A global university is a resilient university
The time is right to make the University a global institution
I first laid eyes on the beautiful University of Nevada, Reno campus in the fall of 1986. “Fresh off the boat” as they say, I had come to America to learn English. I lived with a local family and familiarized myself with my new home in Northern Nevada. Over the next 10 years, I met a guy (also a graduate of UNR), received three degrees, had some kids, four of which are currently completing or will have undergraduate, graduate and medical degrees from UNR.
In 1998, several UNR professors and community members, with assistance from a grant from the City of Reno, hired me to start what was one of the first editions of the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC). Over the years, NNIC has become an integral part of various internationalization efforts on campus, along with the good work of University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS), the Intensive English Language Center (IELC), the Global Water Center, and most recently the Ozmen Institute for Global Studies, among others.
It was at IELC where I found my first home at UNR and in Reno. IELC offered English classes for people like me, basically a gateway to higher education and becoming an integral member of this community.
Now 30 years later at a time when we are all learning to live with the reality of life with COVID-19, the University is faced by numerous new realities, including many financial challenges. Just a few months ago, I was leading a campus-wide effort as the chair of the International Activities Committee (IAC), when it became clear to a group of 15 or 20 or so faculty members, UNR had spent too many years focusing inward, and only paying lip service to a “world class campus.” We urged President Johnson to 1) conduct a comprehensive study of the university’s efforts and commitment to internationalization and 2) to create a new position of Vice Provost for Global Engagement. We made some compelling arguments, including the following:
- A study from the American Council on Education that found that 80% of doctoral R1 universities have such a position to assist in coordinating internationalization efforts
- The University has had several failed attempts to increase international students to our campus. We noted the importance of international students both from a cultural and financial perspective
- Students and faculty don’t currently have a central place to learn about international opportunities, including how to obtain Fulbright and other scholarships, nor do faculty have any standardized ways to engage with universities and research collaborators around the world
- The continuing lack of attention paid to underrepresented student groups on campus, including students of color and international students (indeed, there are currently a number of international students at UNR in limbo…they cannot receive federal or state assistance), nor can they return to their countries.
- A failure to move into a direction of enhancing globalization efforts will cost the university significant lost revenue from international students and grants as well as a direct impact on campus diversity
President Johnson agreed immediately. At a meeting in December, he and other officials proclaimed that the University indeed needs to catch up with other like universities to bring UNR to the forefront of a global space to live and learn. President Johnson, knowing his term at the helm was supposed to come to an end, pushed forward with the recruitment of a Vice Provost for Global Engagement (VPGE) during the spring semester, which fell in the midst of a hiring freeze caused by the uncertainties of the coronavirus.
While the IAC committee understands that these are challenging times, we strongly urge the University and Nevada System of Higher Education to consider that now is not the time to turn our back on making UNR irrelevant as a global research and teaching institution. Now is the time to coordinate global efforts and recognize the potential social and financial benefits. In comparison, University of California at Davis’ Global Affairs Division has a staff of over 50 individuals working to bring students and global opportunities to campus. Over the past decade, Universities much smaller than UNR across the West have all established VPGEs, with measurable impact, as they recognize that the one million international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $39-40 billion to the U.S. economy annually.
In comparison, UNR has not made an institutional commitment to a global campus. OISS needs more personnel to increase international student recruitment and retention. Both USAC and NNIC are independent non-profits, mainly because we have felt more secure and sustainable working on the fringe of the University. IELC, the avenue that allowed international students like me to enter the University, is closing its doors this summer after almost 50 years.
UNR aspires to be a world class institution, but this doesn’t come without a commitment to an institutional culture that appreciates a diverse and international student and faculty body, that permeates every department and every student’s experience. In the end, an American student at UNR who never meets an international student in his or her class has not been served to work and compete in the world, shielding them from what experiences required by modern-day employers. Equally, UNR is missing a tremendous opportunity to coordinate new channels of revenue that could greatly sustain it during downturns like what we’re experience now and for years to come.