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Womack gains perspective on U.Va.'s international efforts
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Womack gains perspective on U.Va.'s international efforts

By Dan Heuchert

Government and foreign affairs professor Brantly Womack, chair of the Virginia 2020 commission on international activities, recently got a chance to compare U.Va.'s efforts in that arena with those of other universities worldwide at a major conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

His conclusion? "We are kind of ludicrously behind in international activities."

That is about to change though. Womack's group is set to submit its final report to President John T. Casteen III by mid-month. He sketched out his vision in broad strokes at the April 16-20 Cape Town conference, "Towards the Global University II: Redefining Excellence in the Third Millennium."

In his talk, Womack identified five broad categories of international activities -- four substantive, and one administrative -- which he likened to four fingers and a thumb. The "finger" categories are students and faculty abroad, internationalization of the curriculum, treatment of international students and scholars, and international liaisons.

The "thumb" is "the appropriate organization of international activities at the University," likely a central-administration person responsible for overseeing U.Va.'s efforts.

"In some respects the organizational thumb is most important, but only because it is necessary in order for the concrete tasks to be organized and facilitated," he said.

One specific proposal that Womack outlined is for an International Institute of American Studies, meant to be a multi-disciplinary effort to study American society from an outsider's perspective, for both foreign and domestic scholars.

"We think that a truly international forum for American studies is important for America's self-understanding," he said. "The United States exists in a global environment, but it can only see its role from the inside out. A complete understanding of the United States cannot be achieved from simply an intense domestic study. It requires the external perspectives of the rest of the world in order to complete the picture."

The conference drew representatives from colleges and governments in dozens of countries, including 10 from U.S. schools.

"I think the thing that is clear is that there is a tremendous amount of practical collaboration going on," Womack said, citing as examples a teacher's college in New Zealand that is helping to upgrade similar colleges in Indonesia, and an Australian university setting up campuses along the Pacific Rim. There are also many Web-based efforts, he added.

While he acknowledged that "our particular institution will always be grounded in the traditions of the University of Virginia," he said more can be accomplished. When it comes to international involvement, "we look pretty tame, compared to others. It was pretty sobering."


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