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    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Help Wanted: The Global University Idea
June 15, 2011 - 8:00am

When I was on the InCommon Steering Committee, I wrote an article for EDUCAUSE Review imagining uses for the bridging authentication technology that many people know as "Shibboleth." That exercise let out the genie in me that long had a penchant for big ideas. Having grown up in Catholic education, the concept of globalization was nothing new, so the idea, first, of a physical Internet layer that went around the world, and then, second, interoperable authentication to access content was consistent with a deeply held tradition and vision. The possibility of communicating content internationally opens up innumerable opportunities for virtual global universities.

[The article can be found here: <>]

A couple of years later, John Palfrey invited me to speak at a Berkman Center luncheon about this idea. Harry Lewis, who would become a friend subsequently, in the moment said plainly that the idea did not have legs. It may or may not, but what I suspect is that my articulation of it failed. In assorted occasions since I have sputtered through a description but still feel as if I am missing many pieces of the puzzle to create a recognizable picture. In this blog I will lay out some of those pieces, but will you, dear reader, help me, fill in the gaps and draw out this idea?

Allow me to lay a foundation: While any number of institutions may honestly lay claim to being a "global" or "international" university, the most immediate definition of that idea goes to those that create brick and mortar institutions in countries outside the United States. Cornell founded a medical college in Qatar in 2001. New York University has a campus in Dubai. In February of 2008 Carnegie Mellon was the principal focus of a New York Times article about the rush of U.S. universities to create "outposts." As my mother would have said about anything from miniskirts to the twist, going global is "all the rage."

When I wrote the article in 2006, I distinctly switched the focus from brick and mortar to deploying the existing technologies to make virtual connections between and among colleges and universities around the world. The technology exists. What we lack is vision, partnerships and programmatic direction at the academic level to forge and foster relationships that could result in systematic globally collaborative research and teaching.

Okay, now it is time for your ideas: how do we get strategic alignment for virtual globalization in U.S. colleges and universities? How do we engage our presidents, and more important, our provosts, to empower faculty in the disciplines to find their international partners? Who are the leaders in the academic disciplines who will pioneer these efforts and show later adopters the way? How might our associations in D.C. be deployed to assist in these efforts by clearing the path of legal or regulatory barriers?

This direction, I believe, dear reader, is the way for liberal arts education to step out and see the stars! How can we enliven liberal arts education with immediacy of working with students from around the world on questions of interfaith and ethics, literature and languages, history and law, math, science and technology? How can we use this interactive teaching to lead to research that will address, and perhaps in this next generation begin to answer, some of the BIG QUESTIONS about environmental sustainability, international Internet jurisdiction and substantive law, equitable access to medical care on a global scale, and economic models that make sense and have a grain of justice for a population already exceeding 6 billion people?

Your turn. Go!


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