March 1, 2012

Skorton: Cornell must invest in international efforts to remain relevant

Tyler Ehrlich
Service-learning opportunities abroad, such the recent trip to Costa Rica by the Cornell Wind Ensemble, are among President David Skorton's priorities for the future of international studies and engagement at Cornell.

In response to a white paper written by Cornell President David Skorton, Provost Kent Fuchs and Provost for Medical Affairs Laurie Glimcher have formed a universitywide faculty committee charged with articulating the future of international studies and engagement at Cornell.

In his paper, Skorton recognizes the long and distinguished history of scholarly work, education and outreach in international studies and international engagement, dating from the very founding of the university. However, he means to "sound an alarm that the entire worldwide Cornell family needs to heed in order to maintain and enhance one of the defining characteristics of this institution" or risk "becoming less relevant globally at just the time when challenges such as global climate change, nuclear proliferation, infectious diseases, trade regulation and many others require international collaboration."

Members of the Committee on the Future
of International Studies and Engagement


• Chair of the Committee Alfonso Torres, professor of veterinary medicine and associate dean of public policy, College of Veterinary Medicine;

• Christopher Barrett, the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and International Professor of Agriculture, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management;

• Tsuhan Chen, the David E. Burr Professor of Engineering and director of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering;

• Madelon Finkel, Weill Cornell Medical College professor of clinical public health and director of the Office of Global Health;

• Peter Katzenstein, the Walter S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies in the government department;

• Sarosh Kuruvilla, professor of industrial and labor relations, Asian studies and public affairs, and chair of the Department of International and Comparative Labor and of ILR International Programs;

• Fredrik Logevall, the John S. Knight Professor of International Studies in the history department and director of the Einaudi Center for International Studies;

• Susan McCouch, professor of plant breeding and genetics and of plant biology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;

• Rebecca Stoltzfus, professor of nutritional sciences and director of the College of Human Ecology's Program in International Nutrition and the Program in Global Health; and

• Chantal Thomas, professor of law and director of the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa.

He reports "evidence of slippage of the quality and focus of international programs" that must be reversed through strategic investments if Cornell is to equip its students "to live and work in a world whose chief problems transcend national boundaries."

To build on Cornell's history of international education and engagement, Skorton will move forward immediately on five priorities:

• Hire new international studies faculty. Of 70 faculty members designated International Professors in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, 20 have emeritus status and another 20 are in their 60s, Skorton reports, and similar trends exist in other Cornell colleges with strong international programs.

Thus "the provosts should play a larger than usual role" to identify areas of greatest need and supply financial incentives to hire such faculty, Skorton writes. Provosts -- in partnership with deans in Ithaca and department heads at Weill Cornell Medical College -- should enunciate specific faculty renewal goals relevant to internationalization.

• Provide more study, internship and work abroad opportunities. Skorton wants no fewer than half of all Cornell undergraduate students to gain international experience through studying, service learning or internships in other countries by the time they graduate. He calls for the Cornell Abroad program -- whose high administrative costs price international experiences beyond the reach of many students -- to be reorganized.

Cornell should aspire "to rank among the institutions with the highest percentage of graduating seniors in the U.S. who have an intensive international experience; these students could be those who have spent three months or more living in another country, who are competent in at least one language other than English or who join the Peace Corps or similar global service organization after graduation."

• Increase financial aid to international students. Such an increase "would greatly benefit all our students as we seek to prepare them to live in a multicultural world," Skorton writes, but he notes that need-based undergraduate financial aid for international students is extremely limited.

• Coordinate administrative efforts. Skorton writes: "... some enhanced coordinative function will be necessary to achieve the goals of a new era of internationalization at Cornell. The Ithaca provost should in particular consider recasting the vice provost for international relations as a new position with responsibility for a wider portfolio."

A central unit integrated with college programs and the efforts of the senior vice provost for research, Graduate School dean and vice provost for undergraduate education could administer Cornell's international education and research programs, reduce duplication, ensure uniform policy interpretation and improve the academic quality of international experience programs.

• Provide seed money for internationalization efforts. "I call on the provosts and deans of Cornell's campuses to allocate some additional funds for these priorities and for other international initiatives," Skorton writes. He suggests the Ithaca campus provost allocate a total of $15 million over the next five years to renew Cornell's commitment to "being international in both scope and aspiration." The president will also allocate some discretionary money he controls to the effort, and the international component of the "Cornell Now" philanthropic campaign will "increase substantially."

An international advisory board would help to guide the design, implementation and assessment of Cornell's international programs.