Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Appadurai: U.S. research universities in era of transition

With a global digital revolution as its backdrop, American research universities are in a unique—and challenging—position to reinvent themselves, explained Arjun Appadurai, the John Dewey Professor in the Social Sciences and senior advisor for Global Initiatives at The New School.

“Institutions devoted to the creation of new knowledge, the reorganization of existing knowledge, and the critical sifting of mere information from mere knowledge should be at the heart of the debates that surround globalization,” he said Thursday as part of his Academic Symposium talk titled “American Universities in the Context of Global Civil Society.”

Appadurai argued that, though America’s research universities are still highly regarded around the world, they are in an era of transition that requires them to think as global partners. He believes American universities need to continue revitalizing their core undergraduate curricula while reorienting their professional schools to be more international in vision.

Appadurai was introduced by Arpana Inman, assistant professor of counseling psychology with Lehigh’s College of Education. “The vision of a global Lehigh has become an important signature of Lehigh University,” she said during her remarks. “But Professor Appadurai encourages us to know that the new connections and new learned realities are creating a situation of disjuncture and difference.”

That view reflects current challenges facing higher education. The explosion of knowledge has led to a rise of disinformation, Appadurai argued, and has created a shadow system of institutions and organizations that are relying less on academic research. These groups—think tanks, advocacy groups, associations, corporations—“do it by themselves and for themselves, without obligation to share it or teach it.”

Aside from his position at The New School, Appadurai also serves as the president of PUKAR, a non-profit organization headquartered in Mumbai, India. The renowned scholar has served on numerous national and international advisory boards, and has served as a consultant for such organizations as the World Bank, UNESCO and a variety of American foundations.

That experience gives him a unique perspective on America’s place in the world—and the positive impact that our research universities have despite the rapid rise of anti-Americanism. Still, there is work to be done.

“No major universities have truly internationalized their curricula,” he said, noting the opportunity to connect liberal arts education to the mission—and research—of graduate level programs and professional schools.

Furthermore, Americans need to find a way to integrate international education into their curriculum. Foreign internships or study abroad opportunities, for example, need to be connected to the curriculum in order for students to fully appreciate the experience.

Elizabeth Vann, assistant professor of psychology at Lehigh, reiterated that theme during a question-and-answer session that explored a “more imaginative” curriculum structure, as well as a link between grassroots globalization and social imagination.

Appadurai earned applause when suggesting that foreign languages become a more visible and strategic part of a student’s education. “That’s something, for example, that needs structure that is ultimately available.”

To read about the other Academic Symposium sessions, please see Academic Symposium explores global impact of research.

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Thursday, April 12, 2007

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