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Opinion | Global Studies Center would benefit Miami

By Charles Stevens
On December 3, 2012

Why do Ohio University, the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, Kent State University, the University of Dayton, the University of Akron, Cleveland State University and our peer institutions William and Mary and the University of Virginia, all have global studies centers but Miami University does not?

These centers present one of the best models for an interdisciplinary twenty-first century university education with the frugality mandated by economic realities of higher education.

Global, regional and international studies are inherently interdisciplinary; giving students the best education campuses have to offer.

A simple Google search using the keywords "global international studies centers" results in about 254,000,000 hits. I cannot admit to having checked every one of these links but the majority of results in the first ten pages were links to university or college-based centers representing interdisciplinary and interdepartmental institutionalization of forward-looking curricula, faculty development and extracurricular initiatives.

These centers have been charged with a diverse set of goals but all generally serve to support research, campus events and innovative interdisciplinary teaching meant to prepare students and inform faculty on the global challenges neither well-understood nor well-taught by deeply entrenched nineteenth century academic categories and divisions of labor.

That is to say, none of these global studies centers involve single disciplinary or preferred academic foci; they are not housed in single departments nor associated with parochial interests.

They are, by their nature, interdisciplinary and present students with possibilities for curriculum and career development not found in the standard departmental and academic categories with which we are all familiar.

Moreover, these programs tend to house both academic and non-academic institutions; departments or programs of international studies as well as centers for American and world cultures, women's centers, centers for Russian and Post-Soviet studies and offices of international education, to use existing Miami institutions as examples of units included in such centers.

Simultaneously, the government's share of bearing the costs of maintaining an educated citizenry has declined in real dollars from 38.3 percent in 1991-1992 to 24.4 percent in 2008-2009 (according to the March 2012 research by the non-partisan Demos).

According to the National Commission on the Costs of Higher Education, between 1987 and 1996, the instructional costs per student increased by 57 percent while the total costs of attendance, the tuition and fees institutions charge students, has increased in the same period by 132 percent.

In response, enrollment rates in many states have dropped, most notably in California where enrollment rates have dropped by one-fifth in five years. Universities have responded, as they must, with efforts to recruit and retain students, decrease institutional costs, develop innovative curricula and teaching ("doing more with less") and cater to the current generation of students.

Catering to the "client" students in this competitive environment means bond sales for new facilities, recreation centers, and new dorms, and student centers with movie theaters, bowling alleys and dining halls that ensure the availability of food options from sushi to stir-fry.

The administrative infrastructure essential for managing the complexity of America's preferred fledgling experiences necessarily increases as well. As a result, instructional costs, on average, account for 19 percent of university expenditures, while institutional and student service costs together constitute 78 percent of university expenditures (National Center for Education Statistics 2010).

So, how are these two apparently separate issues in higher education, costs and interdisciplinary education, related?

Well, part of "catering to the current generation of students" involves, in my view, presenting creative new degree alternatives for students without significantly increasing the university's instructional costs.

Global and international studies centers can do just that as well as furthering Miami's efforts to have students study abroad and attract students from abroad to study at Miami.

Indeed, they have largely been constructed for exactly those purposes without adding significant costs to the universities that house them: the faculty resources for such a center are largely already in place.

Miami University already benefits from some talented faculty members whose scholarship and teaching focuses on international and global topics.

Isn't it time that our university create an institution, housed in a single location that facilitates academic partnerships, and promotes interdisciplinary international education?

Let's develop a center where our faculty can build creative curricular alternatives, the university can continue to offer interesting speakers, activities and educational opportunities and our students can be better prepared to creatively engage a dynamic world.

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