Does the globalization of higher education put the humanities at risk?
Here are a few ways in which it might seem so.
Standardization. Standardization across research universities is hailed as a functionally efficient way to move students across geographic borders, as exemplified in the mobility facilitated by the European Erasmas initiative. Dual degree, joint degree, study abroad, and other curricular strategies intended to globalize learning are administratively easier when course credit is transferable. There is particular pressure to favour English – viewed positively as the lingua franca of scientific exchange and thus helping a global community of scholars to interact and share. English is also, in some circles, viewed positively as a teaching lingua franca, especially by language-challenged American students. They can increasingly go anywhere and find courses taught in the one language they know.
If globalization is taken to mean standardization, harmonization and homogenization it puts us on a mistaken path that poses a risk to the humanities, which are necessarily and intently intellectually engaged with local particularities -- languages, literatures, histories, cultures, civilizations.
Development Agendas. Significant parts of Columbia importantly engage globalization through a development and service agenda – notably programs and projects in the Earth Institute, Mailman School of Public Health, School of Social Work, the School of International and Public Affairs, and Teacher’s College. These initiatives are not hostile to the humanities, but in the absence of deliberate efforts to the contrary the humanities will be largely absent. If the Global Centers network in particular, or the University more generally, is viewed as dedicated to a development and service agenda, the humanities are at risk of neglect.
The Pull of Science and Technology. In large parts of the world, certainly in China and India, globalization strategies are anchored in science and technology, especially as these disciplines are used to promote economic growth and national security. As Columbia seeks partners abroad, it will find colleagues, and sources of financial support, more eager to engage our strengths in science and technology than in the humanities, or even the social sciences. How are we to say to global partners – “we will be guided by your priorities,” if those priorities view the humanities as marginal?
Pre-professional training. Undergraduates eager for competencies attractive in the global job market will be tempted to migrate to pre-professional courses, and Columbia’s professional schools are increasingly willing to offer those courses – the Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health being recent and prominent examples. Might these offerings take up curricular space that would otherwise be available to the humanities?