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Internationalization: Now What?

By Lan N. Nguyen

Derek Bok's vision of an "international" Harvard moved ahead slowly this year, boosted by several innovative "debt-for-scholarship" deals, but tempered by Faculty criticism and budgetary constraints.

First introduced at the October meeting of the full Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), plans to internationalize Harvard would include increasing foreign student enrollment, offering and encouraging undergraduates to study abroad, improving language instruction and creating an international relations concentration.

The "discussion paper," authored by Associate Dean for International Affairs Joseph S. Nye, met with sharp criticism from three historians. Charles S. Maier '60, professor of history, said that he objected to the emphasis on bringing international students to Harvard rather than educating American students on foreign cultures.

Maier joined Goelet Professor of French History Patrice L. Higonnet and History Department Chair Edward L. Keenan '57 in criticizing the prelimary proposals.

The Faculty again debated the issue with modified proposals in December. But since the second Faculty discussion, the move to internationalize undergraduate education in the other three areas has slowed down, some professors now say.

A small committee created to discuss ways to internationalize undergraduate education has agreed on stiffening foreign language requirements.

The group also agreed that steps must be drawn up to help undergraduates study abroad, but the committee still remains undecided as to the method, Maier said. Members include Maier, Nye, Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France Stanley H. Hoffmann, and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education David Pilbeam.

Bogged down on the first two issues, the organization plans to discuss and draw up plans for an "international relations" concentration, members said.

"We spent a lot of time on a specific problem," says Pilbeam, Ford professor of the social sciences. "We will move on in the next academic year."

The efforts have lost momentum because Harvard is in a state of transition, says Susan J. Pharr, professor of government. Professors and administrators are waiting to see if president-designate Neil L. Rudenstine will show the same level of support for internationalization as Bok did, she said.

"President Rudenstine has expressed interest in this new initiative," says Pharr. "But he has expressed interest in all new initiatives in a noncommittal fashion. The real issue is what he actually does."

With the July 1 departure of Bok, internationalization will lose its architect and most prominent supporter. It remains uncertain whether Rudenstine shares Bok's passionate vision for a more global Harvard.

Another potential obstacle to internationalization may be economic. The creation of a new concentration, international relations, will cost money--money that Harvard may not have.

Earlier this year, FAS Dean Henry Rosovsky announced that all FAS departments would have to cut their budgets up to six percent.

The continued health of the new initiative will depend on the new president and the priority internationalization will receive in the upcoming capital campaign, Pharr says.

But Harvard has taken concrete steps to internationalize the student body by admitting more foreigners. Last summer, the school signed a deal with Ecuador to convert $2.5 million of the country's debt into Harvard scholarships.

The "debt-for-scholarship" swap means that Harvard buys part of the country's debt at a discounted rate from U.S. banks. The University then forgives the debt in exchange for the country setting up scholarships to the school.

Later this April, Harvard agreed to trade $2.9 million of Mexico's debt for scholarships. The "debt-for-scholarship" swap is a "creative way" for Harvard to continue bringing in a qualified and diverse foreign student body, says Nancy S. Pyle, associate director of the Harvard Institute for International Development.

"We don't want talented students not applying to Harvard because they can't afford to go," Pyle said.

By creating funding specific to a country, more foreign alumni and corporations will participate in the debt-for-scholarship swap, she said. Outside funding will also not post an additional drain on the school's financial aid colonies.

"It is country specific because supporters can be seen as investing in their own country's future," said Pyle. "We cannot prioritize scholarship money for international students over domestic students."

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