Cornell is an international university, and over the next several years it is likely to become more so. Is it appropriate for our university to increase our international presence? To encourage more Cornell undergraduates to seek a study abroad experience? To welcome thousands of international students and scholars each year? Should we expend efforts and resources toward internationalization when there are so many pressing needs right here in Ithaca?
I believe that the answer to all those questions is “yes.” Universities need to engage the world to educate American students to function in a global economy, to expose them to the breadth of world cultures and to continue to address common problems in an interconnected world. In many cases, collaboration across national borders is the most effective way to attack a variety of research problems and to build human and institutional capacity in the developing world.
As you read this column, I should be in Tokyo meeting with the Cornell Club of Japan, whose more than 350 members — alumni, parents and friends of the University — come together about a half dozen times a year to stay connected with each other and with the University. Earlier this week, I was in Saudi Arabia representing Cornell at the groundbreaking of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology — a new educational venture, which aspires to attain international stature in science and technology. Our own Cornell President Emeritus Frank Rhodes and an international group of advisors have offered advice and partnership in formulating policies and procedures for the new university.
In the days to come, several members of the Cornell faculty and leadership will be joining me in visiting Cornell alumni in Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. We will be meeting with alumni and academic colleagues about partnerships, exchanges and other collaborations, formally celebrating the placement at Peking University (Beida) of the first Cornell students participating in the China and Asia Pacific Studies undergraduate major, and inaugurating the Beida-Cornell Distinguished Lecture Series, a two-way speaker exchange program with an inaugural lecture by Cornell Provost Biddy Martin.
Cornell has a long history of international involvements. International students were enrolled in the very first Cornell class of 1868, and they have been part of our campus community ever since. Today we have a cosmopolitan body of students and scholars, and we rank as the 13th most international of American universities based on the number of international students enrolled. The presence of international students at Cornell brings benefits to the entire campus community. International students serve as research and teaching assistants at the graduate level. They share their cultures and perspectives with the campus through special events and day-to-day interactions, and they contribute to the richness and diversity of the campus, from which we all benefit.
International research and capacity building also have a long history at Cornell. The Cornell-Nanking Crop Improvement Program, a cooperative agricultural exchange program, was carried out in China between 1925 and 1931 to improve the major food crops of northern China and train Chinese investigators in crop improvement techniques. That effort paved the way for many post-World War II technical assistance programs involving American universities and their counterparts overseas.
Today, the Einaudi Center, Cornell Abroad and a long list of faculty-initiated research collaborations mark Cornell as an effective partner in international pursuits. Newer initiatives that have signaled Cornell’s emergence as a premier international university include the Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar, the first American medical school to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Earlier this fall, we announced the establishment of a master’s of professional studies degree program in international agriculture, with emphasis on watershed management, at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia. We also recently hosted a Gates Foundation workshop on agriculture and information technology for the developing world and established an Engineering Study Abroad pilot program in Spain.
There is more that we can do, not only on our own campus, but also in partnership with others, to make universities more central to human and institutional capacity building overseas. At last spring’s commencement ceremonies in Schoellkopf Stadium and at Weill Cornell Medical College’s commencement at Carnegie Hall, I suggested that American research universities could be the center of a new type of global university initiative devoted to capacity building in the developing world.
For several years, there has been growing enthusiasm at Cornell, in the broader higher education community and in other sectors for a serious exploration of the role that America’s colleges and universities can play in building human and institutional capacity abroad. On our own campus, we have seen a substantial increase in requests from students and faculty members for funding that would allow them to carry out short-term projects and/or participate in short-term study or service opportunities abroad. We do not yet have the resources we need to meet all of these requests.
We are, however, refining our campaign priorities as they relate to our international programs. Certainly needs on our own campuses are paramount, but I choose not to see this as a “zero-sum” game. We must and will seek other, specific support for international activities, and I firmly believe that the current global climate, especially the frictions, fears and misunderstandings between cultures, requires responses that universities are uniquely qualified to supply: dialogue, learning, creativity and discovery. I look forward to discussion with the campus community and alumni to develop the optimal emphasis on international endeavors for Cornell.
David J. Skorton is the President of Cornell University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. From David appears every month.