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International Activities Planning Commission
March 22, 1999
Brantly Womack, Planning Commission Chair



The International Activities Planning Commission had its first plenary meeting on 21 January. Currently it is exploring the five dimensions of international activities outlined at the Senior Leadership meeting of 14 December. Task groups have been formed for each of the dimensions, and they will make their first reports at the third plenary meeting on 25 March. By the end of the year the International Commission hopes to prepare a statement of principles concerning international activities. It also expects to have completed the arrangements for a conference to be held in October and to have specified research tasks related to metrics for each of the task groups. Research will proceed over the summer.

Progress and Plans


Commission members were identified in the fall, and the first meeting was held early this semester. Because a considerable amount of work will be done at the task group level, plenary meetings are planned for once a month. The calendar and location are available on our website. In the two meetings thus far, we have discussed the overall structuring of international activities and of the International Commission, and we have organized task groups with convenors.

Separate from the ongoing meetings, we have been planning a two-day conference in October entitled, "Universalizing the University: New Challenges and Best Practices." Also, a survey of international activities was carried out in collaboration with Development, but the results have not yet been analyzed.


Our meeting this Thursday should show major progress on the part of the task groups. Most of the meeting will be devoted to their reports. At the same time, progress is being made on the conference.


Spring 1999:  further progress on task definition, finish organizing the conference; write a statement of principles for international activities.

Summer 1999:  research on aspiration targets and metrics

Fall 1999: conference 15-16 October; beginning of practical activity of task groups stressing greater involvement of University community.

Spring 2000:  Completion of task group activities; coordination of plans and options.

Summer 2000 and beyond:  Further work as needed.

Information-based planning and the International Commission


At first glance, the task of the International Commission is to cope with a remarkably diffuse array of activities that permeate the entire fabric of the University. However, the fundamental mission is actually quite focussed, though no less challenging. It is to accomplish an intellectual and organizational repositioning of the University in its relationship to the world. Hitherto, the University’s international activities have been at the fringe of its "normal" activities. Since the University is a quite active place its global periphery is quite extensive, and so its international activities appear to be everywhere—on a 3600 circumference—but unorganized and at a distance from the University’s core activities and its core identity.

This is a perfectly natural perspective. But it is not a very scientific one, nor is it appropriate for a major university on the edge of a new millennium. It is a Ptolemaic view of the universe of the University: how the world appears to us rather than how it actually is. In fact, the world does not revolve around Charlottesville, just as Copernicus cautiously observed about the solar system. While this may be an unsettling observation, it does explain the booming, buzzing confusion of international activities on the University’s periphery. If we adjust to being part of the world rather than the center of our own world, then the current confusion on the periphery can become intelligible parts of our trajectory.

The question then becomes one of how to organize the planning of international activities. We have come up with five dimensions of international activities and have organized corresponding task groups. There are four substantive dimensions and one organizational one:

  1. Encouragement of international activities of UVA students and scholars. This includes study abroad programs and research programs, but also encouragement of individual international initiatives.
  2. Enriching international education at UVA. This should involve not only the improvement of programs with an explicit international orientation, such as foreign languages, but a consideration of how international content can be enhanced and coordinated more generally.
  3. Support for foreign students and scholars. Not only does Southern hospitality require proper attention to the needs of foreign students and scholars, but reciprocity of our own external activities requires it. There are many facets of support, and they differ for undergraduate students, graduate students, and visiting scholars.
  4. Developing programs and policies for international institutional contacts and projects. The most spectacular current project of this sort is of course Qatar, but there are many other levels and venues of international institutional cooperation to be considered.
  5. Creation of an appropriate institutional framework for the coordination and encouragement of international activities.

These dimensions can be compared to four fingers and a thumb: The first four are the essential broad categories of international activities. The fifth confronts the organizational question of how the University of Virginia needs to reshape itself in order to acknowledge its identity as part of the world and to encourage its international activities. The organizational thumb and the active fingers need each other. Without a central, encouraging organization, increased international activities mean increased confusion and headaches for the University, and unremitting frustrations for the scholars errant. But organization is not everything. Without serious attention to what actually does and can go on at the University, any organizational reform is likely to create a hollow shell.

The task of the International Commission, therefore, is to conceptualize and to begin the process of folding the existing international activities into the University’s core identity and institutions, and thereby giving further encouragement and structure to our global reality.

Aspiration groups

We have not yet arrived at a definite cluster of five universities that might compose our aspiration group. The task groups have been asked to identify potential members, but they do not report until 25 March.

In any case, however, I expect that the question of aspiration groups will remain complex. This is not due to fuzziness or to fact-anxiety, but to the following methodological problem. There are three categories of the performance of other universities that should attract our attention: best universities (places with top overall reputations in international activities); best practices (concrete activities and accomplishments that might be copied); and feasible models (universities with comparable ecologies who are doing better than we are). These categories will certainly overlap, but they are not identical.

All three should play important roles in our thinking. If we don’t consider the best universities then we are not aiming for second rank but for third. If we focus entirely on whole-institution situations then the thumb will prosper while the fingers wither. The problem is not how to be mistaken for a global university but how to be one. Lastly, if we ignore the specific constraints and responsibilities of being a state university then we will have a place to go but no place to start, and our plans will head toward the shelf. There will be places with a triple match, and I hope there are five of them. But we have not found them yet, and there is still much to be learned from a broader variety of institutions.


The identification of metrics for the aspiration referents and for University of Virginia will be a complicated and difficult process. The task groups are wrestling with this question now, and one of the major tasks over the summer will be to research these questions.

Gap and Opportunity analysis

I hope that the October conference will make a major contribution to everyone’s sense of gaps and opportunities. This will be reinforced by empirical metrics and by the more extensive interaction between the International Commission and the University community planned for next year.

Strategies for improvement

These are the culmination of the planning process, and we expect to produce a comprehensive set of such plans by the end of next year.


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