Archive for August, 2015

During Chautauqua Institution’s focus on Europe this summer, Ulrike Guerot, Director of the European Democracy Lab in Berlin, suggested that the EU should function much like a “united states of Europe.”

Dr. Guerot went so far as to suggest that United States of America’s “republic” could actually be a model for Europe. Each European country could elect representatives to go to Brussels specifically to make laws and regulations that insure the development of the EU into a solid economic and political power. She thinks achieving economic unity, and at least some measure of political compromise, is the only way to prevent future wars.

Just as in the US, she expects tensions would exist between the rights of each country and the collective needs of the EU. She also recognizes that the kind of extreme polarization which developed in the US also exists in the EU. But just as in the US, she argues this can be tolerated for a while, and addressed over time.

Many at Chautauqua found Dr. Guerot’s “big idea” a bit far-fetched. But it is an idea that could lead to an EU that would see benefit in longterm support for collaborative university research, teaching, and international problem-solving.

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This week deputy news editor of the British publication Times Higher Education, John Morgan, wrote that if the UK exits from the EU there is a potential loss of its annual 1.2 billon pounds in research money, and along with it the future of important multinational research projects. Such a move also raises questions about the flow of students and faculty between European countries.

I have previously written about the potential of the globalization of higher education to enable the development of significant new multinational, problem-solving focused research projects… as well as the development of international leaders. Unenlightened government policies, however, will make these goals very difficult to reach.

Simply put, government policies matter a lot. Government roles are changing everywhere. They can either enable or block progress. Some governments are mostly interested in enhancing their country’s prestige. These tend to focus support on science and technology. And some of these are mostly interested in upgrading only a handful of their largest universities. Others are primarily focused on creating and quickly filling jobs.

Washington seems to be headed in this jobs direction, ignoring the need to prepare students to deal with future career changes or the consequences of the rapid globalization of everything.

US higher education policy is being debated right now. But much of the partisan political rhetoric shows no appreciation for the role universities can play in restoring US global prestige, or in international leadership development, or in working with others to solve international problems.

University leaders and communicators, however, have the tools to make the case for higher education’s potential to make the world a better place. And when many speak as one the impact can be quite powerful.

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Each week in the summer The Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York offers top quality programming on a different major topic. This week the focus is on the turmoil in Europe. Lectures, breakout sessions, arts performances, and more, provide a perfect setting for discussion and reflection.

James Walters, chaplain at the London School of Economics, kicked off the week by asserting that Europe is suffering from a fundamental identity crisis. While the common currency seems to be holding disparate countries together, he also sees major religious and secular differences as troubling complications. He described modern Europe as a collection of constantly growing multi-faith and immigrant communities. Therefore, there are both interfaith and cross-cultural problems.

Longtime New York Times foreign affairs columnist Roger Cohen continued by pointing out that after the cold war, East and West Germany united, the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO was formed, and soon 12 European counties became 28! Europe ended up with a common currency, but with little else in common.

William and Mary professor Stephen Hanson described two fundamental and opposing narratives between Russia and the West. The West contends that the recent democratic revolution in Ukraine makes a solid case for an alliance with Europe. Putin, however,  contends that the ousted Ukrainian president was also democratically elected and many Ukrainians still want to remain aligned with Russia. This reality, plus complicated disputes with other border countries, make the situation almost impossible to resolve.

David Marsh, Managing Director of the Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum in the UK, added that he thinks Europe is farther away from a political European union than in the last 100 years. He contends we are all suffering from a vacuum in world leadership.

Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies in the School of International Service at American University, discussed the issues facing third generation immigrants in Europe. Their families came for a better life but now their children and grandchildren are facing unemployment and discrimination. For many, ISIS represents adventure and hope.

When questioned about the widespread impact of extremism Ahmed added that when he took his students to cities in the Islamic world people would always ask them why Americans didn’t like Muslims. They had no experience with Americans so they believed what they were told by extreme groups. But a groundwork for better understanding was begun just by talking with his students. Ahmed’s conclusion was that only knowledge can bring people together to solve problems.

My experience has also been that by bringing people together we build foundations for eventual problem-solving. And when we add international leadership development to the equation we take significant steps toward finding workable solutions. Indeed, this is how international higher education becomes pure public diplomacy.


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A big challenge for higher education’s future will be to reestablish on campus, in our communities, and with our global relationships, a more collegial willingness to agree to disagree.

When I began university teaching in 1966 I had the feeling that when I debated issues and ideas with colleagues we had a common understanding that different opinions would be respected. We agreed to disagree and I came to see this as a necessary foundation for finding workable solutions to both internal and external problems.

When I was a student in Washington in the early 1960’s I actually observed legislative compromises. Partisan ideas were viciously debated in elections. But once elected, at least a good number of legislators came to Washington ready to govern… enough to at least get some things done.

Today, however, it seems that compromise and statesmanship have been totally lost. To be sure, the many election debates and campaigns ahead will be filled with partisan attacks. That is to be expected. But is there any hope we will at least spot few candidates who might have some potential to become statesmen in Washington?

It is my hope that we in the academy will at least set an example by aggressively communicating the value of respecting differing ideas, reestablishing the agree to disagree approach to community, and demonstrating that give and take and step-by-step are the ways to make progress solving complex problems.

With this as our shared foundation, as we globalize our future we just might also be able to educate leaders capable of moving us toward a much more collegial and statesmen-like world.


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