Getting Strategic: Internationalizing Liberal Arts
Issue   |   Wed, 03/26/2014 - 00:45

This article is the second in a four-part series about the four core committees involved in this year’s strategic planning process.

Adapting to a changing world, bridging social divides and facilitating open and broad discussions from differing perspectives — these are some the goals of the College’s Strategic Planning Committee on Internationalization of Liberal Arts Education. One of the four main strategic planning committees that are currently brainstorming ideas to improve the College’s future, this committee is focusing on the many ways in which the concept of internationalization can be applied and improved at Amherst.

“Amherst College should strive to be a global institution that produces global citizens,” said Assistant Professor of Economics Prakarsh Singh, a member of the committee.

Like the other strategic planning committees, this new committee met over the course of the fall semester. At the end of the semester it created five subcommittees to tackle a range of issues: curriculum and faculty, international partnerships, curricular and co-curricular activities, international students and study abroad. Now, the committee as a whole has reconvened and is hearing reports from each sub-committee and working towards a report that will be shared with all members of the college community.

One of the main goals of the committee is to make internationalization and global fluency core academic values of both students and faculty at the College. Some key areas include exploring the representation and experiences of international faculty and faculty with international expertise, ensuring that the curriculum devotes adequate attention to global issues and diverse regions of the world and strengthening study abroad programs and international partnerships.

With such improvements, the committee hopes to broaden students’ horizons intellectually, culturally and linguistically. It also hopes to enrich their international competencies by not only giving them more global knowledge, but also encouraging them to think in more global perspectives.

“Amherst College is part of a world in which identities and ideas are rapidly globalizing,” said Professor Amrita Basu, the committee chair and Professor of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies. “We have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how a small liberal arts college can challenge insularities and become a global institution.”

Committee members emphasize the need for faculty to play an integral role in considering these goals and bringing them to fruition. Some of the items under consideration to promote internationalization and global learning include providing faculty with opportunities to develop new pedagogies and to travel overseas to teach and work with their students. The committee also hopes to strengthen the mentoring and advising of international students.

Though academics undoubtedly plays a significant part in the internationalization process, the committee has also been focusing on student life outside the classroom. It has looked at everything from the composition of various student organizations to international student admissions and integration of international students into the college community.

Basu said she would also like to “bridge the gap” between international students and domestic students. Committee members said they believe that forums should be created where international and domestic students can dialogue with one another. According to Basu, domestic students could benefit more from the increased presence of international students if the two groups have opportunities to share their experiences and perspectives.

She recalled one instance in which a Resident Counselor told her how several students arranged for all the students to discuss their life stories during their weekly floor tea time. Basu said that domestic students gained a new appreciation of the experiences of the international students in their residence. She pointed to this as an example of a successful dialogue between international and domestic students.

“We need to open things up and increase exchange and dialogue,” Basu said.

The Committee is considering admissions policies for international applicants and international faculty hiring and study abroad programs. It will consider recommending an increase in the proportion of international students on campus, currently at 8 percent. Amherst’s admissions policies are rare in that the College is need-blind for international students; however, as the number of international applications has steadily increased over the past several years and continues to do so, the percentage of international students has remained at 8 percent of the student body.

“We have so many qualified and talented international applicants who need to be turned down,” Singh said.

Furthermore, committee members expressed their hope that the College might be able to delve further into not only looking at the countries of international applicants, but also their regions and backgrounds. In terms of faculty, the Committee is looking at ways to continue promoting the hiring of international faculty and those who specialize in international regions and having Amherst professors teach abroad. In considering study abroad, the committee wants to strengthen opportunities for students to explore more non-western countries as well as grow the number of international partnerships with other colleges and universities around the world.

The committee has also said the College has faced some challenges this year because of staffing vacancies. There has been a yearlong vacancy in the International Student Advisor position. A search for a new Class Dean and Dean of International Students is currently underway. The Dean of International Students position has traditionally been the main point of contact for international students.

“Staffing is a big problem,” said Khushy Aggarwal ’16, an at-large member of the Committee for Internationalization of Liberal Arts Education and chair of the International Students’ Association. She also pointed out that unlike many other institutions, Amherst College does not have an international students’ office nor any designated areas on campus for international students.

Aggarwal said that one of her personal goals in this committee is to help facilitate what she calls a “fifty-fifty relationship” between domestic and international students — a mutually beneficial partnership in which both sides’ needs are met halfway and both sides are given equal opportunity to thrive.

To begin dealing with some of these aforementioned obstacles, the committee hopes to encourage more conversations between student groups, more campus-wide events dealing with international issues and more dialogue between faculty and students about improving student life.

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