining new technology to the powers of context-grounded learning and training as opposed to the reverse. In 1993, it was inconceivable that the Institute would have a full-time specialist devoted to computer technology, while today a full-time specialist can only address a portion of the computer, network, and web-based work being undertaken within the Institute.
And when the Institute was founded, the status of area and international scholarship within the U-M, and especially within the College of LS&A was anything but assured, with the deaths, departures, and retirements of senior faculty and with the pressures of budget cuts which fell especially hard upon many of the departments most actively involved in the University's international ventures. Today, context-grounded international scholarship is reckoned critical to the University's eminence in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and of value to virtually all the arenas of professional training in Ann Arbor. The II cannot claim credit for these shifts, though certainly it is a grateful beneficiary. But what is strongly suggested is the prescience of those who conceived the timing and shape of the new institute. What is also indicated is the extraordinary value and brilliance of directors and staff.
Among them, John Godfrey and Violet Elder gave years to the development of the II and contributed I suspect that 20 years from now the Institute's first years, and its recent two- year long review process - involving an extensive self-study, an external review, and considerable follow-up discussion - will be reckoned early days. . .early days in the great North American research university's efforts at "getting it right" in regard to the paths and intensities of internationalization, the balances among different models of direction (from formally centralized to highly decentralized), and the relative values and possibilities of context-grounded approaches, among others. The key advantage that the U-M carries into the coming decades is a capacity for critical engagement with its own formulations. It will be both for the robustness of our resources and our readiness to break new ground that we will be looked upon for leadership in myriad areas, and also as irreplaceable co-participants in various inter-institutional partnerships that new ways to address "the international." Among other things, the "internationalization" of the great North American university will rest profoundly on a capacity, a readiness, to change, to move, to connect in new ways, to learn from and adapt to models and processes irrespective of whence they come. I sought to underline this when, in September 1998, we were dedicating the new School of Social Work Building:
In his final writings in 1985, Italo Calvino reflected on the importance of lightness as humankind faces the new millennium. For Calvino, lightness is the flexible, the weightless, the mobile, the connective. . .vectors as distinct from structures. The great structures have been built. The great vectors have hardly been imagined. One of our wonderful Institute staff challenged me to see the irony of Calvino's lightness at this moment at which we dedicate the concrete. As the International Institute and the University of Michigan look forward from this moment of reflection, and renewed challenge, we must remind ourselves of the extraordinary circumstances that attend this great university at the outset of the third millennium. On the one hand, the University of Michigan built and maintains irreplaceable expertise on every region of the world and on every international and global process - unmatched weight in every discipline and profession. On the other hand, the world we study provides no fixed points, nor privileged disciplines, no certain methodologies. Drawing on Calvino's reflections, we may ask, what manner and qualities of lightness will serve us best as we unfold our university's vast international expertise towards the realization of a better world? Calvino quotes Paul Valery, "One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.". . .And we now turn. . .to our leaders, to our faculties, to our staff, and students, to ask you to join us on flights so recently inconceivable.
I thank the Regents and Officers of the University of Michigan, past and present, and the Deans of the College of LS&A, and the many II center and program directors and staff members, for bringing us to this juncture, when we can welcome Michael Kennedy and the fresh leadership he will bring to the internationalization of the University of Michigan. I wish him well and look forward to observing his success from the ranks of our teaching faculty.
David William Cohen
David William Cohen directed the International Institute from its inception in 1993 through August of this year. At the request of the Journal , he has offered some thoughts about the International Institute and "internationalization" at the University of Michigan. Cohen has assumed a full-time teaching and research program in History, Anthropology, and the Residential College. He will continue active involvement in CAAS and the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History.