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July 1, 2004 saw a change at the helm of the International Institute. Michael D. Kennedy resumed his faculty role as a professor of sociology after five years of dedicated service as vice provost for international affairs and director of the International Institute. Mark Tessler, Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the Center for Political Studies at U-M's Institute for Social Research, has assumed the position.
Professor Tessler spoke about his international interests in a recent conversation summarized by Journal editor Eleanor Shelton.
Raised in Youngstown, Ohio I had a typically American upbringing, with all the good things that come with growing up in a small midwestern town. It was in college at Case Western Reserve University that I took my first courses in international relations and became interested in the larger world, and subsequently in the Middle East in particular. I spent a year in Israel during college and that really opened my eyes to other countries and world affairs. When I graduated, I thought that the Arab world would be closed to me because of my experience in Israel. But I was quite mistaken. As part of graduate work at Northwestern University I spent two years in Tunisia, an Arab country that at the time had a very progressive political and social agenda. I took courses at the University of Tunis, and for my dissertation I conducted a survey dealing with the political and cultural attitudes of ordinary men and women.
I keep learning more and broadening my perspective as I travel and do research, especially about the Arab-Israeli conflict and other issues related to politics and society in the Middle East. With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, I spent a lot of time in the area during the first Intafada and shared the excitement of Israelis and Palestinians about the peace process that it helped bring about. And I also share the deep disappointment of many on both sides that the process subsequently collapsed. On the other hand, the progress that was made in the early- and mid-1990s shows that peace is not impossible; it is attainable if both sides have the political will to make the necessary compromises.
These are also challenging times for U.S. involvement in the region. As I travel in the area, I hear many complaints about America's Middle East policies. Some of my own research involving public opinion surveys in a number of Arab countries pertains to these issues. This research shows that there is broad support for democracy and political reform in many Arab countries, and a belief that the U.S. often supports governments that resist democratization; that a solid majority among the Palestinians (and also Israelis) supports the principle not only of peace but also of reconciliation based on territorial compromise and mutual recognition; and that dissatisfaction with U.S. foreign policy in most instances does not bring with it negative views about American society or the American people. A particularly interesting finding is that attitudes toward terrorism are not shaped by religious beliefs or cultural values but rather by judgments about domestic and international political and economic circumstances.
Before coming to U-M in 2001, I taught at both the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Arizona. I enjoyed and learned a lot from both institutions, but U-M is an especially wonderful place for me. I feel extremely fortunate to be here. U-M has one of the top political science departments in the country, it also has outstanding international and area studies programs, and it is the best place in the world for survey research. It's about as good as it can be for someone with my particular scholarly interests.
Being at the International Institute, like being at U-M, is a great honor. There is an amazing array of expertise and talent on which to draw, and I expect innovations and new initiatives to grow out of the interests and commitments of these individuals. Our mission is to be a presence across the campus in a way that interfaces with many colleges and departments, almost all of which have excellent programs with an international focus. My goal is to build on the excellent foundation laid by my predecessor, Michael Kennedy, and on the many opportunities that are already available. Students as well as faculty will be the focus of these efforts. Enhancing course offerings and student programs with international content is definitely on the agenda.
For more information about Mark Tessler, visit <http://www.umich.edu/~iinet/ iisite/press/pr_tessler.html>, or read "Tessler named vice provost and director of International Institute," The University Record, June 7, 2004.