Archive for October, 2015

The EU is a collection of separate countries that came together to prevent the possibility of another world war, as well as to compete more powerfully in the international marketplace. However, right now a common currency and shared issues in higher education seem to be the only things they have in common.

Latin America is made up of many separate countries too. Each has its distinct culture and political environment. As with the EU, it is almost impossible to refer to Latin America as a unified entity. Few if any would see it as a common market.

I had the honor this week of kicking off a conference attended by university marketing and communication professionals from many of the countries in Latin and Central America, the United States, and Puerto Rico.  I talked with them about my new book, The Transition Academy, and about my lessons learned over 50 years adapting marketing and communication strategies and tactics to the challenge of making academic institutions better understood. I found that on these topics they indeed did have a lot in common. They were all experiencing government cutbacks, the impact of the digital technology revolution both inside and outside their institutions, and the widespread effects of globalization.

The participants talked to me about how social media tools were changing their students, as well as how they were marketing their institutions differently. They were interested in more sophisticated approaches to brand identity development, and ways to get more support for their work inside their universities. In other words, they have the same internal politics issues that we all do. They asked about the importance of world rankings, and how smaller institutions can respond to related constituent pressures.

In other words, I experienced with this group what I had previously experienced in Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia, and even South Africa. While some of the specifics are different, many of the big issues we face in the academy are the same. While we compete for students and money in some cases, we also can come together and share common concerns and lessons.

Latin America is not a common market. But the universities of Latin America do have many issues in common and problems they can resolve together. And when I suggested that the ultimate potential of all this interaction was a global industry that developed truly international leaders and the expertise to solve our most pressing international problems, no one seemed to object.

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The USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism hosted a Summit on Global Leadership in Public Diplomacy at the US Institute of Peace in Washington this week.

In his welcoming remarks the Center’s director explained that the term “public diplomacy” was originally coined 50 years ago by US Diplomat Edmund Gullion to denote “coordinated governmental engagement with foreign publics,” but that over the years the concept became much “more expansive.”

My interest in the topic also began almost 50 years ago as a graduate student studying communication and international relations at American University. And I must say that over the years my teaching and writing embraced the more expansive concept of “people-to-people” communication. For me, government-to-people implied promoting the current administration’s foreign policy. But people-to-people implied a more mutual exchange of traditions, values and human aspirations. In short, for me the “idea of America” seemed best conveyed directly by its citizens. And so I also came to view international higher education as a highly effective form of public diplomacy.

At the Summit this week there were participants from universities, the state department, government contractors, NGO’s, and others. The speakers covered the full “expanse” of public diplomacy concepts and tools from traditional face-to-face exchanges, to uses of social media, to video projects, to MOOC’s, to establishing cultural centers abroad, and more. Common themes ranged from cultivating the ability to have civilized conversations with people with whom you do not agree, to listening first and then accepting a goal of reaching win-win agreements.

One panelist said that “credibility in communication is established by WHO is sending the message.” I certainly agree. And so everything I heard affirmed my contention that international higher education is indeed a pure form public diplomacy. It promises to produce global leaders, enhance cross-cultural understanding, and gradually focus more research on international problem-solving.


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This week the anchor of Meet the Press acknowledged he would avoid mentioning the name of the recent community college shooter out of concern for television’s unintended consequences. And yet he did not put this critical issue on the table for his expert panel of journalists to analyze and discuss.

It seems that each time another shooter goes on the rampage his unstable mental situation is the only factor pundits and politicians can agree on. And yet the more I study such situations, the more it seems to me that the celebrity making potential, and mass visibility of going out in a blaze of glory, are likely to be important contributing factors in stimulating copycats.

There is little doubt that television is at it’s best when it makes drama. It’s in its very nature. Otherwise it’s boring. Live 24/7 television coverage requires drama to hold audiences. Competition between media for side stories enhances that drama. And emotional victim interviews add even more drama.

What does it take for sick-minded, angry and isolated individuals to also want this kind of mass visibility and celebrity? The temptation to copy this drama could be overwhelming. And yet while all of this is unfolding on television, the issue is never discussed.

So what implication does this have for higher education?  Ever since the television revolution of the 1960s I have been discussing “media literacy” with anyone who will listen. Media revolutions always change how everything works… from family interaction, to what it takes to win elections, to individual behavior.

If a global higher education industry can educate international leaders and help solve world problems, it can also advance media literacy. And with so much dramatic violence in the world to report, understanding media must become still another core competency.


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