Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

Academic Presumptions

The growth of university-seated expertise on the world reflected remarkable national, institutional, and private investments in faculties, libraries, research programs, and curriculum.1 This growth also reflected the play of national security interests on the priorities and capacities of the university. And, especially in the 1990s, this growth reflected an engagement with the idea of globalization and its anticipated effect on every area of life. Not only were the academic disciplines involved in the productions of knowledge on the broader world but training, research, and practice in virtually every profession represented in the university became engaged with the world beyond the United States. The "international" became an essential and well-supported life-stream within the institutions of American higher education. Institutions elsewhere sought to draw on that model and to develop collaborations. These collaborations would, in turn, tie the success of universities and other constituencies from across the world together with the fates of American universities. The meanings of these ties for different national universities, and for the articulation of publics in different nations and across them, are yet to be measured, but evidence of thisPage  21 globalization of knowledge is wholly visible across the American university.2/2a

The opportunities presented to the American academy by new and well resourced openings to the world, the recognition of enlarging fields of practice and research, the challenges of remaking curricula to account for dramatic changes across the globe ... these assured—within American higher education—a heightened level of attention to the broader world, the world beyond the United States. As well, schools have in more formal ways even redefined their mission in international or global terms. For example, the University of Michigan Business School recently redefined itself around a global mission:

Understanding and being effective in the global business environment is not an option. It is a fundamental. At Michigan, that reality is reflected throughout the MBA curriculum, in the international cast of the student body, and in the most comprehensive and in-depth advanced opportunities available anywhere for developing global business knowledge and capability. The University of Michigan Business School is itself a thoroughly global organization, interacting with businesses and educational organizations in dozens of countries and with operations and company partnerships all over the world. [1]

Universities elsewhere in the world have also sought to reach beyond their own national terrains. Whether in the expression of consortia such as Universitas 21 [2] or in the making of specific bilateral linkages, the creation of relationships among institutions across national boundaries has become integral to the ideals of globalization of higher education. For example, the University of Michigan College of Engineering and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) signed an agreement on August 21, 2000, to restructure the School of Mechanical Engineering at SJTU with the following jointly evolved justification:

SJTU wants to become the first institution in China to develop a rigorous faculty evaluation and promotion/tenure system, which will be based on Michigan's system. It is SJTU's goal to develop a faculty with four or five internationally recognized leaders as well as 30 to 40 faculty members who speak English, leading toPage  22 the development of a bilingual lecture system. Also, SJTU hopes to establish research groups that will gain international recognition and a possible Engineering Research Center (ERC), modeled on ERCs in the United States. It is expected that one important result of these changes will be to improve SJTU's ability to recruit top engineering students. [3]

Today these partnerships may seem to arise from a general process of globalization, but, when viewed closely, many such partnerships have developed as extensions of the particular research interests of individual faculty members (to assure continued access to research fields and laboratories for themselves and their students). And they have, as well, been constructed around the ambitions of smaller institutions to build connections to specializations beyond their means. The narratives of globalization of higher education have overwhelmed the diverse and situational developments through which many of these international partnerships have been constituted. Yet they have been drawn into the strong narrative of globalization and, in turn, underwritten heightened attention to the values of the international within higher education.3

These global ties and international partnerships may, in the language of globalization, represent a new stage in the development of the flow of ideas and practices across nations, but they also bring new and enlarged debate about the character of international scholarship, and the implicit relationship of the United States to the broader world. The moves toward the globalization of higher education have placed American-seated initiatives in a paradoxical and potentially irreconcilable position. On the one hand, the initiatives developing from within American institutions have been predicated on values of sharing knowledge globally, creating knowledge institutions of the world. On the other hand, the centering and self-centering of American institutions—themselves promoting international values within a competitive North American institutional environment—have tended to fashion the internationalizing and globalizing American institution as even more distinctively American. Within the United States, these debates over the terms and structures, the priorities and interests, through which the academy would address the wider world, have often reflected the particular institutional histories of the academy within the United States more than any direct comment on the place of America in thePage  23 world. There have been rigorous debates over the relative virtues of area studies and comparative social science models. There have been debates over the place of national security investments in the training of graduate and professional students. There have been debates over the integration of professional schools into humanities and social science-seated area and international studies. There have been debates over the degree of centrality of international relations within the ranges of disciplines, approaches, and interests. There have been debates over the relative importance of more or less applied and more or less theoretical fields of scholarship, research, and training. And there have been debates over the values of engagements and linkages with "the private sector" in the recasting of global and international studies in the university.4/5/5a

For many scholars and university administrators outside the United States, these contests and debates over what constituted the more appropriate and powerful addresses to the world seemed peculiarly American, and without seeming value, as they unfolded in one American institution after another. And some, both within and outside the United States, could reflect that these contests sometimes seemed to be much more about competition for scarce resources than about the relationship of American scholarship to the world. Nevertheless, and quite paradoxically, these variably parochial debates have strongly embedded the "international" into the American university ... if not quite yet embedding America into the international.6

In certain ways that are difficult to evaluate, the research university's early investments in broad computerization, in the development of the Internet and especially electronic mail, but also engagement with new knowledge management networks such as LexisNexis and digital public libraries, new dissemination models in electronic books and journals, and new instructional developments such as long-distance learning and Internet conferencing, reinforced the university's new relationship with the world beyond the campus, the world beyond the nation, intensifying the processes, at least the appearances, of internationalization. New technologies of communication were being constructed out of traditional university infrastructures; and they were promising opportunities for sharing and building knowledge at unprecedented speed and across networks unlimited by ideology, nation, language, region, or position in the world economy. [4] Such investments in technologies and communications inevitably repositioned university-based knowledgePage  24 production within, or accessible to, for-profit ventures, and to a certain extent this has, in turn, rendered the university's productions of knowledge within a commodity system in which questions are asked—even in public and non-profit institutions—concerning "the returns on investment." [5] These rationales have encouraged new pressures toward internationalization, toward reaching "broader markets," toward offering more and more valuable goods to the wider world.

In university after university, "comprehensive internationalization" has come to be seen as a benchmark of success in the race to become global leaders in higher education. And with that effort to realize a new level in the globalization of knowledge, an extraordinary range of practices and programs, sometimes cumulative, sometimes contradictory, have come to constitute "the international." The settlements of contests most commonly turned the university's international arrangements toward greater inclusiveness, giving more and more parties and units stakes in the process of internationalization. Comprehensive internationalization, seated in part in a situational and opportunistic inclusiveness, unfolded in tandem with an idea, or an ideal,of the North American university as a rather special, or unique, place in which conversations about the world, about the representations of others, about the appropriate role of knowledge institutions and expertise in the fate of the world, could be carried on as if outside the conventions and parochialisms of particular nations or regional interests.

The American university could be seen as a place illuminated and protected as a sphere of universal values, of unfolding protocols of research, learning, and practice that transcended national and secular interests. [6] This universal standing of the institution—an institution of the world as well as in the world—even encompassed recognition of the weight, the importance of, pluriversal (or multiversal) values. [7] American debates about multiculturalism, and the pressing forward of the values of diversity within America, seemed to resonate and reinforce the importance of transcending limitations of the nation. [8] This, paradoxically, seemed only to underwrite still more strongly the claims to, and the promotion of, universalism within the university, for only via the work of universal values could there emerge a recognition and appreciation of difference and of the values and meanings that others placed upon their worlds, their knowledge, and their perspectives.7/8

Page  25

Whether experienced as ideal or delusion, for many across the globe from the middle of the twentieth century, the American university came to be viewed as a microcosm of a future universe within which diverse experience could be respected and virtually any idea whatever its source could be expressed. [9] With its link to technological dynamism and claim to intellectual authority, the American university could be taken not only as an especially privileged and uniquely open site of learning but also as a model for institutions of higher learning anywhere in the world. Moreover, the university's openness, its freedoms, its diversity, could be taken as critical markers, or models, of a stronger future for the world's peoples. The research university, in its approach to the international, was hinged to two relatively distinct, and in certain ways irreconcilable, modalities: (1) the pursuit of values to extend "the rights of man" through knowledge construction, translation, and transfer; and (2) the pursuit of means—one could say the "modern"—to improve "the lot of man," to serve the world, and to rationalize that service to the world. Skeptics could argue that in the heady competition with for-profit organizations in pursuit of the latter, the university came to understand more clearly that its edge would increasingly be mainly in respect to the former.9/9a Links might be realized through consultations, partnerships in technology transfer, and the exchange of faculty and students, yet the implicit hope embodied in globalizing higher education rested on the assumption that openness, tolerance, and innovation simply, unproblematically, worked together, within America and across the world. [10]

These positive attributions from outside were also mirrored in the self-reflections of academic leaders within the American university, and within the networks and consortia that constantly brought together leaders, faculty, and students into common conversations. Not only did these parties believe these attributions to be correct, they also recognized that critical resources, monies—from government, foundations, and university administrators—were closely bound with discourses regarding the values of internationalization and globalization of higher education. The American future of higher education could represent, in these presumptions, the global future of innovation, openness, and the capacity for improvement through academic freedom, embodied within the American university but with an anticipation of the university of the world. Recently, major new investments in the internationalization of American higherPage  26 education by foundations such as Rockefeller, Mellon, and Ford tended to support scholarly openings to international engagements. Competitive grant programs encouraged relationships among scholars internationally and between American and overseas institutions as ways of further encouraging such connections and simultaneously seeding values of the international within American institutions in fresh ways ... that is, beyond the frameworks of older investments in the development of area-specific American expertise. The larger point seemed to be to move American universities and colleges beyond their American anchorages, towards a new station of the world. On September 10, 2001, there appeared to be little doubt that the great North American university was an institution of the world, something beyond the nation, something reflecting a future ... a future shaped by the increasingly sophisticated recognition of plural as well as universal values, a future in which such learning institutions as the North American university were beacons of a new and open order. One recognized the depths and complexities of the broader world, and one acknowledged that the university must adjust its facilities, faculties, and programs to attend to these depths and complexities. If something was sufficiently important, the university could address it. If something was sufficiently wrong, the university could say it. If funding could be found, the university could research it. Perhaps the priorities of legislatures, foundations, and donors would not match the integrity and ideals of the university's global ambition, but that was something that might be fixed by the increasing power of international learning among those who preside over allocations.

Utopian, naïve, or merely optimistic, such an academic presumption animated the vision of a university of the world located within North America, a university identified with global values and global futures. The university had positioned itself, or become positioned, as a "sacred space," a space that seemed far from confined by national or parochial interest. Rather, the university was defined by its commitment to learning through open and reasoned dialogue, teaching, and research.10 We develop this provisional formulation—"sacred space"—to mark the ways in which attributions of the unique standing of the institution, along with self-reflections of this standing, were held to be beyond contest. Academic freedom, the hallmark of the American university's distinction, was unlike other freedoms associated with the democracy or independence of the nation state. This freedom was supposed to stand beyondPage  27 question—and certainly beyond national interest—as it engaged the world and enabled the American university to realize its universality through its own comprehensive internationalization. But this comprehensive internationalization hardly questioned the grounds, translations, and expertise that underlay these ambitions.11/12/13/14