Being Responsive to the World

    Babak Orandi
    Babak Orandi is a first-year student at the medical school at the University of Michigan. He completed his undergraduate work at the U-M in December 2001 and graduated with a bachelor‘s degree in Spanish.

    As a US Department of State intern in Santiago, Chile last year, I had a particularly thought-provoking experience. As an Embassy employee, I was given free passes to FIDAE 2002—the Federación Internacional de Aviones Exposición 2002—an impressive display of the air force power of a dozen or so countries. The occasion also served as a trade show for defense corporations to display their latest innovations. Company representatives were touting the latest modifications to their products, whether it was to increase surveillance activities or to better mount ground attacks. One could not help but leave such an event with a sense of amazement at such military might.

    The next day, while walking through the city, I happened upon Santiago‘s Museum of Fine Arts and decided to pay a visit. I found a large exhibit of the works of Oswaldo Guayasamín, whose macabre paintings serve as a protest of the treatment of the indigenous peoples of such countries as Nepal and Nicaragua. His garish use of colors and the frightening qualities of the subjects‘ faces in Edward Munch‘s The Scream served as a powerful reminder of the horrors of war.

    “A University of the World.” Such a title carries a great deal of obligation with it. The university must serve as a forum for the exchange of different, and often contradictory, ideas in order to challenge paradigms, much like the experience I described earlier with the stark juxtaposition of military might and peace protest. The university must be a stage for scholars, students, speakers, activists, artists and scientists to ponder and discuss the issues of our day. The university must facilitate the creation of new ideas, products, technology, research and solutions to bridge the divide of diametrically opposed points of view.

    But to be truly global, the university must create practical academia—knowledge that is subsequently translated into action. Without applying the knowledge gained to create substantive changes to improve the human condition, then, a university cannot be a universal university—it remains an ivory tower, accessible to only a privileged few. It is this final role and responsibility of a “world‘s” university that is perhaps the most difficult, but certainly the most important, to fulfill. Such an institution has obligations beyond the immediate parties involved—students, faculty, staff, tuition-payers and taxpayers. Jealously guarded tomes, collecting dust on the shelves of private libraries, benefit too few and actually limit the strength, capabilities and influence of the ideas contained within such texts. Rather, the information gained should be shared with those who have the least access and would probably benefit the most. That is not to say that all of a university‘s intellectual property must be given away at no cost. As Professor C. K. Prahalad said during the “For a University of the World” public symposium, the need for profit stems from the necessity to reinvest in order to reap further knowledge. The quest for profit must be tempered with the understanding that perpetuating the cycle of the generation of knowledge is the end goal, rather than the profit itself.

    In essence, a university must serve its constituents. Rather than accountable only to matriculated students, a “university of the world” is responsible to all of the citizens of the world.

    Lessons from Professional Education

    Phillip M. Edwards
    Phillip M. Edwards in a graduate student in the School of Information.

    In her address at the “For a University of the World” symposium, Professor Amy K. Stillman acknowledged the conditioning role that our perspective has upon the development of global and diverse academic environments. Considering the ways in which people of other cultures and nations define the scope of problems may provide valuable insights into the manner in which we approach scholarship. The nature of scholarship, however, varies across levels of education: undergraduate, graduate, professional.

    I am currently a master‘s degree student at the School of Information, a program that is historically grounded in professional education. Programs of this type arguably embody different foci than other graduate programs. In professional education, outcomes are measured in terms of the preparation of graduates to enter a professional workforce with a certain skill set. At the School of Information, for example, our curriculum relies upon a balance between theory and practice to achieve this goal.

    But what does this preparation—especially at professional schools within a large, research-driven institution like the University of Michigan—entail in an international context? Professional education often places a premium on both the evaluation of multiple perspectives and critical self-reflection; moreover, the model of education and discovery employed by professional programs may offer additional insight into how research can be approached in other academic disciplines.

    Extending from the notion that we must develop an appreciation of multiple perspectives, I argue that we must also make an effort to demonstrate relevance of theoretical constructs to practical applications. Research findings increase in global importance as their relevance to communities broadens. The only way in which one can determine how relevant a discovery is to a particular community is, as Professor Stillman suggests, to become engaged with that community. The tension between theory and practice cultivated in professional schools positions analyses of relevance and interconnectedness highly among curricular priorities.

    Perhaps the demonstration of relevance is best illustrated by an example. Consider the adoption of Internet-based information and communication technologies (ICTs) in industrialized and developing countries. While these enabling technologies allow the rates of information dissemination and sharing to increase, it is the resulting development of relationships between individuals that makes advances in enabling technology relevant to these communities. Introduction of technology was a prerequisite, yet the social benefits derived by individuals as a result of that pure innovation are where the global relevance resides. In this case, the introduction of technology was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    As academics, we should not lose sight of this distinction between means and ends, nor should we underestimate the significance of the human element in everything we do. People can infer the substantive significance of information, people are responsible for transforming raw information into knowledge and people can uniquely apply this knowledge to novel settings. Engaging with communities to discover new applications of research allows us to demonstrate relevance.

    In order to truly become a global university, we must recognize that our academic research does not exist in isolation from the world. Research is valuable when it is applied to practical concerns; we contribute to the global community when we become engaged in the process of applying what we have learned. This has long been the focus of professional schools, and its importance for all academic programs should not be overlooked. We must not only take a more active international role in the production of research results, but we should also attempt to evaluate the relevance of these findings and test the validity of our assumptions. Engaging in global scholarship, demonstrating practical relevance and embracing the importance of communities will help secure a place for the research university in the future.

    Building a University of the World Starts at Home

    Albert Sheng
    Albert Sheng graduated in April 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree, completing majors both in political science and statistics. He plans to attend law school at the College of William and Mary in the fall.

    What constitutes a university of the world? Is it the diversity of its students, the reach of its communications, the scope of its research or the quality of its teachings? Certainly, all four attributes contribute to the making of a world-class educational institution. However, world-class and of-the-world are two different concepts. For any one to be world-class requires only excellence in the endeavors in which he is engaged. But for him to be of-the-world, he must be able to use that excellence to serve the public. Whether measured by diversity, infrastructure, research or the reputation and competence of its staff, the University of Michigan is already a world-class institution. Therefore, transforming Michigan into a university of the world is a matter of how to leverage these hard assets to best serve the people of the world.

    As an undergraduate with limited knowledge of organizational studies, I will defer to the experts on how to better organize the university‘s resources to serve humanity. Professor C.K. Prahalad already gave an informative speech on the subject during the symposium. Rather, I would like point out some challenges facing the university‘s service to its most immediate public—its undergraduate students.

    The first is how to balance the increasing cost of education with the need to provide affordable access to higher learning. The U-M‘s undergraduate program is among the most expensive of the public universities. Recent economic hardships have not only affected the ability of enrolled students to pay tuition, but also inevitably affected the decision of perspective students to attend the university. The U-M prides itself on the ethnic and cultural diversity among its students. Should not the university be concerned about economic diversity as well? Indeed, if current trends continue, how diverse would the university be if most of its students come from middle upper class backgrounds? The current system of financial aid is inadequate to meet the increasing demand for student aid, because economic downturns also erode the university‘s own financial position. To address the problem of affordability, the university needs to change its cost structure. The U-M has to spend to maintain its status as a renowned international research university. But the university could also use its own innovations to reduce costs. By broadcasting lectures to several classrooms at once, the video conferencing and cooperative work technology demonstrated by professor Gary Olson could be used to increase the reach of the university‘s educators while reducing cost. The university does not have to sacrifice research or educational quality for affordability.

    Another challenge facing the university is how to foster a stronger sense of community among students. Here at Michigan, we can say with pride and confidence that there is great ethnic and cultural diversity within the student body. But is there sufficient interaction among students for them to benefit from this diversity that the university has strived so hard to achieve? The communal bond among Michigan students is weak. Beyond the occasional football game, few events bring the student body together. Many students are ill informed about the function of the student government and campus issues. While there are many ethnic student organizations, these organizations facilitate more within group than between group interactions. The university has traditionally taken a hands-off approach to student interactions outside the classroom clearly separating the curricular from the extra-curricular. However, if the education of students goes beyond the classroom, should not the university also get involved outside the classroom? The university should take a pro-active stance in building a stronger student community by providing incentives for cultural interaction within its diverse student body. Perhaps the university could offer participation in ethnic student organizations as an alternative means of fulfilling the race and ethnicity requirement.

    Building a university of the world is a daunting task even for a world-class institution such as the U-M. Even before we look towards the world, we see great challenges at home. But the University of Michigan has tremendous material and intellectual resources. It has the ability to leverage its advantages and innovate solutions. And as evidenced by this symposium, its management has the self-critical humility and ambition to make the University of Michigan a university of the world.