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
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 Universitys 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 everywhereon
a 3600 circumferencebut unorganized and at a distance from the
Universitys 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 Universitys 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
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:
- Encouragement of international activities of UVA students and
scholars. This includes study abroad programs and research programs,
but also encouragement of individual international initiatives.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Universitys core identity and institutions, and thereby
giving further encouragement and structure to our global reality.
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 dont
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
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
everyones 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
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.