Internationalizing the curriculum: Stanley Katz’s thoughts

"3d Earth" by chrisroll
“3d Earth” by chrisroll

Stanley Katz has an intriguing articled titled “Borderline Ignorance: Why have efforts to internationalize the curriculum stalled?” in a recent issue of the Chronicle Review. Katz starts by talking about the current drive to globalize the curriculum, and a recent AACU initiative that called for “an education for the stewardship of the global commons.” While AACU’s initiative is both detailed and ambitious, Katz argues that few institutions are likely to take on this task. It’s not that internationalizing the curriculum is not important. Rather, Katz argues, it is the larger political and cultural context. He first talks about how the Cold War led Western academic institutions to internationalize their curriculum, by encouraging study abroad and academic programs that focused on newly important global regions. Katz’s argument, however, is that this impetus began to fade with the end of the Cold War, and a cultural backlash in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In this sense, he suggests, the current political climate makes such work difficult. As Katz points out, in the United States Title Vi and Title VIII programs have decreased funding, at the same time that some major private donors have also pulled back from financing international work.

Katz does not only blame forces outside of academia for the lost momentum towards internationalizing the curriculum. He suggests that faculty members sometimes have used regional studies centers (ie, a Latin American Studies center) more as a means to foster their research than as a tool to internationalize the curriculum. Rather than emphasizing undergraduate education, they have instead focused -Katz suggests- on training the graduate students who would replace them, and their own scholarship. What this meant was that when funding began to dry up for area-studies centers, they had little enduring impact on the campuses where they had been housed.

I don’t agree with everything that Katz argues. For example, Katz suggests that for “at least the last decade” social scientists have been more focused on the discovery of universal laws rather than the understanding of foreign cultures. I find this argument to be strange, because the 1960s heyday of positivism is long gone, and International and Global Studies programs are inherently multidisciplinary. Even in Political Science programs in which traditionally positivist ideals still hold sway, there continues to be excellent international work done. To me, this issue seems to be a distraction.

I also think that one should not only think of internationalizing the university in terms of the curriculum. In the end,  every campus has a responsibility to the communities that they serve, which means that many activities -arts shows, community events, and non-credit classes- have to form part of any effort to internationalize the campus. These efforts not only serve multiple constituencies, but can also buttress student learning in the classroom. Still, I agree that all efforts must start first with undergraduate curriculum, if the work is to have an enduring impact, which is core to Katz’s arguments. Nationally, there is a consensus that internationalizing the campus matters. The challenge is how do we do so in a climate in which -in terms of both government and private funding- America seems to be turning inward. Katz ultimately argues that the answer to this is to locate internationalization work within the context of a liberal arts education.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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  1. Pingback: Critiques of International Education | Intro to Global Studies

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