CAS: A Global Microcosm in an International University

CAS is a major contributor to the international character of Boston University. CAS students and faculty come from all over the globe, and each year hundreds of undergraduates participate in study abroad programs. But at CAS, that’s just the beginning of the College’s involvement in the global community.

Year in and out, CAS faculty members are engaged research and collaborative initiatives on every continent around the world. During 2010/11, CAS saw significant development particularly in programs dedicated to the study of Africa and Asia, as you’ll see below.

The College’s commitment to global understanding through education is also demonstrated by the leadership roles played by the College’s globally focused programs and top international scholars.

This year, the College’s International Relations and Political Science departments became associate partners in a multimillion-euro project to establish the Erasmus Mundus joint doctorate program, to be known as Globalization, the EU, and Multilateralism (GEM).

GEM is funded by the Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) of the Commission of the European Communities under the Erasmus Mundus Framework Programme. The PhD program will be coordinated by the Free University of Brussels (ULB), with a consortium of six partner universities (ULB, Warwick, LUISS, Geneva, Fudan, and Waseda) and a number of associate partners, including Boston University.

The doctoral program will provide full three-year support for approximately nine PhD candidates annually and will feature shared training programs in support of international mobility actions, international seminars, and joint workshops. Boston University’s initial role in the program will be to vet candidates and participate in the mobility actions, seminars, and workshops.

Adil Najam, director of BU's Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future

Also this year, Adil Najam, director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and professor of international relations and of geography & environment, was invited to serve as an advisor to the head of the United Nations' Human Development Report Office (HDRO). Najam also served on the advisory panel for the 2011 UN Human Development Report. The topical focus for this report was sustainability, giving the Pardee Center a leading role in designing the methodology, focus, and structure of this landmark annual report of the UN and to bring into it the insights and essence of the Pardee Center’s research program.

In another important leadership role, William Grimes, chair of the International Relations Department, was named to the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York based independent, nonpartisan think tank and publisher of the magazine Foreign Affairs. Grimes is an expert on Asian economies: His research had already yielded insights into Japan’s economic travails and the economies of East Asia generally in recent decades.

Through the African Studies Center, Boston University and the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences have established a reputation for being one of this country’s leading centers on African languages, culture, and history.

This year, the U.S. Department of Education renewed the African Studies Center’s Title VI funding to support African language education and area studies. The African Study Center (ASC) received a $1,092,000 Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) grant to provide scholarships for students of African languages, including, for the first time, three annual fellowships for undergraduates. The ASC was also named a National Resource Center for African studies and received $1,085,244 to support curriculum development, community outreach, and research.

Fallou Ngom, Director of the African Language Program

The College of Arts & Sciences has earned a reputation for being a resource for the study of African languages, thanks to the talents of its faculty members. One such scholar, Associate Professor of Anthropology Fallou Ngom, grew up in Senegal, where he learned to speak six languages. Ngom has applied his fascination with language toward the study of a written derivative of Arabic script called Ajami. Although long ignored by colonial powers and the West, Ajami is found in villages all over Senegal, Guinea, and Niger, where it remains a leading written language of commerce, legal documents, journals, even poetry. In recognition of his scholarship in this area, Ngom this year was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.

Ngom is not alone at CAS in his fascination with African languages. Last August, four BU graduate and undergraduate students traveled to Cameroon with a native speaker of Medumba, who is also a PhD student in French Literature at the University, to study the under-documented language. The group collected more than 80 hours of audio data from a wide range of native speakers, seeking answers to a number of linguistic questions. This summer, the College is again extending its reach in Cameroon by sending three more students to continue linguistic fieldwork for Medumba, a language rich in complex tones and changing grammar, but lacking extensive documentation.

As the last American troops leave Iraq and security within the country improves, opportunities for safe, scholarly research there are expected to multiply. The BU Institute for Iraqi Studies (ISI), which opened in November 2010, is designed to create academic links to the troubled nation. (Read the BU Today article.) In partnership with the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies & Civilizations, ISI this year launched an annual lecture. The inaugural speaker was Ryan Crocker, former ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Iraq.

Associate Professor of Sociology Nazli Kibria is dedicated to expanding awareness of another misunderstood part of the world. As a Bangladeshi born in the United States to a family that divided its time between the eastern world and the West, Kibria has long been privy to Americans’ perceptions of her native country, most of which, she says are wildly off the mark. In her book published this year, Muslims in Motion, Kibria examines the Bangladeshi diaspora, telling the stories of challenges faced by Bangladeshis in the United States, Great Britain, the Gulf states of the Middle East, and Malaysia. (Read the BU Today article.)

Also this year, the Korea Foundation awarded the College of Arts & Sciences a grant to establish a new professorship in Korean and Comparative Literature in the Department of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature (MLCL). MLCL offers four years of Korean language and a course in Korean cinema. The new position will build on this curriculum to offer courses in Korean literature and comparative literary studies that will serve concentrations in East Asian Studies and in Comparative Literature, as well as open the door for a concentration in Korean language and literature.

The College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences also remains at the forefront of using new technology to help solve some of our planet’s most intractable problems. This year, CAS scientists played a key role in detecting extensive drought impact on Amazon forests. Researchers at Boston University, NASA, and Federal University in Vicosa, Brazil, published a new NASA-funded study that showed the widespread reductions in the greenness of South American forests in the vast Amazon basin were caused by the record-breaking drought of 2010. “The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation—a measure of its health—decreased dramatically over an area more than three-and-one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010,” said Liang Xu, a researcher in Boston University’s Department of Geography & Environment and the study’s lead author. (Read more about this research.)

Annual Report 2010/2011