Infinite Horizons: Engaging Global Diversity

    Amy Stillman
    Amy Stillman is an associate professor of American culture and musicology. She is the head of the Asian Pacific Islanders Program.

    To be a university of the world, it is necessary to engage with the world in all of its diversity. Diversity, I believe, is distinct from internationalism, for diversity is not bounded by political borders in the way that internationalism is or at least has been. Through the lens of diversity, United States citizens and residents come plainly into view, in contrast to the lens of international studies that gaze outside our borders beyond the masses of humanity that include ourselves.

    The diversity now in our midst is a rich yet untapped or under-tapped resource from which there is much to learn about different ways of being in the world. This is one of the guiding presumptions in arguments for a diverse student population, namely that a diverse student community creates conditions for an enriching learning experience. Yet we cannot be satisfied with only bringing together students from diverse backgrounds to learn from each other. If the university does not take the opportunity to learn from the diversity already within its midst, then an important opportunity for engaging with other ways of being in the world will have been lost. In the vast richness of intellectual and artistic resources across our campus, students are constantly being challenged to understand the world that surrounds them.

    But in what ways is the institution challenging itself to engage with who our students are? Where have they come from and by what paths? How do we as faculty and the courses and curricula we teach facilitate dialogue about our students‘ engagements with who they are and how they have come to be here at this university? In my own work as a scholar who studies the role of musical performance in society and in my responsibilities as director of one of four ethnic studies programs here at Michigan, I advocate for the opportunities to engage with “otherness” as an important means of self discovery and self understanding.

    In the process, I have also come to see that engagements with our students‘ otherness tend to happen only selectively, in certain kinds of venues and not others, to some kinds of audiences but not others and with some kinds of participants but not others. Student-initiated cultural shows are extra curricular. Should they not be discussed inside the classrooms? Area studies courses examine overseas populations. Should we not also be studying those communities now resident in the United States whose ancestry traces to those lands both distant and foreign?

    The stakes in these questions are intellectual, in a way that goes to the very core of the university‘s mission to create new knowledge. It is the responsibility of all great universities to transmit knowledge of the monuments of science, faith and beauty from antiquity, but it is also the responsibility of all great universities to generate knowledge and critique about our own contemporary conditions and to assert leadership in imagining and creating new spaces and ways of being for a shared future. If we can recognize how the horizons of knowledge might be limited by not fully engaging with otherness in all of its facets then we can also see the important opportunity of this moment to affirm our commitment to understanding diversity globally by beginning right here at home.

    Let us also be mindful of the multiplicity of vantage points from which diversity can be viewed. I come from a part of the world that is very different from the landscape here in Michigan. I was born and raised on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This has everything to do with how I move through the world that I now inhabit. Out in the Pacific, being surrounded by water is the way the world should be. On an island it is possible to see the water from many places on land. Here in Michigan, the experience of being land locked is for me, a very abnormal way of being in the world. Even the Great Lakes have a finiteness because I know the other shore is just over the horizon, only hours away by surface and not days or weeks or months.

    My ancestors were voyagers who used the stars, winds and waves to navigate across thousands of miles of open ocean. Surrounded by water, they were never limited by it.

    Land locked people without maritime traditions experience the ocean as a barrier. They move across land with great ease but stop at the water‘s edge. Islanders, in contrast see the water as a highway and move across it with ease. Pacific traditions of navigation involve reading of all the signs, the directions of winds, waves and currents, the colors of the water and clouds, the variety of birds and marine life. From the deck of a canoe a horizon is never finite and moving through the world is as fluid as the winds and the waves.

    To be a university of the world, I suggest, is to fully engage with the infinite horizons of our diverse humanity on a scale that is truly and inclusively global.

    Two-Way Windows: Historical Visions and Social Realities in St. Petersburg and the West

    William G. Rosenberg
    William Rosenberg is the Alfred G. Meyer Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and a scholar of Russian and comparative history.

    Rather than talk about what a “university for the world” might do in the world, I want to spend my few minutes talking about what the concept of a “university of the world” might imply about our own visions of the world. At issue here is more than what we see through our mind's eye when we think or talk about the “world.” It has to do above all with the complex relationship between vision and actuality, between what we think we are seeing (or would like to think we are seeing), and what is, what was, and what will be.

    I use the past and future here not only because I am an historian, but because when we think and talk about a university of the world, we must have in mind Michigan's role in a world that is dynamic, unstable, undergoing constant and even radical change, as it moves constantly toward historically conditioned futures. Nor is it a world with a stable past. The experiences of every present moment are constantly being formed into individual and collective memories.

    Let me illustrate what I have in mind here by saying a few words about the ways the stories of Russia's historical experiences have been told, my area of research and, for better or worse, enduring attachment. Tsarist Russia both before and after Peter the Great was in most ways inferior to the West: socially, technologically, militarily and especially in cultural terms. The building of the city itself, soon brilliant beyond imagination in comparison to all other Russian cities and to those in Europe as well, was accompanied by the development of a splendid Western cultural tradition, one we admire to this day. Since 1991, as Peter wished, the window is once again open and Russia once again has the potential at least, of developing “like us.”

    What is wrong with this hackneyed story is not that it does not have some elements of truth. The problem is that it appropriates real experiences and actual pasts and presents in favor of certain imagined futures, and in doing so, privileges the object of Peter's vision, an attractive West, instead of the objectivities and subjectivities of Russian history itself. In the process, not only are the actualities of Russia's own lived experiences greatly distorted or obscured; so are the different meanings these experiences may have given to the idea of the "West" itself within Russia, and especially its envisioned virtues.

    Let me illustrate very briefly with three examples taken from the history of this glorious city. As true and as important as the cultural glories of St. Petersburg are the human costs the city absorbed from the very first days of its creation. Peter's indifference, and that of his successors, to the human costs of building and maintaining this "window" in a harsh and inhospitable swamp was as much a part of the culture he helped develop as its monumental achievements, maybe more so.

    For many who lived there, and especially the burgeoning group of critical thinkers and writers that developed into an incredibly vibrant intelligentsia, the very disparity between cultural, political and social forms that the city reflected became a consuming problem. Or consider the moment in the city's history, when St. Petersburg became Leningrad, and the window on the West slammed shut. St Petersburg's revolutionary transformation after October 1917 is now told almost entirely through the tropes of victimization, Russia's cultured Westernized center now caught in the Bolsheviks' demonic vice. What is missing is the ways the Russian revolution itself was broadly experienced, not in relation to Western achievements, but in terms of new, unimaginable and almost inexplicable Western brutality, the indescribable devastation of that most modern of Western creations, total war.

    As would again be the case only 20 years later in World War II, the scale of Russian losses and Russian suffering far exceeded anything experienced in England, France, and even Germany, not to mention the United States.

    To briefly take a last example, do I really need to remind this audience of the devastating costs in human terms that the retransformation of Leningrad back into St. Petersburg has exacted since 1991—this most recent moment of windows again opening to the West? Now, of course, the windows opened on a prosperous, just, and democratic West, a land of plentiful gas stations, polite drivers and fully equipped SUVs, envisioned as much from the fantasies of American television as from the economic injunctions of Harvard and Chicago economists.

    And here, what is important is not so much that a range of neo-liberal ideologies now subordinated virtually all concerns for human welfare to the shocking therapies of the market, nor even that this subordination itself tended to naturalize a vast pattern of deprivation and inequity every bit as powerful in shaping meaning as the accompanying exuberance of personal and civic freedom.

    It is, rather, that Western visions themselves could not readily be seen as problematic through the triumphalist lenses with which the post-Soviet world was now being viewed. This brings me back to the question at hand: what do we have in mind when we conceptualize Michigan as a "university of the world"? May I suggest that perhaps the question might better be, how do we confront our own self-confidence, challenge our own sense of superiority that metaphors like "windows on the West" create and reinforce, and stimulate our students to think critically about themselves in relation to the world. How do we get them to examine carefully the ways grand historical narratives, especially our own, distort and obscure the ways continuous presents are actually experienced, and multiple pasts remembered? How do we assure an understanding that cultural values, by their very relation to the experience of looking outward, contested values, that visions and actualities are always complexly and problematically linked? How, in sum, do we cultivate the capacity in Michigan students, to interrogate what they tend to think of as the natural conditions of their own superior way of life, to undermine the tendency to fetishize otherness, and displace these simplifications with a genuine appreciation of the world's complexity?

    Paradoxically, when the Soviet Union was viewed as an enemy, we understood that this repressive and problematic place could only be understood from the inside out, as it were: by immersing ourselves in its language, culture, history, by understanding its aspirations and realities as much as its dangers.

    In the national climate that has developed since the Soviet collapse, however, the tendency has become to think that there are no viable alternatives to our own institutions and visions. Perhaps the question that should concern us most, therefore, is how to assure that our students accurately grasp how others see us, know their languages, comprehend the different meanings they may give to life's experience and think critically about the world's many windows of vision. A university of the world, in sum, will have to take us beyond our projections onto the world, and assure the self-critical humility that we at Michigan need to understand it.

    International Collaborative Science on the Net

    Gary M. Olson
    Gary Olsen is the Paul M. Fitts Professor of Human Computer Interaction and associate dean of research at the School of Information.

    I want to talk about a specific example illustrative of a concept many of us here at Michigan have been working on, called the collaboratory. It is the idea that you would actually use the Internet to create the modern distributed version of a laboratory.

    A collaboratory is an organizational entity that spans distance, supports rich and recurring human interaction oriented to a common research area and provides access to data sources, artifacts and tools required to accomplish research tasks.

    To us this means support of three kinds of activities: first, people-to-people communication; secondly, access to information that is needed for research, whether it is in the form of digital libraries, electronic publications, databases and so forth; and third, access to the world, to specialized facilities at some particular location or access to remote parts of the world.

    The University of Michigan is a leader in this area. Over the last decade we have had more than a dozen collaboratory projects funded mostly by federal sources. A number of the faculty here have served in leadership roles in this area and various national conferences. We have a project underway, called the “Science of Collaboratory Project,” that is doing a meta-analysis of all the collaboratory projects that have been done over the last decade. This is a concept about how we can become more globally engaged in carrying out or supporting research.

    An example of international importance to illustrate this is the world-wide AIDS epidemic in Africa, where the epidemic is really in crisis form. The very existence of nation states in sub-Saharan Africa is being threatened by the epidemic‘s scale and scope in that region of the world. The statistics for the very southern tip of sub-Saharan Africa are really quite daunting. Botswana, a very small country just north of South Africa, has the highest HIV positive rate of infection. Thirty-eight percent of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 is HIV positive. By contrast, the figure in the US for the corresponding group is 0.3 percent. Furthermore, the variety of HIV present in Africa is different from that present in North America and most of Europe, so some of the technical issues of searching for treatments or vaccines are quite different.

    We at Michigan have gotten engaged in this problem under a project called the International AIDS Research Collaboratory. We‘re working now with two fairly comprehensive projects looking at a variety of problems in the region. Both projects are studying mother/infant transmissions studies of the drug Neveropene by examining anti-retroviral therapies and are gearing up to test vaccine candidates. Furthermore, these projects are engaged in education, one of the social interventions that can be quite powerful. Not only healthcare workers, but also members of the public (who are potential infectees) are working with the project, especially in the rural parts of the region.

    The first project is a three-way collaboration involving Harvard University, the University of Oxford and the School of Medicine at the University of Netal in Durbin. This project originally began in Durbin, which is in the Kwa-Zulu Netal province where the infection is the highest, but in the past year or so they have expanded their scope to much of the rest of South Africa, in particular the Johannesburg area and the area around Cape Town. The project collaborators are doing basic biological work on the nature of HIV and one of the issues is how to network them together so they can do more large scale, coordinated clinical trials of various treatment options.

    The second project is in Botswana, and it also involves Harvard University and the government of Botswana through the Ministry of Health. This project was headquartered in the capital city of Habaroni, but they have expanded their reach to include many rural clinics around the countryside.

    Our work with HIV/AIDS collaboratories goes beyond Africa to other parts of the world as well. One of the representative projects is the Great Lakes Regional Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), which was the first example of a virtual center for doing AIDS research. This project was funded by the National Institute of Health and it is a collaboratory involving four Big Ten universities—Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

    Through this virtual center, several people at different locations were able to talk about the structure of a clinical trial. In the course of several hours of conferencing in this way, they had the ability to put together the structure of a clinical trial that previously would have taken them many weeks to do. This CFAR also conducted virtual seminars where speakers didn‘t even have to come to the center; they could be at their home institutions. Moreover, people who were traveling could just use their laptops to connect into the seminar. This is a successful example of how CFAR produced some very positive results on the pace and character of the research done by those four universities.

    What about southern Africa? Now of course southern Africa has a much less developed technical infrastructure, but as you might guess the motivation is very high. My colleague Derek Cogburn, also in the School of Information, has for the past four or five years conducted a geographically distributed class involving schools in the US and South Africa. The course is taught over the Internet through live sessions that meet two or three hours every week and the students do coordinated projects over the course of the semester.

    He was able to show there is off-the-shelf commercial technology today that is up to the task of doing this, even in rural areas like Fort Haire in South Africa. The only tools you really need for a project like this are two capabilities. One is the ability to communicate principally by voice. The video is useful for some purposes, but voice is really critical. And today it is possible to do voice conferencing over the Internet, and it works all over the world because of some clever technologies that have emerged to package the voice in efficient ways. The second thing you need is application sharing. There needs to be some way to share the work objects, whether it is an image, a document, a spreadsheet or whatever it is. In our experience of over ten years we‘ve learned that these are the two most powerful tools you can provide to people who want to work together.

    We are supporting a collection of other activities modeled much after the CFAR. They include lab meetings involving researchers, and clinical meetings for physicians. The latter are especially helpful when clinical settings in rural areas want to access an expert, say in one of the big cities in South Africa or Habaroni or even overseas. There is a lot of activity in this area, so much so that there will be a conference this fall in Johannesburg that brings together information technology investigators who are looking at a variety of different ways to use information technology to support work on this terrible epidemic in the region.

    To conclude, there are issues that are global, the expertise is often geographically distributed and we have the tools to work on them anywhere today.

    Becoming a Global University

    C.K. Prahalad
    C.K. Prahalad is the Harvey C. Fruehauf Professor of Business Administration.

    What does being a global university mean? Sheer size and scope of activities cannot make a University global. It must serve all people of the world, the rich and the poor alike. That, I think, is the real challenge for us at Michigan. For the last decade more than five billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, the poorest people, the disenfranchised, have become part, or are willing to become part of the free world—at least politically; they are not yet there economically.

    The bottom of the pyramid has tremendous unmet needs and I am going to share with you some of those. Here are five billion people who need new solutions. This demands rigorous research, a very different approach to public education and to extension service, which has been the tradition of this university and all the other land grant universities around the United States.

    How do you get a very large number of people engaged in universal education? We cannot even approach this problem if we don‘t fundamentally change our own genetic code as a university. If we start with the assumption the poor are an intractable problem and it‘s not specifically the concern of a great university such as Michigan, then we have to do nothing different.

    We have to change and ask new questions. We need to be concerned about the poor, either because of a moral obligation, intellectual excitement or a new business opportunity. Irrespective of our motivation to get engaged, educating five billion people will force us to fundamentally challenge the ways we have done our work so far in the university-a location—based approach to teaching, learning and research.

    I believe that the bottom of the pyramid poses fundamentally new questions for all of us. How do you marry very low cost, extremely good quality, sustainable development and profitability at the same time? I make no apologies for using the word profitability. Call it surplus if you will. We need to reinvest and we need to create a surplus. How do we visualize an active market for knowledge, when all we can see is abject poverty? How do we look at a “swamp” and imagine a “theme park”? That is what I‘m asking us to do. Let us look at the critical tasks of a global university that engages the bottom of the pyramid in its mission.

    Let us start with education. I believe that we cannot solve this problem with existing ways of developing and delivering knowledge. We need to fundamentally rethink how we do research and how we disseminate our research. For example, I know that class sizes are an important concern to the faculty, the administration and the students here on campus. As a faculty member I have thought about it a lot. But I‘m asking myself, what would happen if I had a class of 300,000 students around the world at the same time? Do we have the courage to imagine it? And how do we do that? If I had a 300,000-student class, each student could access a lecture for five cents. And even the president of the University under these tough financial circumstances would be very happy. Just do the math and you will find it is a very profitable proposition.

    The bottom of the pyramid also raises some critical and new research questions. I am going to outline some of them. I believe that access to credit must become a basic birthright just as political freedom is a birthright. But what follows access to political freedom? To me it is access to credit. That‘s what made this country great. That is what I think poor people want. In most parts of the world, the line between poverty and getting out of poverty is only $15 to $20. It is just gaining access to credit!

    Now, access to credit raises all kinds of interesting interdisciplinary research questions. What should be basis for contract law, when we consider five billion people, most of whom are illiterate? How do we create a viable business at low rates of interest coupled with small amounts of loans or savings? How do we do credit analysis? What is the sociology of peer group pressure in creating contractual discipline?

    Second, everyone should have access to high quality health care. That creates a fundamentally new challenge, for doctors, health workers, sociologists and of course, business managers. Providing access to world-class healthcare at very low costs is possible. Let me show you the data. Aravind Eye hospital in Madurai, India does only cataract operations—200,000 or so per year. In fact the largest eye care facility in the world, 60 percent of the patients get treatment free. For the rest, it costs about 10 dollars. The quality of care—the recovery rate—is the same as it is here in the US. Is there a challenge here—affordable and world-class health care for the bottom of the pyramid?

    Third, if the promise of ubiquitous connectivity becomes a reality—if everyone is connected through Internet and wireless, will it unite us or will it divide us? So what is the implication of having Internet connections in villages?

    Fourth, “Should knowledge be free?” The open source movement is here to stay. This is a huge issue. How do we approach it as a university when what we “create and market” is knowledge? And we cannot walk away from it as a university. Apart from the moral and ethical issues, there are legal and technical issues involved. Should we shape this debate?

    What is the meaning of expertise? Should we associate expertise with formal education? We need to research the logic of other systems, which do not look like what we do. Do the “dubbawallahs” in Mumbai, who created one of the most interesting logistics systems in the world, have expertise?

    Are there new forms of organizations? Do we have to build large legal entities? Can you have highly distributed small local organizations that get the benefits and efficiencies of large organizations? Can we develop networks of organizations that have no legal obligations but have strategic and operational connections?

    How do we connect the very poor with the very rich? Is women‘s empowerment critical to development? In everything that I have studied, without empowering women, developmental efforts stall. Given our educational mission, how do we empower women and therefore children who represent the future? Can standards of civil society and local customs coexist? Should sustainable development be a collective concern for all of us?

    I could add to the list. But I just wanted to indicate the “big research questions” that the bottom of the pyramid raises. Give the intellectual appeal, should the U-M make a university-wide commitment to the inclusion of the five billion poor people in our research, education and service agenda? Becoming inclusive in this sense is at the heart of becoming a global university. I believe the bottom of the pyramid is a big and an emerging opportunity and deserves the nature of commitment we have made to the life sciences.

    I do not believe that this transformation could take place without a tremendous amount of imagination, passion and courage. Intellect we have in great measure at the University, but this commitment requires passion and courage, as well as a lot of humility and humanity and maybe some luck in getting it done.