University of Washington

Panelists at D.C. forum explore future of international affairs education, area studies and foreign language education


By Kristina Bowman
May 29, 2014

One of today's debates around a college education centers around how well prepared students are to be successful and give back to society upon graduation.

Participants at a forum on international affairs education on May 7 in Washington, D.C., presented evidence for what most international school administrators already know anecdotally – the interdisciplinary nature of international affairs programs make graduates valuable in a number of professions. The one-day forum, called “The Future Direction of International Affairs Education and Foreign Language Studies in the United States,” was presented by the UW Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies in partnership with the Wilson Center for International Scholars, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and the Center for Global Studies in the Jackson School.


Professor Anand Yang, Jackson School; Col. Eric Larson, U.S. Army; Professor Reşat Kasaba, Jackson School director; and Sam Eisen, U.S. Defense Department. 

The forum also addressed plummeting funding for international affairs education and how schools are trying to do more with less. In true interdisciplinary fashion, the forum began with a historical overview of U.S. relations with other parts of the world and the role that schools of international affairs have filled in this history.

Deteriorating relations with Russia were on the forefront of everyone’s mind. James Goldgeier, dean of American University’s School of International Service, said that during and after the Cold War, the U.S. was able to set the rules. “Today, the U.S. isn’t able to set the rules for anyone,” he said. “It’s much more difficult for the U.S. to convince others to go along.”

Goldgeier said that students at his school, like other schools of international affairs, receive an interdisciplinary education from professors who provide a wide variety of perspectives: “We have specialists in communication, the environment, economics, public health, geography and others all in the same school,” he said.

Title VI: Making do with less

While implementation of area studies and regional expertise varies among schools of international affairs, educator and professional presenters at the conference agreed that Title VI funding for area studies hasn’t kept up with the impact this training has on society. The budget for fiscal 2011 reduced Title VI funding nationwide by 40 percent.

Universities have been forced to take up the slack or cut programming. For example, Jackson School Professor Anand Yang said that university funding for Title VI National Resource Centers, originally envisioned as being about 50 percent, now makes up nearly 90 percent of funding at some universities.

Anand Yang

Professor Anand Yang presented a history of Title VI funding and the effects it has had on area studies.

In response to this depleted funding, the Mellon Foundation set up grants for select universities in 2012 to provide bridge funding to re-think area studies is a post-Title VI academic environment.

Yang said that Title VI, which encourages outreach beyond campus, especially in its outreach mission to train K-12 educators, has had a multiplier effect, and that other funding is not likely to have the same mission of global diversity. As a result, he said, the number of languages offered at universities could become limited to the most popular and, of those, might not include advanced instruction.

Yang said that while Title VI funding is a tiny fraction of the U.S. Department of Education budget, it is also the easiest to cut, politically. When the choice has been between cutting K-12 or cutting Title VI, he said, the department has chosen to cut Title VI.

Yang showed a graph from a recent survey set to be published in International Studies Quarterly (58:4 December 2014), which asks current and former senior national security decision-makers the usefulness of social science methodologies. Areas studies was rated most useful, with 65 percent of survey participants ranking area studies as “very useful” – ahead of contemporary and historical case studies, as well as policy analysis.

Stephen Lund, assistant director of the European Union Center of Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh, attended the forum because “the funding paradigm is shifting so much with Title VI.” He said his center is looking for alternative sources of funding and schools need to communicate to students, parents and the community the educational value and market links that Title VI centers provide. “Half the battle sometimes is the communication,” he said.

Robert Gallucci

Robert Gallucci, president of the MacArthur Foundation, said policymakers need more help than ever to understand the world.

Robert Gallucci, president of the MacArthur Foundation, also lamented Title VI cuts as “poorly conceived and short-sighted” during his lunchtime keynote speech (read the entire speech). “The loss will be felt for decades,” he said, pointing to lost opportunities from the multiplier effect of Title VI funding. Gallucci said there is a perfect storm against area studies funding today: Funding for the humanities in general has been on the decline, there is a disincentive for teaching area studies because of the lack of tenure-track positions, and market forces are not serving the needs for regional studies.

In spite of this, Gallucci said, “Policymakers need more help than ever to understand the world.… Bad international policy can cost lives.”

Gallucci pointed to Iraq, where the presence of area experts might have improved the eventual outcome following the U.S. invasion. In 2003, he said, area experts were removed from Iraq during Reconstruction. “What followed was a tragedy for Iraq and the United States,” he said.

Language instruction: Start earlier and go deeper

Gallucci gave the following recommendations to prevent more such tragedies. First, he said, address area studies, which are in freefall. Second, address the crisis in language teaching. Teaching needs to start earlier and go deeper. One example is immersion programs in elementary schools. Third, have open and broader criteria for career advancement of researchers and instructors in higher education.

“Parents and students are demanding exposure to other cultures,” Gallucci said, but institutions of higher education are not producing enough deep and broad expertise in area studies.

Maureen Mclaughlin

Maureen McLaughlin, director of international affairs for the U.S. Department of Education.

Maureen McLaughlin, director of international affairs for the U.S. Department of Education, said there needs to be an international focus much earlier for children to ensure economic competitiveness, jobs, national security and diplomacy, and a diverse U.S. society. McLaughlin spoke on a panel about creating global citizens for the 21st century. She said when companies are hiring in other parts of the world, candidates from other countries have an advantage because they usually speak another language. 

McLaughlin said the Department of Education wants to increase global competencies for ALL students. “It’s not a luxury. It’s something everyone should have,” she said. She also suggested starting language learning earlier – before fear of learning a new language kicks in. Anecdotally, she said, parents want their children to have language instruction sooner.
She recommended school boards and others look at to see what languages are prevalent in a particular county (in King County, about 20 percent of the population is foreign born) and use that as a guide on what languages to focus on with limited resources.

Bridging theory and practice

In addition to area expertise, today’s schools of international affairs are encouraging students to focus on a thematic area of interest.


Professor Saadia Pekkanen talks about the Jackson School's new Ph.D. program.

Saadia Pekkanen, director of the Jackson School’s new Ph.D. program, said the design of the program reflects broader changes in the academy, in which tenure-track positions are scarce. Students can choose between four foundational fields, such as “Peace, Violence, and Security,” that will be relevant even as political and global interests shift.
Pekkanen, whose education background includes a Ph.D. in political science, said the Jackson School’s Ph.D. program has the distinction of being more problem-focused, in contrast to departments such as political science that take a methodological or theoretical approach to education.

American University's Goldgeier had a similar view on the need for students to have regional expertise as well as thematic expertise. He said, “When you ask a policymaker: ‘What do you need from academics?’, they say ‘I need someone who can develop policy about real places.’”

Jackson School faculty (and former faculty) attended the forum in Washington, D.C.: Professor Donald Hellmann; Jennifer Butte-Dahl, MAAIS director; Professor Vincent Gallucci; John T.S. Keeler, dean at the University of Pittsburgh; Professor Reşat Kasaba, Jackson School director; Professor Anand Yang; Professor Sara Curran.

Schools of international affairs have also looked for innovative ways to “bridge the gap” between academics and policy. For example, the Jackson School trains students to explain and communicate their research to people and groups outside the academy, Pekkanen said. And American University has a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York for the “Bridging the Gap” initiative to strengthen the relationship between scholars of international relations and the broader foreign policy community.

William Pomeranz, of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, added that one of the founding principles of the Wilson Center is helping academics share their knowledge with the practitioners who can benefit from it.

Professor Reşat Kasaba, director of the Jackson School, has organized briefings for lawmakers and foreign area officers at the University of Washington. “At conferences we always talk about how what we do is important,” he said. “I think it’s helpful to get out of our comfort zone and talk to others.”

Jackson School alum during reception

Jackson School alum B. Amarillis Lugo de Fabritz (REECAS, 1998; Ph.D. Slavic Studies, 2001) teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

B. Amarillis Lugo de Fabritz (REECAS, 1998; Ph.D. Slavic Studies, 2001), attended the conference because she teaches Russian language and culture at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She wants her students to understand how the world affects them. “What does it mean that my H&M clothing comes from Malaysia or that there is a mass drought in Brazil? This is important. We need to think about how we make international education relevant,” she said during a break between panels.

Arcane today, media focus tomorrow

Lara Iglitzin

Lara Iglitzin, director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.

Several panelists cautioned against taking a short-term view of what is most important in the world, despite the media focus on the most immediate crisis. The Jackson School’s Saadia Pekkanen said that when she first started to study outer space 20 years ago, people yawned and thought, “Oh, you must be a Star Trek fan.” Today, Pekkanen is an expert on the space race – in Japan in particular. “You don’t know when an arcane topic might become important,” she said.

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation’s Lara Iglitzin, while critical of U.S. government funding decisions, said that large foundations can be equally accused of constantly changing the focus of what they fund. Iglitzin is executive director of the Seattle-based foundation. (Read Iglitzin's blog post about the event.)

The Kennan Institute’s Pomeranz said, “The irony is that just when area studies is needed most (with Russia and Ukraine), that’s when federal funding has been cut.” Pomeranz cited as an example Putin’s reference to an 18th-century map of the area that referred to New Russia. “You need to know the history of Ukraine to understand what that map meant… and why Ukraine suddenly appeared at the end of the Czarist period.”

Role of area studies in U.S. government

Col. Eric Larson

Col. Eric Larson, director of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Area Officer program.

Col. Eric Larson, director of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Area Officer program, had a different perspective than the academic panelists: “I’d like to give you some comfort that your programs are immensely important and, in fact, do have a direct impact on bilateral and multilateral international issues through the graduates of your programs,” he said. Gen. Raymond Odierno’s vision for the Army, Larson explained, is a globally responsive and regionally aligned force that can understand local language and culture in tactical formations. The decision has led to strategy development for language expertise and culture.

Sam Eisen, U.S. Department of Defense, re-iterated that the Defense Department is constantly building its talent pipeline to enhance U.S. readiness. In 2012, it merged two existing offices to create the Defense Language and National Security Education Office with the mission of “recruiting, training, sustaining, and enhancing language and culture capabilities to ensure national security and defense readiness.”

Sam Eisen

Sam Eisen, director of programs for DLNSEO.

Eisen, director of programs for DLNSEO, said Defense looks for ways to maximize funding to increase student access and opportunity to area studies, including language training and experience abroad. This includes leveraging university partnerships for their ingenuity and expertise.

Eisen said the Defense Department has created a tool to measure regional proficiency and suggested that universities create a similar measurement tool. “I think it’s important for government and business to have that laid out,” he explained. “If you’re saying, I have an M.A. or a Ph.D. from the Jackson School … what can that person do?”

He also stressed the importance of engaging businesses and government, as well as university administrators. “Most provosts and presidents want their institution to have an international mission,” he said. “You can help them define what that really means.”

The future of international affairs

Map of the Arctic

Vincent Gallucci, director of the Canadian Studies and Arctic Studies programs, explains the new Arctic minor at the University of Washington.

Jackson School faculty outlined two new programs that are designed to address looming global challenges. Professor Vincent Gallucci, director of the Canadian Studies and Arctic Studies programs, said the Arctic Studies minor, a partnership between the Jackson School and the School of Oceanography, explores the changing nature of the Arctic region as glaciers melt and waterways open up. “

The world is not going to be as neatly compartmentalized as it has been,” he said, referring to the five countries that touch the Arctic, including Canadian tribal lands, which have “an amazing amount of autonomy.”

Jennifer Butte-Dahl

Jennifer Butte-Dahl, left, director of the UW Jackson School's Master of Arts in Applied International Studies, discusses the new program. The Jackson School's Sara Curran, right, moderated the panel.

Jennifer Butte-Dahl, director of the new Master of Arts in Applied International Studies at the Jackson School, is working to create connections between the program and experts in the field. “I’ve worked in every sector during my career,” she said, “so I’m really interested in the intersections that I think are important.” The first cohort of MAAIS students begins in the fall and will finish 10 months later. The accelerated program is designed for professionals with at least five years of experience.

Goldgeier of American University also pointed to the opportunities in online education. He said a professor who taught an online course last year said it was the greatest teaching experience for him because he was engaging with students all over the world.

While most of the panelists focused on schools of international affairs in the United States, John T.S. Keeler, dean at the University of Pittsburgh, pointed to the increase in APSIA (Association for Professional Schools of International Affairs) schools outside the United States since 1988 and the perception of increased job opportunities for graduates. Keeler said international schools are also symbols of globalization on campus.

In fact, Keeler said, Chinese students are now the number-one source of international applicants at APSIA schools. “All across Asia, they’re emulating APSIA schools in a way that’s had profound effects,” Keeler said.



Keeler shared some conclusions from the 1987 Goheen report, which offered recommendations to APSIA schools, and looked at which recommendations APSIA schools have adopted, such as an increased use of case studies and role play. He said some of Goheen’s noted challenges still exist, including a tension between theory and application. Keeler said that students have difficulty making the connections between the theory they learn from professors and the skills they are taught by practitioners.

Another interesting statistic that Keeler shared was the increase in women attending APSIA schools. In 1987, only 39 percent of students were women. In 2012, that figure had jumped to 56 percent of students at APSIA schools.

Sarah Curran, director of the Center for Global Studies at the Jackson School, said today’s international affairs graduates “need to understand complexity.” During the last 25 years, Curran said, there has been a proliferation of global stakeholders. “We’re not just talking about national leaders shaping the world,” she said. “We’re talking about transnational organizations, social movements, and corporations that are not finding support in the usual realms, such as cybersecurity, and having to make policy on their own. … Students need to be culturally competent in any sector of the economy – not just government.”

One of Curran’s former students, Jared Sarkis (BA, 2013), recently moved to Washington, D.C., and said he was glad he decided to attend the forum. He understands the importance of immersive language training first-hand as a recipient of a FLAS fellowship that allowed him to live in Jordan while he was a student at the Jackson School. He agreed with other panelists’ recommendations to make sure younger students have an international perspective before they reach college. “Every country is tied together somehow,” he said.

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