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Shaping BU’s place in the world

Council looks at more campuses abroad and more money for international students

Jay Halfond, dean of MET and Extended Education and council cochair. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Building BU into a truly global university won’t happen overnight, according to the President’s Council on Boston University and the Global Future, but the 14-member council recently recommended steps to get there, including more campuses abroad, financial aid for new international students and better integration of current international students, curriculum changes, and hiring faculty with a global outlook.

The council released a summary report of its findings in September. Suggestions varied, ranging from enriching and reforming existing curricula throughout BU’s 17 schools and colleges to ensure that students graduate as global citizens to engaging and integrating the University’s 4,488 international students into the BU community to developing a greater presence abroad — including the possibility of opening more campuses overseas.

To be sure, BU has grown into an international university in the past few decades, according to council cochair Jay Halfond, dean of Metropolitan College and Extended Education. Its international student body ranks among the 10 largest in the United States, and the University has academic programs in 20 countries around the world, along with a large network of international connections and partnerships and an extensive study-abroad program.               

“We are already a leader in international education,” says Halfond. “But the council felt that the University has all the ingredients to further distinguish it as one of the world’s leaders in global higher learning, but we need a concerted effort to make our global character more of a part of our institutional identity.”

Beginning last January, council members conducted surveys, interviews, case studies, and focus groups and interviewed international program leaders at other universities. In February, 620 faculty members responded to a council survey that asked them, among other things, to evaluate the statement, “BU is among the universities with a strong international reputation in the U.S and around the world” — 60 percent agreed or strongly agreed. “The survey reflected that BU faculty are global in their perspective and their work, but also the opinion that the University’s ability to coordinate their expertise is uneven,” Halfond says.

According to the council’s report, “Boston University is fortunate to have a plethora of scholars across departments and colleges that focus on specific regions” in the world, but has yet to organize that talent effectively. The council suggested “a more formal arrangement to facilitate cooperation and collaboration among the area programs around global themes” and urged hiring and retaining more faculty whose research has a global perspective.

Efforts to make the curriculum more global in outlook would be spearheaded by a new entity, the Global Institute. The institute’s faculty members, called University Global Scholars, would serve three-year appointments, help facilitate cross-campus communication on international efforts, and serve as an advisory body on potential partnerships abroad.

Ronald Richardson, director of the
African-American Studies program
and council cochair. Photo by
Kalman Zabarsky

“The goal isn’t to impose a global curriculum from the top down, but rather to plant change agents in as many units as possible. It would be a nondogmatic, localized approach to curriculum change,” says council cochair Ronald Richardson, a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of history and African-American studies and director of the African-American Studies Program.


The council also proposed the possibility of providing more financial aid to students from other countries, thereby attracting those international students who couldn’t normally afford BU’s tuition and encouraging more diversity. “Giving more students from outside the United States opportunities to have a Boston University education, either in Boston or at a BU facility abroad, is a critical ingredient to creating a truly global university for all our students,” says President Robert Brown.
“In addition, we discussed the importance of facilitating interactions on campus between international and domestic students,” says Halfond. “Right now both groups don’t necessarily have a common ground.”

The council stressed the necessity of producing graduates who can function effectively in a complex world and address such global themes as climate change, biodiversity, emerging infectious diseases, and cultural conflicts.
The curriculum focus will shift from an emphasis on Western civilization to a look at civilization globally, with its complexity and contributions from all peoples.

The council, according to Halfond, “felt that Boston University should take some big steps rather than evolutionary changes.”

The report will be discussed at the Faculty Assembly meeting on November 1 at 3 p.m. in the School of Law Auditorium. “After we judge the level of enthusiasm by the faculty, we will incorporate the recommendations into the University’s Strategic Plan and map our next steps,” says Brown.