At the Columbia Goes Global Conference on Wednesday, the word “globalization” took a beating.
“I’ve really come to hate the word ‘globalization,’” Barnard President Debora Spar said. “Everyone throws it out all the time, and I don’t think there’s ever any agreement what they’re actually talking about when they talk about globalization.”
University President Lee Bollinger has spent the last few years pushing Columbia to “go global,” and the conference was billed as a discussion of how the University can best execute those plans.
Panelists agreed that it is important for Columbia to create a more global presence, although they had different opinions about what that should mean.
Columbia has already opened global centers in four cities—Amman, Beijing, Mumbai, and Paris—and several more are on the horizon in Chile, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Turkey, and Kenya. Vice President for Global Centers Kenneth Prewitt said centers in Nairobi and Istanbul should open in the fall, with the center in Santiago, Chile, to follow in the spring.
The conference, held in Low Library, featured three panels—one with professors, one with students, and one with Spar, Columbia College Dean Michele Moody-Adams, and School of General Studies Dean Peter Awn.
Moody-Adams stressed that Columbia must balance its role in New York City and its emerging global presence.
“The institution that hopes to be global … will always at the same time be local,” she said.
Spar added that globalization must be viewed as having both an “export” model, in which America takes its educational institutions elsewhere, and an “import” model, in which America learns from the rest of the world. She said the U.S. might now be leaning toward the latter.
“There was a long period of time in which we as Americans presumed that we would always be the dominant car manufacturer, the dominant television manufacturer,” she said. “We never thought that we would become an import in those sectors.”
Spar highlighted various initiatives Barnard has undertaken to increase its global presence, like hosting international symposia—including one in South Africa last month—and maintaining its Visiting International Students Program, which brings foreign students to study at Barnard for a semester.
One visitor from Japan said that in other countries, the word “globalization” is often seen as a euphemism for “invasion” by the English-speaking world. Teachers College alum Michael Rand, who attended the conference, said that Columbia has to work to combat that perception.
“I think clearly they have to … say up front and show through their actions, maybe through marketing tools, whatever, that they’re in it to create relationships of equals,” Rand said.
In addition to the three panels, Victoria de Grazia, the interim director of the Columbia Global Center in Paris, spoke about the University’s new Global Scholars program, a ramped-up study abroad experience. The program will take students abroad for eight months rather than the traditional semester, and students will work with professors extensively on research. It will be tested for the first time at the Paris global center this fall.
“It is Columbia in a different country,” de Grazia said, adding that the University is eager to play a larger role in the experiences of undergraduates who choose to go abroad.
Some students who attended the conference said they were enthusiastic about the new program, but others were unsure whether undergraduates would want to spend more than one semester abroad.
“I was surprised that there weren’t more options for study abroad in France when I was looking, and I would definitely have liked to see more,” said Hannah Klain, CC ’13, who will be spending part of her junior year in France. “Eight months is a long time, though, so I don’t know if I would want to do that.”
John Kenney, CC ’13, who will spend next semester in Australia, added that Columbia’s extensive requirements would make an eight-month study abroad program hard to schedule.
“It’s difficult to add a semester abroad to a schedule that’s already full with a major and the Core,” Kenney said.
Only 24 percent of Columbia students currently choose to spend time abroad, and the majority leave for no more than three or four months.
Most of the panelists said they were optimistic about Columbia’s prospects for becoming a global university, but Aaron Liskov, CC ’11—who sat on the panel moderated by Bollinger—sounded a note of skepticism.
Liskov said after the conference that while it’s clear the University has to adapt to become more global, he is not sure how it should do so. He added it is important for Columbia to determine how exactly the global centers will affect undergraduates.
“It’s very easy to see why global expansion is so appealing,” he said, “because globalization is just such a popular term.”