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The broadening effect of international travel

Jack Lule, professor of journalism and director of Lehigh’s Globalization and Social Change Initiative, is writing a book titled Globalization and the Media, which is scheduled to be published next year by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.

Robert Rozehnal, associate professor of religion studies and director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies, has begun organizing faculty exchanges to fulfill one of the new center’s goals.

The efforts of both professors are being enriched by ties they have established over the past year with colleagues at universities in Malaysia.

As a result of conversations with Malaysian journalism faculty, Lule is expanding the section of his book that discusses the influence of new media on press freedoms.

Rozehnal is weighing the possibility of inviting religion scholars from Malaysia to serve as visiting professors in the Center for Global Islamic Studies, which was formally established this fall. He is also exploring the idea of setting up study-abroad opportunities for Lehigh students in Malaysia.

A timely journey

Lule and Rozehnal forged the ties with their Malaysian counterparts during a 10-day visit to Malaysia one year ago. The two professors were part of an eight-member Lehigh delegation that met with government, education, business and science leaders in the Asian country.

“We had a remarkable time,” said Lule. “The days were chock full of activities, starting at 7 a.m. and going until 11 p.m. We were hosted wonderfully, and we made many friends.”

The timing for the trip could not have been much better. Lule had just signed his book contract, while Rozehnal had just helped draft the academic vision for the Center for Global Islamic Studies. Six months later, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced a $1.4-million grant to the center.

The journalism professors Lule met in Malaysia have sent him follow-up messages and invited him to return. Last summer, Lule met with three of the professors when they stopped in Dallas, Texas, en route to a conference of the International Association for Mass Communication Researchers in Mexico City.

The media, old and new, in Malaysia

In Globalization and the Media, Lule is exploring whether or not the new media, particularly the Internet, has been the “liberating force” many hoped it would be.

“Governments around the world have been slow to censor and control the Internet,” he says. “But as they recognize the power and reach of new media, some governments are taking steps to control it. In Egypt, there have been massive arrests and jailings of bloggers.” China, he adds, has also acted aggressively to monitor and control Internet communications.

In Malaysia, says Lule, the old media is suppressed, but not the Internet.

“Newspapers are very tightly controlled in Malaysia and TV is state-run. But there’s a startlingly independent new media, a lot of blogs and websites. So far, this new media has been very influential. When Mahathir bin Mohamad, the former prime minister, left office two years ago, he started his own blog. Some other bloggers have been elected to Malaysia’s Congress.

“Malaysia’s government is torn between the desire to encourage financial investment and technological development in the country and the desire to suppress information. These are two very contradictory things. It’s hard to bring western companies into Malaysia if they know they’re being watched behind their backs.”

The journalism professors with whom he has communicated speak openly about the level of press freedoms in Malaysia, says Lule, “but find it more difficult to write and publish critiques of the press restrictions in their country.”

Next year, Lule hopes to meet again with his Malaysian counterparts at a conference in Portugal.

“The trip we took last year has been very helpful to me,” says Lule. “It has led to at least three or four ongoing collaborations as well as to a significant section of my book. The section of my book devoted to new media will now include a lengthy discussion of the media in Malaysia.”

Old ties, and a new research center

Throughout much of the 1990s, says Rozehnal, Lehigh had strong ties with Malaysia. For several years, 25 to 30 undergraduate transfer students from Malaysia were attending Lehigh with support from Petronas, the national oil company of Malaysia.

“That population of students dried up when the visa situation became difficult after 9/11,” says Rozehnal. “Things have eased in the past few years, and a number of Malaysian undergraduates have enrolled in my courses. I’m hoping we can reestablish the relationship we once had.”

The trip to Malaysia opened up a variety of potential opportunities for Rozehnal. The University of Malaya’s Center for Civilizational Dialogue has invited him to take part in its conferences and faculty exchanges. And Rozehnal, who already teaches two study-abroad courses, one in India and one in Turkey, says Malaysia would be an ideal site for a third.

Other opportunities would benefit the Center for Global Islamic Studies at Lehigh. The recently announced Mellon Foundation grant to the center provides funding to expand the Lehigh libraries’ holdings in a variety of fields that focus on comparative, cross-cultural Islamic studies, including art, architecture, religion studies, the anthropology of Islam, Islamic politics and history, and Islamic languages and literature.

The Mellon grant also supports faculty positions. Next semester, the Center for Global Islamic Studies is sponsoring three visiting faculty members who will teach courses on Islam and politics; on women and gender in Islam; on Islamic tradition and modernity; and on literature in the Muslim World.

Rozehnal is exploring the possibility of having the center sponsor faculty members from the University of Malaya and from Malaysia’s International Islamic University (IIU) as visiting professors at Lehigh.

“I have been talking with academics at the University of Malaya and at IIU who might want to teach at our center,” he says. “This could be a professor with expertise in the Qu’ran or with expertise in Malaysian politics. The center is for interdisciplinary comparative studies.

“It makes real sense to take advantage of some of the nascent connections we’ve made as a result of our trip to Malaysia.”

The 2008 visit to Malaysia was led by Mohamed El-Aasser, then provost and vice-president for academic affairs and now vice president of international affairs. Also making the trip, besides Lule and Rozehnal, were Jerry Lennon, associate dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science; Joe Kender, vice president for advancement; Kathryn Humphreys, assistant vice president for corporate and foundation relations and career services; Laura Severin, director of international recruitment in the office of admissions; and Debra Nyby, then administrative director for office of the provost and now director of international services.

The group visited universities and met with representatives of the Malaysian Academy of Sciences, the Malaysian Rubber Board and the Malaysian national oil company Petronas.

El-Aasser also met with members of the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange, and Severin visited three prep schools.

 

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

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