Liberal Education, Winter 2003
Toward "Genuine Reciprocity": Reconceptualizing
International Liberal Education in the Era of Globalization
From the South African case study [one can] conclude
that higher education in developing countries will be destroyed
if rampant internationalization of higher education from developed
countries is not stopped. Hence threatening the viability
of developing countries participating in the new global knowledge
economy and forever reducing them to 'the wretched of the
(Thandwa Mthembu 2001)
To become aware of the West in the eyes and handiwork
of its Others, to wonder at the fascination of their fascination,
is to abandon border logistics and enter into the 'second
contact' era of the borderland where 'us' and 'them' lose
their polarity and swim in and out of focus.
(Michael Taussig 1993)
From opposite sides of the boundary between the developed
and less developed worlds, Mthembu and Taussig name the difficulties
that attend our attempts, as inhabitants of the West, to engage
in international education. They alert us to pitfalls and
paradoxes of cross-cultural exchange in the post-colonial
era. They problematize our ability, as inhabitants of the
West, to establish relations with those whom the cultural
history of colonization has consigned to be objects of "our"
civilization. The two critics, a South African professor of
mathematics and an American anthropologist, raise urgent,
related questions for U.S. liberal arts educators seeking
to internationalize our programs of study:
- How should we, as educators at U.S. liberal arts institutions,
conceptualize the nature of our relations with other cultures
and countries in the context of globalization?
- How can we organize those relations in a way that goes
beyond "border logistics" and engages us and the inhabitants
of these other cultures and countries--our international colleagues--in
substantive exchanges that carry the promise of creative change?
Our projects unfold in the context of globalization. Indeed,
we frequently cite globalization as the inspiration for our
responsibility to internationalize, or "globalize," educational
programs. Yet globalization is not wholly conducive to our
aspirations. As analysts from Thomas Friedman (2000) to John
Gray (1988), George Soros (2002), and Joseph Stiglitz (2002)
have recognized, globalization creates and/or magnifies inequalities
and inequities. These undermine cooperation and give the lie
to any expectations of easy global convergence.
Mthembu's remarks about international education may be aimed
at commercial education providers and South African policymakers,
not liberal arts colleges, yet they also identify trends that
help to shape the perceptions of our potential colleagues
abroad. Currently, the openly hegemonic ambitions of the U.S.
administration are sharpening the terms of the debate, making
it increasingly important to address openly the implicit political
and ethical issues involved in any project of international
cooperation. Such actions as the U.S. Department of Commerce's
proposal to the World Trade Organization to remove all restraints
on the marketing of international education do nothing to
improve the situation (Altbach 2000; Gillespie 2002.).
At the same time, of course, globalization creates technologies,
commonalities, and transitions that are favorable to the expansion
of international education. Global standardization simplifies
credit exchange and the establishment of dual degree programs.
The opening up of markets and academic discourses creates
demands for research collaboration, educational reform, and
liberalization on a global scale. The increasing use of English
as a medium of instruction, by loosening the link between
foreign language fluency and international study, allows students
from virtually all disciplines to enroll more easily at foreign
universities including many located outside the traditional
Western European destinations.
Among other things, the globalization of education has fostered
the growth of a burgeoning liberal education movement abroad.
Over the past ten years, new liberal education programs have
emerged in countries as diverse as Belarus and Dubai, Estonia,
Germany, and Hong Kong, Hungary and Kazakhstan, South Korea
and Kyrgyzstan, Poland and Russia, Tajikistan and Turkey.
Many of the new liberal education programs are located in
countries that are seeking to democratize their societies.
Some of them are described elsewhere in this issue of Liberal
Education. As I have argued (Gillespie 2002), the emergence
of an international liberal education movement offers an historic
opportunity for U.S. liberal arts colleges, as well as universities
with liberal arts programs, to enter into partnerships that
will enrich and inspire us while providing important assistance
to colleagues abroad. That we should take advantage of these
new opportunities seems obvious.
Reconceptualizing international liberal education
As Martha Nussbaum (1997) and others have
noted, American democratic educational traditions "have been
built on ideas of equality and respect." Nussbaum reminds
us, if we need reminding, that the American variant of liberal
education incorporates civic values including openness to
and respect for other cultures. Liberal arts colleges overwhelmingly
endorse these values.
We might, then, assume that the same values inform the international
exchange and study-abroad programs of liberal arts colleges.
But this is not yet the reality. Most study-abroad programs
offered by liberal arts colleges are "island programs" in
which American students and faculty have little or no interaction
with their peers in the host countries. Foreign universities,
if they play any role at all, often serve as resource providers.
Students often spend most of their time with their own group,
either in courses with U.S. faculty or in special classes
that are offered only for them. How often have we heard returning
students complain that their greatest frustration is not having
gotten to know young people from the country where they have
studied! Universities have been more inventive than liberal
arts colleges when it comes to taking advantage of new opportunities
for creating joint degree programs, curricula that require
students to spend time abroad, and joint research and teaching
programs that enable faculty and staff, as well as students,
to transcend the "border logistics" of getting there.1
An ironic result of our own limitations is that liberal arts
colleges often end up "outsourcing" students' international
education to other college programs or to providers such as
the School for International training (SIT) or Council on
International Educational Exchange (CIEE). Many, although
not all, of the programs they offer are also essentially tourist
or "island" programs--like the Moscow-based Russian "immersion"
program populated exclusively by foreigners, mostly Americans.
Sending our students abroad with independent providers leaves
us without direct influence over the form and content of the
students' experience. It leaves the students without an opportunity
to contribute to an ongoing community and academic discourse.
Last but not least, it deprives us and our institutions of
the benefits of genuine collaboration.
The exclusiveness of American college (and many university)
programs abroad not only shortchanges students, but also leads
to disillusion and disappointment on the part of international
colleagues. Observations like that of South African scholar
Paul Zeleza (2002) are unfortunately not isolated instances:
"To many African university administrators, academic exchanges
with American universities reek of patronage rather than reflect
partnership. For student and staff [faculty] exchange programmes
to be effective and sustainable, genuine reciprocity is imperative."2
Reconceptualizing international education in the era of globalization
means recognizing that we can and should learn with and from,
not only about people from other cultures. As Grant Cornwell
and Eve Stoddard (1999) have argued, "There needs to be a
dialectical relationship between learning about diverse cultures
and learning to interact with diverse peoples." (Their comments
apply equally to learning about diversity within the U.S.)
For liberal arts colleges, creating relationships with colleagues
abroad that are "built on ideas of equality and respect" means
conducting a dialogue and creating a common practice that
not only recognize the importance of understanding others,
but actively incorporate their presence. It means re-thinking
our deep-seated notions of authority and control and inviting
partner institutions in on the ground floor, so that they
participate in planning and development, as well as the "delivery"
of joint programs and projects.
Zeleza (2002, 10), whose negative comments on the South African
experience with U.S. partners were cited just above, also
offers a positive vision. "It is possible," he argues, "to
transform these relations [of dependency between Africa and
the United States], to improve the terms of academic discourse
and exchange between the North and Africa. This requires the
establishment of carefully constructed partnerships that embrace
all the key constituencies and components of the academic
enterprise, that is, on the one hand, the stakeholders--students,
faculty, and administrators--and on the other the services--teaching,
research, publishing, and dissemination.
"Getting past "Border Logistics"
Bard College's experience as a partner in joint ventures
with universities in Russia and Southern Africa (the latter
in a partnership that includes seven African universities
and six other U.S. liberal arts colleges) suggests the range
of experiential possibilities that are to be explored. Both
Smolny College and the International Human Rights Exchange
(IHRE; see sidebar) were conceived as partnerships among equals.
The fact that principles of mutuality and equality are made
explicit seems important, especially when, as is frequently
the case, the American partner provides most or all of the
financing. As the mission statement of the Institute for International
Liberal Education states, "The Institute does not seek to
export American models and methods. Rather, our aim is to
create dynamic relationships through which we and our partner
institutions learn from each others' ideas and experience."
Naturally it is also necessary to adhere to these principles
in practice, and ultimately to earn the trust of others, in
a context in which Americans increasingly have to contend
with suspicion and anti-American sentiments.3 This
is not always easy, but it is essential, and can also be its
The goals of Bard's collaborative ventures were established
jointly with our partners abroad. In both cases, these goals
incorporate the idea of liberal education. At Smolny, the
goal is itself the creation of a first-class liberal arts
college offering a dual B.A. In South Africa, it is the creation
of a multidisciplinary Human Rights program embodying principles
of liberal education. These principles are understood to include
a commitment to multidisciplinary inquiry and critical thinking,
and pedagogical styles that emphasize small classes and dialogical
teaching. Agreeing on a principled goal for our collaborative
project does not, of course, mean that the institutional partners
have the same hopes and ambitions for the project, or that
we bring the same strengths or experience to bear. Such differences
help to make the partnerships interesting. All our partner
institutions are reform-oriented and cosmopolitan in outlook,
and place a high value on intercultural dialogue.
The most important factor for the success of our joint ventures
has been the participation of a large number of interested
and engaged faculty on both sides. Through a combination of
face-to-face meetings and long-distance exchanges, the faculty
have brought their knowledge, experience, and considerable
ingenuity to bear on curriculum and course development, faculty/program
governance, and the creation of mechanisms for evaluation.
That these discussions have gone smoothly is thanks in no
small part to the leadership of committed individuals in Russia
and South Africa.
The next challenge was to create mechanisms to ensure faculty
ownership and smooth interinstitutional collaboration. Long-term
international collaboration may require the invention of new,
overlapping forms of organization. Smolny has benefited from
the existence of faculty and administrative committees that
involve more than fifty faculty and staff on both sides. A
joint Bard/Smolny Administrative Council manages day-to-day
affairs, and the whole project is governed by an international
Board of Overseers. The International Human Rights Exchange
(IHRE) has a faculty Steering Committee that is responsible
for overall direction and academic decision making. The project
is co-administered by secretariats at the University of Cape
Town (UCT) and Bard, with the support of administrative liaison
people at each participating institution. An IHRE Board of
Advisors is in formation. It is noteworthy that the administrative
headquarters of both these programs are located at Bard's
partner institutions abroad.
Authoritative consent has also been essential. Smolny enjoys
strong support both from St. Petersburg University's (SPbU)
remarkable rector Liudmila A. Verbitskaya and from Bard's
president Leon Botstein. IHRE enjoys the support of UCT Vice
Rector Njabulo Ndebele. Such support is more than a formality,
since it is frequently necessary to secure (and fight for)
the broad support of programs that do not fit established
ways of doing things. Both programs are anchored in formal
agreements that cover such things as the provision of space
and specified services without cost, and the granting of credit.
There is a litmus test of whether an academic partnership
is sound--mutual credit recognition. Smolny's most amazing
accomplishment is surely the fact that it has achieved accreditation
for the program both in the U.S. (through Bard) and in Russia
(through the Ministry of Higher Education). Smolny's graduates,
most of whom have never set foot in the U.S., will receive
two B.A. degrees, one from Bard and one from Smolny College
of SPbU. IHRE also offers credit to both American and Southern
African students who complete the course--no small matter
in South Africa and Zimbabwe, where multidisciplinary courses
are uncommon and curricula generally more prescriptive. Mutual
credit recognition is ultimately the guarantor of the quality
of these programs. It enables Bard to cede much day-to-day
authority to our partners abroad without lessening our commitment
to academic quality.
People frequently ask, "What's in it for Bard?" A dollars-and-cents
rationale is elusive. There is, I argue, an intrinsic value
in expanding the boundaries of international liberal education.
Nevertheless, we can point to tangible and intangible benefits.
Involvement in Smolny College has strengthened Bard's Russian
program. Participation in IHRE has contributed to a growing
momentum and interest in the Human Rights program. The projects
have allowed significant numbers of faculty and staff members
to visit partner institutions and brought even greater numbers
of foreign faculty and staff to Bard. Since 1992, student
exchanges in both directions have involved some 200 students
and made an indispensable contribution to international awareness
on campus. It is possible that by publicizing these innovative
programs Bard will strengthen its appeal to young people who
seek to become globally aware, thus supporting admissions
while further contributing to the internationalization of
The programs do not make money, but neither do they cost
Bard anything except time and energy richly rewarded.4 The
most important benefit may be the least tangible. The engagement
with our partners abroad enhances our own awareness of the
value of liberal education. There are few things more inspiring
than an encounter with teachers and students for whom liberal
education is intellectually and personally liberating in the
strong sense. "The time spent at Smolny College was perhaps
the most exhilarating and productive academic and humanistic
week I have spent since becoming a literature professor,"
is how one faculty members put it after a ten-day exchange
We are only beginning to understand what happens in the intercultural
educational spaces we are creating. We know from students'
testimonials that the changes in their perspective can be
radical--as study abroad has been in the lives of so many
who are engaged in these experiments today. We also know that
there are new and important insights to be gained from the
entry into our classrooms of other narratives and perspectives--not
only as a source of important information, but as a step toward
the establishment of what Chinua Achebe (2000) calls a "balance
What seems most certain about the experience of international
education, if it is conducted in such a way as to foster a
genuine dialogue among equals, is that it makes all participants
more aware of the contingent nature of their identity and
of the knowledge they possess. Such reflective self-awareness
does not just promote personal growth, although it does that.
It also makes us as Americans aware of our own positionality
as citizens of the world's only remaining superpower. As Cornwell
and Stoddard (1999, 20) have observed, "Most generally, across
both U.S. diversity studies and newer forms of international
studies, there is recognition that the social location of
the knower is an important element of the process of scholarship.
The power relations of the knower and the object of knowledge
have to be taken into account and the knower must reflect
consciously on how his or her location shapes what is seen."
This insight applies to the classroom as well as to research
in the field, and to the international as well as the domestic
Many student testimonials reflect the impact of the experience
on their understanding of their positionality. A Bard student
who recently returned from a semester at the Central European
University stated, "I came back feeling more practical and
more grounded in what I want to study, where I want to direct
my energy. I also became more reflective about what our country
is."6 Insights about other cultures and insights about our
own are mutually conditioned on the comparative view that
such exchanges make possible. A student from Kansas State
University who studied at Smolny described the richness that
can result from this productive paradox. "In my classes,"
he writes, "I received the Russian perspective on American
and European contemporary literature, discussed art movements
in the U.S. and Russia in the 20th century and non-verbal
language in literature, and listened to one of the most recognized
scholars--and a living encyclopedia--on Russian literature."
We hope that as time goes on, Bard's engagement with Smolny
College and IHRE will become broader and deeper. One means
for accomplishing this is the use of the "virtual classroom";
beginning in spring 2003, teams of faculty at Bard and Smolny
will offer joint courses, using video conferencing and electronic
media. In the virtual classroom, we anticipate that not only
the faculty pairs, but also the Russian and American students
will bring unique and different levels of knowledge and awareness,
as well as contrasting perceptions to bear on the material.
The "virtual classroom" gives symbolic form to an intriguing
characteristic of the joint ventures in which we are engaged--they
seem to represent a new kind of space. One special characteristic
of this space is the equal footing on which participants have
agreed to engage each other. Another is the protected quality
that results from its location in the interstices of existing
power structures, none of which has final authority. Michael
Taussig may be referring to something of this kind when he
speaks of "a space between," in which self and alterity can
mingle and perhaps "lose their polarity." In the context of
globalization, such spaces are sites of counter-hegemonic
As American liberal arts colleges take up the challenge
of establishing long-term collaborative projects with these
or other potential partners, it will be important for us to
remember that even when it comes to liberal education, we
do not know it all--nor should we desire to. In a 1992 essay,
Felix Guattari called for the preservation of an element of
uncertainty at the heart of new political and social constellations--an
element of uncertainty "that is, in truth, its most precious
capital; on its basis, an authentic hearing of the other could
be established."7Luckily, we can draw increasingly on the
energy and ideas of a vigorously developing movement of liberal
educators abroad. In working with them, we will be creating
a counter force to temper and oppose hegemony-whether by our
own government or others. We will be negotiating the norms
of liberal education in light of the situation in our particular
countries and institutions, and teaching our students to do
Susan Gillespie is director of the Institute for International
Liberal Education at Bard College
1. One interesting recent example is the "UWWorldwide"
program, offered by the University of Washington (UW) in partnership
with Sichuan University in China, in which students engage
in joint research projects and spend time studying at partner
institutions. The program is described on the Web site of
the U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/FIPSE/UW-article.html.
2. Zeleza's article, which is well worth reading, proposes
that African diasporic scholars seek to replace notions of
“brain drain” and “brain gain” with
“brain mobility” as a way of acknowledging their
ongoing participation in the development of African-based
scholarship. Zaleza also has unflattering things to say about
the behavior of American students, whom African universities,
in his words, “sometimes find poorly prepared academically
and culturally, exhibit intolerable racial and class arrogance,
and suffer from the safari syndrome and show more interest
in being tourists than students.”
3. As the director of IHRE recently put it, in a confidential
communication to a new American staff member, “Your
being an American will make people quite cautious and to this
end it is quite critical how you position yourself in the
city” (Private Communication).
4. Funders include the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the
Higher Education Support Program (HESP) of the Soros network
of foundations, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Open
Society Institute, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the
U.S. State Department (through the NISCUUP program), and private
5. M. van Zuylen, typewritten report, May 2001.
6. Jared Goodman, personal testimonial.
7. Translation by Sophie Thomas of “Pour une refondation
des pratiques sociales,” in Le Monde Diplomatique, October
1992, 26-27. Available at http://slash.automedia.org and through
the Durban-based listserv email@example.com. For an argument in
favor of “disempowering” American students, see
David L. Blaney's provocative article, “Global
Education, Disempowerment, and Curricula for a World Politics.”
In Journal of Studies in International Education,
Fall 2002, 6: 3, 268-282.
Achebe, Chinua. 2000. Home and exile. New York: Oxford University
Altback, Philip G. 2001. “Higher Education and the WTO:
Globalization Run Amok.” In: International Higher
Education, no. 23, pp. 2-4.
Cornwell, Grant H. and Eve W. Stoddard. 1999. Globalizing
knowledge: Connecting international and intercultural studies.
Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities,
Friedman, Thomas L. 2000. The Lexus and the olive tree.
New York: Anchor Books.
Gillespie, Susan. 2002. The practice of international education
in the context of
globalization: A critique. Journal of Studies in International
Education, 6:3, 262-267.
Gillespie, Susan. 2001/2. Opening minds: The international
liberal education movement. World Policy Journal,
Gray, John N. 1998. False Dawn. The delusions of global capitalism.
New York: The New Press.
Mthembu, T., P. Soni, and P. Naidoo. 2001. Economic austerity
in the South (panel discussion). In Programme and abstracts,
Globalization and higher education: Views from the South.
London: Society for Research into Higher
Education; Cape Town, South Africa: Educational Policy Unit,
University of the
Western Cape, 74.
Nussbaum, Martha. 1997. Cultivating humanity. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 295.
Soros, George. 2002. George Soros on globalization.
New York: Public Affairs.
Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2002. Globalization and its discontents.
New York: W.W. Norton.
Taussig, Michael. 1993. Mimesis and alterity: A particular
history of the senses. New York: Routledge, 246.
Zeleza, Paul Tujambe. 2002. African Universities and Globalization.
Africa. University of Cape Town, 7. Available at: www.feministafrica.org