September 1, 2016

Message from the International Studies Director

Terrorist attacks in Bamako, Baghdad, Brussels, Istanbul and elsewhere. Brexit. Zika. Refugee and migrant crises. Political turmoil in Brazil. Climate change challenges all over the globe. The past year has seen foreign affairs dominate the news cycle, even during what many observers agree is the strangest US presidential campaign ever. Yet as these dramatic events unfold, educated Americans increasingly hold “foreign affairs” at arm’s length. “The world is flat,” they infamously claim, arguing that globalization has reduced the need to understand the particularities of place. Do the twin hegemonies of English and global capitalism mean that young Americans no longer need to learn about the world and that scholars no longer need to research anything other than “systems” and “networks”?

Charles King argues forcefully against this notion. King, Professor of International Affairs and chair of the Department of Government at Georgetown University, has written a scathing indictment of American myopia when it comes to governmental and popular support for international research at the university level. In his article for Foreign Affairs, “The Decline of International Studies: Why Flying Blind is Dangerous”1, he warns that the United States is in jeopardy of losing one of its greatest assets as a world power: a depth and breadth of knowledge about foreign societies. He notes with alarm that 30% of American researchers in International Relations have no working knowledge of a language other than English.

King goes on to lament the decline in federal funding for research that “peers deeply into foreign societies” and worries that such knowledge is endangered in the current vocational climate, where claims of “immediate usefulness” determine the production of new knowledge. He argues: “Given that no one can know where the next crisis will erupt, having a broadly competent reserve of experts is the price of global engagement. Yesterday’s apparent irrelevancies—the demographics of eastern Ukraine, for example, or popular attitudes toward public health in West Africa—can suddenly become matters of consequence. Acquiring competence in these sorts of topics forms the mental disposition that J. William Fulbright called ‘seeing the world as others see it’—an understanding that people could reasonably view their identities, interests, politics, and leaders in ways that might at first seem bizarre or wrong-headed. It also provides the essential context for distinguishing smart policy-specific questions from misguided ones. Great powers should revel in small data: the granular and culture-specific knowledge that can make the critical difference between really getting a place and getting it profoundly wrong.”

How does this translate to a program like ours at Adelphi? Believing deeply that the nation profits when we know as much as we can about other nations, we will continue to insist that our students examine peoples, events, movements, products, and issues from cross-cultural, international, and global perspectives.

Further, we will continue to train our students, per our mission, to connect the global with the local by understanding the genesis and the impact of particular choices (by individuals, communities, nations) on global developments. This is one of the reasons I sought to secure a study abroad grant for IS majors – to ensure they have a chance to deepen their granular knowledge of a non-American place. (You can read more about that grant on page 7.)

This message marks my last as Director. I will be on sabbatical in Fall 2016 and will hand over the reins of the International Studies Program to my accomplished colleague Maggie Gray. All of us in the International Studies Program look forward to promoting international knowledge on the part of our students during the 2016-2017 academic year and welcome inquiries about the program. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this Fall issue of our newsletter, which gives an aperçu of what we have been up to lately!

Nicole C. Rudolph.

Charles King, “The Decline of International Studies: Why Flying Blind is Dangerous,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2015, 88-98.

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