No America, Please, We’re Global

What is Global Studies? Nobody seems to have a very clear idea, according to an article on the web site Inside Higher Ed by reporter Elizabeth Redden. Her account of a Washington D.C. academic gathering sponsored by the Association of International Educators Administrators leaves readers pretty much in the dark. The article begins and ends with similar head-scratching quotes. Opening line: “What exactly do we mean when we say ‘global studies’?” (the speaker was Niklaus Steiner, director of the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.) Closing line: “[it’s] much more than renamed international studies. But what does that mean? Where does that leave us?” (also Steiner).

Despite all the murk, let’s assume the obvious – that global studies have something to do with the process of globalization. But why isn’t this field included in the well-established international studies programs? Because it’s completely different, said Sara Tully West of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee The university has a bachelor’s degree program in global studies that she says is distinct from the already existing international studies program. The global studies major, she says, is intended to be more pre-professional than international studies, a liberal arts program. This is one clue to global studies – it is, in part at least, the beginning of a new trade school, embedded in the universities, preparing students for jobs in global management and security. The University of Illinois has created a global studies librarian position. Presumably someone with a global degree would be a step ahead of other candidates for that job and many others.

Oddly, when the globalists explain what they do, they tend to mention studies that have long been part of the traditional curriculum – science, technology, environment, economics, foreign languages, geography, anthropology, religious studies, world history. Writing under the headline, “The Disciplined Undiscipline of Global Studies, ” Michael Bowler, global studies acting director at Winona State University says, “It is clear that global studies is not a discipline but a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary area of study, that is, the world in its diversity and complexity… [It] seeks to understand the worlds through multiple perspectives, and at times through a holistic, integrated, interdisciplinary lens.”

Make sense of that if you can. But here’s a different thought: for decades now the universities have been downgrading or simply jettisoning western history, literature and culture. Disdain for patriotism and American identity is high on campus. The refusal to allow ROTC and military recruiters on campuses is not simply because of the armed forces’ don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on gays. They also stand in the way of the dissociation of the colleges from American national politics and identity. The heavy recent emphasis on international students, study abroad and the creation of satellite campuses in foreign countries are all part of this trend. “Academic programs in American government or in American studies will be increasingly de-emphasized on the grounds that they are parochial, in much the same way as programs in Western civilization were de-emphasized in the past,” said James Piereson, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the head of the Institute’s Center for the American University, which sponsors this web site. “It seems strange and perhaps even impossible to think that universities can detach themselves from the nation which funds, protects and encourages them – yet it would have seemed just as strange a century ago to have asserted that within a few generations these same institutions would divest themselves of all religious influence.”

Some years ago when Swarthmore students were arguing over whether it was respectable to fly an American flag on campus, the president of the college ruled that the flag was okay, but only because America happened to be the geographic entity in which Swarthmore is located. A dissociating globalist ahead of his time.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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One thought on “No America, Please, We’re Global”

  1. As confusing as the conference may look, there is a place for Global studies, just as with international studies.
    One of the major trends on campuses today is to work in areas that might have fallen between disciplines in the past, or that draw information from multiple, previously competing disciplines to form one new program the complements existing fields.
    I do not see any reason to think that studying international developments has anything to do with the leftward slant to campus, and study of globalization need not come at the expense of knowledge of western culture.

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