Students of the World

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

The concept of appealing to the world on a global or universal platform may seem kind, considerate, and pleasing, but ignores the importance of each nation’s sovereignty and even pride in one’s country. In his book, The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World, author Ben Wildavsky stresses the importance of understanding how global universities, or universities that have research or academic influence beyond their home campus, at the cost of protecting and maintaining university standards at the home campuses and home countries. He appeals to the idea that globalization is occurring and if we as Americans miss this opportunity, we will fall behind the other globalizing nations, such as China, India, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

One could discern the author’s political leanings through several hints and references to certain university’s high-ranking administrative members. In the case of Yale University’s dean, the dean states that Yale wants its students and graduates to view themselves as global citizens while not giving in to their own American bias and perspectives. Stanford’s former associate vice president for strategic planning, Roberta Katz, believes that Stanford’s aim is to “have a global mind-set, from an educational perspective, [which] is very important to us.” She avoids the “international” label for her university’s perspective, feeling that the word “international” focuses on students seeing the world from the American perspective as the educational “hub of the wheel.” She feels that Stanford is a global university with a global, not American, perspective. From these examples, the liberal thinking is exposed for what it is: unfocused on America and focused on the world’s perspective, and afraid to offend those who may not agree with American ideas and perspective.

A large part of the argument favoring global universities’ impact on the world is based on NYU’s expansion into the United Arab Emirates. John Sexton, NYU’s president, is so ambitious to expand his university’s reach and influence that he reached an agreement to create a “global network university,” or as others describe it, a satellite or branch campus, in the city of Abu Dubai. The author has great respect for this university administrator as he focused almost an entire chapter on Sexton’s efforts to open an American university in a Middle Eastern nation. Under the “auspices of NYU,” Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and his wife attended a panel discussion in Abu Dubai discussing the then-recent results of the last U.S. presidential election, where the winner happened to be a lifelong friend of Sexton. There is no indication of another panelist of another political party or belief present at that meeting to challenge the Democratic strategist in a discussion. Wildavsky calls Sexton a “masterful teacher” in a classroom setting, yet points out how Sexton’s liberal bias comes out in a classroom setting. The author remarks, “he makes no secret of his liberal politics.” Reportedly, Sexton poked fun at the 1950’s Ozzie and Harriet, “mocking what he characterizes as intolerance and homogeneity” in order to create the background for pre-1960’s First Amendment jurisprudence. It is not certain whether Sexton told these young Arab students if this was fact or his opinion. It is another example of liberal bias in the media (i.e., the author) and in education (NYU president John Sexton) and the imbalance of opinion in these professional fields.

Yet, as in his ideal example of NYU’s campus in Abu Dubai, United Arab Emirates, there are sacrifices. First, for American faculty and students, it is far from home. Also, as is common among Middle Eastern nations, free speech is limited outside of the campus grounds. If universities want to globalize, they would have to make certain concessions like giving up free speech and freedom of expression. By placing an American university on Arab soil, Sexton ignores the inequality between males and females, as well as gays. His critics argue whether NYU is rewarding the UAE for such treatment of women as well as gays, and if it were professing academic integrity and equality. But, such claims are quickly denied by the author, stating that liberalization will eventually take place in the UAE since NYU’s campus is in the forefront and academia won’t suffer from these outside restrictions and influences. A female professor, Mariet Westermann, “acknowledges that NYU walks a fine line in just how broadly its freedom is defined.”

The rest of the book is relatively balanced with statistical references noting the growing impact of university rankings, the growth and expansion of for-profit universities such as Kaplan or Sylvan, and the constant battle between universities and restrictive countries (like India and China) on tightening their hold on these universities’ operations. The author acknowledges the increasing trend of restrictions on work visas for foreign academics, which has then led to many of them returning home permanently after graduating from an American university. He argues that this “reverse brain drain” will lower the number of researchers who conduct research in America and limit America’s research potential. Yet, to his chagrin, he admits that critics are correct in pointing out that these foreign graduates, upon return to their home countries, will put out ideas that will be utilized by American entrepreneurs for the global economic good. Increased ideas from other countries mean more ideas, and with more collaboration, these ideas will lead to more products created. He also illustrates Americans’ fear of falling behind other nations in science and academic output, when critics argue that Americans still spend more on higher education and will stay ahead of foreign competition. The author concludes that regardless of the pros and cons, the net result of this free trade of academia will only continue to maintain knowledge in the world and thus will “restore global prosperity.”

Spencer Irvine is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.