The Broadest Possible Education: The Future of Global and International Studies

These remarks were given at “International Education at the Crossroads,” a conference held at Indiana University on October 26, 2018. Dr. Fanton was the keynote speaker at the event.

Thank you President McRobbie, Dean Feinstein, Dean Kahn, and Professor Cohn.

I have had a wonderful tour of your beautiful campus. As I watch the students and faculty at work and play, the words that come to mind are happy, healthy, supportive, confident, optimistic about the future. It is an honor to be with you today, at the beginning of a symposium dedicated to one of the great challenges of higher education in the twenty-first century: how to adapt most effectively to a world that is, increasingly, at our fingertips; in some ways smaller and in other ways more difficult to comprehend; and at a time when our campuses, our research teams, our businesses, and our communities are becoming more international with every passing year.

You only need to look to the history of this great university for evidence. Nearly two hundred years ago, when the Indiana Seminary was founded in Bloomington, it educated twelve local students in its first year. From that small seed, a thriving system has developed, with a strong international reputation and a global reach, led ably by an outstanding president who was born in Australia, literally on the other side of the globe. In recent years, Indiana has increased the number of students who study abroad. It has built strong partnerships with universities around the world. It has admitted an increasingly diverse student body, including nearly eight thousand international undergraduate and graduate students. Their presence here vastly enriches the learning experiences of every student by introducing new ideas and perspectives to campus life. And it sends a strong and important signal that we, as an academic community and as a nation, continue to welcome the best and brightest students, wherever they may have been born.

Indiana has strengthened its already outstanding academic programs in global studies, as evidenced by your continued success in securing competitive Title VI grants. By every measure, Indiana University is a world leader in global studies. As President McRobbie has written, “[T]he best university education instills an understanding of the world outside of the boundaries of the U.S.: of the history, cultures, religions, politics, economies, institutions, languages, art and literature of other countries. Such an understanding has never been more critical to humanity and to building a respectful, responsible and engaged global community.”[1] Programs like this symposium are further proof of Indiana’s continued leadership.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an institution that is 238 years old, is also responding to the changing nature of intellectual life in this new era. Today, I would like to share with you some observations drawn from Academy projects that have touched upon the theme of “international education at the crossroads,” in the hope that my remarks will help to inform the conversations you will have during this symposium.

I begin with background about the American Academy and its mission.

The Academy was founded in 1780, during the American Revolution, by John Adams, John Hancock, and sixty-one other scholar-patriots who understood that the new republic would require new institutions to gather knowledge and advance learning in service to the public good. Modeled after the great learned societies of Europe, the Academy was created to be a venue for intellectual exchange and a forum for the discussion of new ideas.

Perhaps most importantly, the Academy was a fellowship of leaders from every field and profession—a fellowship that now includes five thousand Fellows and six hundred International Honorary Members, including many of the most accomplished scholars and practitioners in the sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, the learned professions, public affairs, business, and philanthropy. We are proud to count President McRobbie and twenty-six members of the Indiana University faculty among them.

Initially, John Adams dreamed that there would be a scholarly academy in every state, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts incorporated Adams’s vision into its constitution. Drafted in 1780, that constitution, the oldest functioning written constitution in the world, includes a section encouraging the creation of an institution like the Academy dedicated to “the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country.”[2]

As they drafted the state constitution, these same leaders were writing the Academy charter, which articulates our core mission “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”[3]

In the context of today’s symposium, it is important to note that the Academy has never been an exclusively American enterprise. Our founders were far too worldly and prescient for that. Although its name and early mission emphasized the importance of the arts and sciences for the United States, it has always operated according to a firm conviction that knowledge is not limited by national borders, and that international collaboration is indispensable to human progress.

As a wartime diplomat, John Adams knew firsthand the value of such collaboration. The first two international members to be elected to the Academy were his French counterparts: the ambassador and foreign minister with whom he worked to secure French support for the American Revolution.  Since then, the Academy has elected international members in every field, including many whose names you will recognize—Lafayette, Euler, Gladstone, Ruskin, Darwin, Einstein, Nehru, Anna Freud, Boulanger, Goodall, and Mandela, to name a few.

And the Academy’s work—the projects and studies to which our members dedicate their time and share their knowledge and expertise—has frequently been international in its aims and its emphasis.

In the eighteenth century, the Academy engaged in several international collaborations to improve our understanding of astronomy and the physical sciences—including a Crown-approved expedition into British territory, during the Revolutionary War, in what is now the state of Maine, to better observe an eclipse. In the nineteenth century, the Academy was a principal venue for the discussion of Darwin’s theories. In the twentieth century, it supported early work in the emerging field of international arms control, beginning in the mid-1950s. It also helped to build institutions that would be critical to the emerging disciplines of global studies. For example, an Academy report, Corners of a Foreign Field, proposed the creation of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers to help support international centers that research, conserve, and record cultural heritage and modern societies.

Over time, the Academy has dedicated many volumes of its quarterly journal Dædalus to the cultures and political challenges of individual nations, including Russia, China, South Africa, Brazil, and Germany.  And in recent years the Academy has undertaken several initiatives that have drawn upon many of the fields and disciplines that are represented here today—from large-scale efforts like our decade-long study of the rationale, means, and consequences of providing a basic education to every child in every nation; to short-term efforts like our recent meeting about the challenges of protecting cultural heritage—art, buildings, and libraries—in areas of armed conflict.

It is worth noting that the Academy’s first official visit to Bloomington, in April 1976, was connected to a seminar on human migration. The proceedings of that seminar are published in a book by the Indiana University Press entitled Human Migration: Patterns, Implications, and Policies.

Today, the Academy pursues a range of projects that may be of interest as we begin this symposium, and that may offer some valuable insights as we evaluate “the future needs and priorities of international education in a changing and increasingly interconnected world.”

The project with the most obvious relevance is our Commission on Language Learning. In 2014, a bipartisan group of members of Congress asked the Academy to undertake a new study of the nation’s language education needs. In their letters they requested that the Academy provide answers to the following questions:

How does language learning influence economic growth, cultural diplomacy, the productivity of future generations, and the fulfillment of all Americans? What actions should the nation take to ensure excellence in all languages as well as international education and research, including how we may more effectively use current resources to advance language attainment?[4]

In response to this request, the Academy created the Commission on Language Learning. Chaired by Paul LeClerc, former president of Hunter College and the New York Public Library, the Commission included distinguished language scholars and social scientists, representatives of the military and the U.S. State Department, a federal judge, and many others. Brian Edwards, dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane, and Dan Davidson of the American Councils for International Education were active and important members of the Commission. I am delighted that they are here today to participate in a panel discussion. The Commission’s final report, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century, was published in 2017. It offers concrete recommendations to improve access to as many languages as possible, for people of every age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background.

The title of the report, America’s Languages, refers to an important historic fact about our nation, and one of its great strengths.  As stated in the report’s introduction:

Linguistic diversity is deeply embedded in our history. The English we speak is only one of many European, Native American, African, and Asian languages that have been spoken on the North American continent. This diversity is a cherished part of our nation’s past, a fact of our present, and a key to our future: a valuable asset in our relations with other nations and cultures and a benefit to our children as they grow up in an interconnected world.[5]

And yet we have neglected this competitive advantage for far too long. About 20 percent of all Americans speak a language other than English at home. But very few speak, write, and read proficiently in that language. In fact, current research suggests that only 10 percent of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English proficiently.  And we lag far behind many nations of the world. So, while English continues to be the preferred language for world trade and diplomacy, there is an emerging consensus among leaders in business and government, teachers, scientists, and parents that proficiency in English alone is not sufficient to meet the nation’s needs in an interconnected world. We are wasting our resources when we fail to develop the languages that immigrants bring with them, or that our students study in middle and high school and then abandon when they get to college. And we are beginning to see the adverse effects of this neglect.

For example, 40 percent of business leaders who responded to a recent poll by NAFSA: Association of International Educators reported that their businesses had failed to reach their potential due to international language barriers. We also know that our foreign service and security agencies continue to seek language expertise for diplomatic, military, and cultural missions around the world—deep expertise, including an understanding of nuance, so that nothing is lost in translation. There are many other benefits of a more robust language education as well, including the development of important habits of mind and the cultivation of new and valuable perspectives on the world. We are also beginning to understand that there may be cognitive enhancements for speakers of more than one language, like improved executive functioning, memory, and problem-solving ability, as well as a greater resistance to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Given all of these findings, we can and must improve access to languages for everyone.

As our report concludes, there is “much to gain by participating in a multilingual world, and so much to lose if we remain stubbornly monolingual.”[6]

America’s Languages offers five basic recommendations, all focused on increasing the number of Americans that speak a language other than English:

  1. Increase the number of language teachers at all levels of education so that every child in every state has the opportunity to learn a language in addition to English.
  2. Supplement language instruction across the education system through public-private partnerships among schools, government, philanthropies, businesses, and local community members.
  3. Support heritage languages already spoken in the United States, and help these languages persist from one generation to the next.
  4. Provide targeted support and programming for Native American languages as defined in the Native American Languages Act.
  5. Promote opportunities for students to learn languages in other countries by experiencing other cultures and immersing themselves in multilingual environments.

Each of these recommendations is then elaborated and made concrete with pilot initiatives, model programs, and other suggestions selected by the Commission for their scalability, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. Our report has been the inspiration for a new federal bill, the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act, introduced by David Price and cosigned by Don Young, Leonard Lance, and sixteen of their colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The act proposes three-year competitive grants to support local and state school districts to establish, improve, or expand innovative programs in world language learning.

The report was also an important influence on the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies bill. It now includes a proposal for new and increased funding for Native American language immersion programs and a feasibility study for the creation of a new, national clearinghouse for best practices, curricula, and expertise in the preservation of native languages. The report has also been used in deliberations about:

  • The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act;
  • The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act; and
  • The Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching (BEST) Act.

All of these bills are currently in committee and will be reintroduced by the next Congress.

Given your extraordinary work here in Bloomington, perhaps of particular interest is that America’s Languages also endorses more equitable opportunities for study abroad, since deep immersion in other cultures helps us understand the interests and outlook of other countries, and how U.S. policy affects our friends and competitors. Our report advocates resource-sharing consortia like the Big Ten Academic Alliance, in which Indiana participates, which uses distance learning technologies to provide instruction in more languages to more students enrolled in the alliance institutions. And it calls for more funding for Title VI centers like the School of Global and International Studies here at Indiana. For sixty years, Title VI language and national resource centers have provided so much of the scholarship, the research, the teaching tools, and the practical training that we need as a nation in order to engage the world around us effectively and knowledgeably. The centers have been important to our diplomatic and business interests, certainly, but they have also supported our efforts to live full and happy lives as citizens of the world. They are a critical national resource and should be maintained and enhanced for future generations. Congratulations to Indiana University for winning 19 Title VI centers.

The most important takeaway from the America’s Languages report may be the one highlighted by Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense, in his recent op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle, supporting our recommendations. Secretary Panetta wrote:

In times of great national security challenges, such as those we face today, as well as in times of great opportunity, such as the opening of new international markets, we find ourselves scrambling for people who can speak, write, and think in languages other than English. In those moments, we search high and low for people who can communicate in Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Pashto—and especially for people who understand the idioms and nuances that characterize true communication in any culture.

Because it is difficult to find such people immediately, we are at a disadvantage. Language acquisition is a marathon, not a sprint. By the time we educate and train the experts we need to help us address a particular language gap, we are often too late. The crisis has shifted. Others have captured the new market.

As a matter of public policy, this is terribly inefficient way to operate.[7]

That is why America’s Languages concludes by advancing “a wiser, more forward-thinking strategy…to steadily improve access to as many languages as possible,” and not to wait until a specific need presents itself.[8]

So, the first observation I can offer, drawn from an Academy project, is that the best strategy for responding to an unpredictable and ever-changing world is also the broadest strategy. As individual students we may aim for a depth of knowledge, the acquisition of a particular expertise. In the case of languages, we may strive for fluency as speakers, writers, and thinkers in a language other than English. But as institutions, and certainly as a nation, we should strive for breadth in our offerings, for mirroring the variety of the world at large in the courses we make available to our undergraduates, and the expertise we provide to our graduate students. We cannot afford, particularly in international education, to chase intellectual fashion or focus on the latest global conflict to the exclusion of other regions, cultures, and languages. As a matter of educational and public policy, coverage—the ability to teach and learn about every region and culture—is actually the wisest goal and the best way to prepare ourselves for a rapidly changing world and an always-uncertain future. Congratulations to Indiana University for teaching 81 languages.

The Commission on Language Learning follows up on the work of the Academy’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, which produced its influential report, The Heart of the Matter, in 2013.  That commission included over a dozen college presidents and many distinguished professors, business leaders, and a few household names, including George Lucas, Yo-Yo Ma, actor John Lithgow, and Supreme Court Justice David Souter. The Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences began its report by asking a simple question: “Who will lead America into a bright future?”

And the answer is, as stated in the report:

Citizens who are educated in the broadest possible sense, so that they can participate in their own governance and engage with the world. An adaptable and creative workforce. Experts in national security, equipped with the cultural understanding, knowledge of social dynamics, and language proficiency to lead our foreign service and military through complex global conflicts. Elected officials and a broader public who exercise civil political discourse, founded on an appreciation of the ways our differences and commonalities have shaped our rich history. We must prepare the next generation to be these future leaders. [9]

As promised in this preamble, the report advocated a broad education for all Americans, an education rich in the humanities and social sciences as well as the STEM fields.  It included an entire section that listed ways to “equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world,” most prominently the promotion of language learning and study abroad. It also a called for a new “national competitiveness” effort, a public-private partnership to help support education in international affairs and area studies.[10]

But The Heart of the Matter was not limited to the topics that commonly fall under the category of “international education.” It placed a value on all of the humanities and, in fact, on every academic discipline—sciences, social sciences, and humanities alike—as vital to the development of knowledgeable and intellectually flexible world citizens. The Commission understood that while we all find particular specialties in our chosen professions, we should be able to thrive outside of our careers as well, as citizens and community members, parents, church members, and volunteers in organizations helping people both at home and abroad. The Heart of the Matter report acknowledged that over a lifetime, we often find ourselves in need of more information and experience than our professional training can provide, and it offered a broad, liberal arts education as the remedy.

And so here is a second observation—this one drawn from The Heart of the Matter: our personal goal, as lifelong students, should be to attain a breadth of knowledge that allows us to take full advantage of opportunities as they arise, and also to respond to challenges. The Heart of the Matter postulated that we can prepare ourselves for the future, even if we cannot predict what the future will look like, through the pursuit of a well-rounded education—before, during, and after our college years.

By now I hope you are beginning to hear in my remarks echoes of the Academy’s founders, who set before us a vision of “cherishing every art and science.” It is a hallmark of the Academy’s work and the fundamental assumption that drives everything we do—that by cultivating every discipline and honoring every intellectual pursuit and profession, we are preparing ourselves and our nation for success in the face of uncertainty—both challenges and opportunities.

This is not a new thought, of course. It is a founding principle of the modern university. But it is an ideal that appears to be under some threat today, especially at public colleges and universities around the country, when cost cutting has become associated with the cutting of curricula—and, especially, with the cutting of the humanities and related social sciences. The ongoing controversy at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is the most recent and among the most dramatic examples of this phenomenon, with the proposed elimination of thirteen majors, including English, history, French, German, and Spanish.

But the struggle at Stevens Point is by no means the only instance of this trend in higher education. And I have no doubt that the trend will persist until we effectively combat the popular fallacy that the disciplines of linguistic and cultural analysis—history, literature, languages, global studies—are less practical, less rigorous, less lucrative, and therefore less valuable than the hard sciences. I know I am preaching to the choir, but we cannot submit curricula to this kind of cost-benefit analysis. We cannot predict which disciplines will be considered valuable in the future, and any attempt to try is always, and necessarily, shortsighted. Knowledge does not conform to disciplinary boundaries, language barriers, or national borders—so neither can the pursuit of knowledge.

This connects to my third observation. All of us who are involved in some way in academic life—as students, faculty, and even learned societies like the American Academy—have new and valuable opportunities to form scholarly partnerships beyond our borders and to engage in more international collaborations. We should pursue such partnerships because they enhance the pursuit of knowledge. I also believe that such an international approach is, increasingly, a necessity in many fields. For example, the Academy’s 2014 report on basic scientific research, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, notes that many of the most transformative scientific discoveries of the last twenty-five years, like the Human Genome Project, the research into subatomic particles currently underway at CERN, and the operation of the Hubble Space Telescope, are all the work of multinational collaborations.[11] They offer the necessary scale for big science as well as the variety of perspectives that make such work possible. Conversely, our language commission report reminds us that we have missed some important opportunities by remaining insular and focused only on scholarship produced close to home. For example, in 2004, Americans and other English-speaking scientists were late in recognizing the severity of the avian flu epidemic because initial research on the disease was published in Chinese-language journals. I suspect that we are missing opportunities to address other challenges as well, but perhaps fewer and fewer as technology improves and our networks reach across continents and oceans.

As an indication of the Academy’s commitment to this idea, we have undertaken a new study of the Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships. The project will articulate the case for why international science collaborations are important for the nation and the world, as well as recommend ways in which barriers to the success of these collaborations might be overcome. It will focus on two particular types of collaboration—large-scale international facilities and peer-to-peer collaborations among individual research laboratories—and initiatives like the Human Cell Atlas and the Human BRAIN Initiative. Our project will make recommendations for improving science communication and removing obstacles to collaborating with researchers overseas. For example, the project will explore the topic of student visas. It will identify the important contributions that international students have made to our own research teams, as well as to research around the world. And it will send a strong signal that we should continue to welcome the best international students to our universities and our laboratories.

It seems possible that a similar effort to encourage international collaboration in the humanities and social sciences might also be useful and could even be organized by people in this room.

I have now offered three observations about the future of international education, all drawn from Academy work over the past five years.

First, as a nation, we should create a cadre of experts for every region, culture, and language—because we cannot predict how and where our lives will intersect with the rest of the world.

Second, as individuals, we should seek a well-rounded education in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities—including a familiarity with other cultures, languages, and histories. That kind of education is the best preparation for a changing world, no matter what your job may be or where you may live. It is also the best preparation for a life well-lived, with an understanding of the world that surrounds you and an appreciation of our differences and commonalities, across international, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.

And third, as scholars and researchers, we should cultivate new relationships with colleagues from other countries because knowledge has no borders and because other nations and cultures have so much to contribute to our own understanding of how the world works.

As Indiana’s former President Herman B. Wells once said, “Truly, the sun never sets on the work of a great university.”[12]

The challenge, of course, is how to sustain such an ambitious agenda with limited resources. Expertise is expensive. So is a broad-based education. And so are international partnerships.

The good news is that institutions like Indiana University are not alone in pursuing these goals. As president of the American Academy, I have met dozens of leaders in business and international relations, in science and medicine, in government and the arts who understand that their own efforts—as professionals, as citizens, even as parents—depend on a vast and ever-growing body of knowledge about the world around us. All of these sectors are sustained by the kind of education I have described today, and that you provide here in Bloomington. And all can play a role in supporting your pursuits. It is critical that we find new ways to engage businesses, civic organizations, and others outside of academia in the education of future generations.

For example, in support of our America’s Languages report, the Academy released a document called Bridging America’s Language Gap. The call-to-action is signed by over 150 organizations and 35 leaders who urge greater support for languages in order to maintain and enhance American global leadership. Indiana University was among the earliest signatories and has been joined by a diverse group of academic institutions, learned societies, professional associations, NGOs, and prominent leaders of the public and private sectors, including Norman Augustine, retired Chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation; Ruth A. Davis, former Director General of the United States Foreign Service; documentary filmmaker Ken Burns; Robert Haas, Chair Emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co.; Melody Barnes, former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and many others.

In one sense, Bridging America’s Language Gap is a tool for future advocacy on behalf of language educators. It offers proof that a wide range of people and organizations consider language education to be critical to the future of the nation, and it presents that support in a way that policy-makers find persuasive. But in another sense, the petition is actually a model for future action. It is itself a collaborative act, a vehicle through which the sectors can work together to support a vision of American education that is international at its very core.

I think that is a very hopeful message for all us. If approached in the right spirit and for the right reasons, people from every walk of life will help support the work you do. They understand its value, intuitively if not in its particulars. They will lend their names and reputations to the cause, and possibly other kinds of support as well—not just financial but mentoring opportunities, internships, and on-the-job training. The benefits of such collaborations are too important to ignore.

And so, in conclusion, I encourage you to be ambitious during this symposium, to think broadly about international education and the way it improves so many aspects of our lives, and to remember that you have friends at every level of American society who are ready to help you prepare the next generations for lives that will be even more worldly than our own.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today.

[1] Michael A. McRobbie, “The Importance of Global Literacy and The Role of the University as a Gateway to the World,” Huffington Post, November 11, 2015, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-a-mcrobbie/the-importance-of-global-_1_b_8534416.html.

 

[2] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Chapter V, Section II, https://malegislature.gov/Laws/Constitution#chapterVSectionII.

 

[3] Charter of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, https://www.amacad.org/content/about/about.aspx?d=23.

[4] Commission on Language Learning, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century (Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2017), 40, https://www.amacad.org/content/Research/researchproject.aspx?i=21896.

[5] Ibid., 5.

[6] Ibid., 6.

[7] Leon Panetta, “Americans are losing out because so few speak a second language,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 6, 2018, https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Americans-are-losing-out-because-so-few-speak-a-13135901.php.

[8] Commission on Language Learning, America’s Languages, 30.

[9] Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation (Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2013), 17, https://www.amacad.org/content/Research/researchproject.aspx?d=286.

 

[10] Ibid., 12.

[11] Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream (Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2014), https://www.amacad.org/restoringthefoundation.

 

[12] Mike Wright, “A Decade of Leadership,” Indiana University Alumni Magazine, June 20, 2017.

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