The following guest post is from my friend and colleague Bryan McAllister-Grande who is currently at Doctoral Candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education and an Advisor for Global Affairs at Brandeis University.
Two years ago, at NAFSA’s Annual Conference in Kansas City, a group of international educators presented a new award to Josef Mestenhauser, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. The “Award for Innovative Research and Scholarship in Internationalization” -- now an annual peer-reviewed process -- is meant to honor contributions to a comprehensive, learning-centered approach to internationalization, an approach that Mestenhauser helped pioneer. Professor Mestenhauser has been gracious to serve on the selection committee for this new award, which was recently given to Bruce La Brack of the University of the Pacific.
Last fall, Mestenhauser published his magnum opus, an 160-page monograph based on his lectures at Minnesota. This book covers, roughly, the entirety of his career and thought. It critically examines the whole field, offering new interpretations of “culture,” research, student learning, education abroad, and learning for international students. Yet, it has not received much attention or debate. Part of the reason must be because it is only available on Amazon.com and has not been marketed in the usual circles. In addition, Mestenhauser’s work has always been considered complex, given his highly philosophical style, and many practitioners are not given ample time to read and review new work in the field – especially at the theoretical level.
But these two reasons can’t fully explain the silence on this book. Other scholars who work at the theoretical level have received comparatively much deeper attention. I wonder if there are other reasons, too, that speak to the current climate for innovation in internationalization.
Mestenhauser’s book arrives at a somewhat odd time for international education. On the one hand, the field seems to be expanding at an unbelievable rate, with more and more people claiming stake to the work. On the other, academics are questioning whether internationalization is reaching an “end,” a “mid-life crisis,” or is simply an empty fad. Jane Knight argues that all the attention given to internationalization has led to some “unintended consequences” – competition, elitism, market-driven priorities, and downgraded quality. The International Association of Universities recently released a statement entitled “Rethinking Internationalization”, which asks, “Has internationalization lost sight of its central purposes?” and aims to convene a global working group.
Meanwhile, on campuses, budgets are being cut, resources are being redirected, and some faculty are questioning the attention being given to initiatives deemed ‘outside’ the central campus mission of teaching and research. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison – a noted leader in global education – a faculty group recommended to dissolve a central Division of International Studies favor of a more diffused approach. The faculty did not repudiate internationalization as a goal, but they did question the motives and the process.
International education has no chance of dying out in today’s global world – but have we lost a sense of purpose and common goals?
When a group feels threatened (even somewhat unconsciously), the tendency is to retreat into familiar, stable, and comfortable positions. True innovation is at risk. Even the recent trend in higher education toward online education and open courseware, while seemingly innovative, seems like a retreat to a comfortable and marketable position. Similarly, I wonder how much “space” there is for international educators to innovate in this climate. When divisions of international studies are dissolved and internationalization is questioned, radicals and critics like Mestenhauser are more apt to be ignored, or pushed off to be tackled ‘later,’ in favor of more positive and conformist arguments.
After all, Mestenhauser does not so much criticize faculty and students and universities in general, but rather turns a mirror on the field itself. While acknowledging many improvements in theoretical rigor and practice since the founding of NAFSA, he still finds the field conceptually bereft. (He cites more publications from the 1950s and 60s than he does from the contemporary literature.) The prominence of current research on “global competence,” for instance, comes under attack for being superficial, as do singular studies on education abroad and international students. Most importantly, Mestenhauser deems the field’s understanding of “culture” to be limited and partial, if not itself culture-bound.
Of course, there is another issue: our field is overwhelmingly collegial and friendly, and we are not used to the usual academic peer review, which can be harsh and judgmental. I wonder if Mestenhauser’s particular mode of criticism is, again, out of place with a general tendency toward collaboration and sharing “best practices” versus theoretical debate. But can’t and shouldn’t we have both?
What do others think? Do you find examples of true innovation in the field, and in what ways? What qualifies as innovation in our field? What are the barriers to innovation, both apparent and hidden? Does innovation come from the sharing of best practices and collaboration, or also from healthy critique and debate and academic-style peer review?
NAFSA’s Review of Global Studies Literature (an online compilation of book reviews and essays of literature in the field, for which I serve as a co-editor) is also considering a forum on this general topic of ‘critiques of internationalization,’ and we would welcome diverse thoughts on Mestenhauser’s book as well as general ideas for reviewing recent critiques in a variety of topic areas. In addition, the next Call for Nominations is available for the 2013 Award for Innovative Research and Scholarship in Internationalization. Please consider nominating someone (or yourself) who has made a crucial and important contribution to the dialogue on how we approach our work.
Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Advisor for Global
Affairs, Brandeis University