Rice: The hidden costs of Northwestern’s global expansion

Jeff Rice, Op-Ed Contributor

Recently, the Global Task Force, chaired by Kellogg Dean Sally Blount and University Vice President Nim Chinniah released the long-awaited report outlining some of the ways in which Northwestern can “go global.” This report is of particular interest to those who teach and research in global studies. The committee itself was heavily weighted to the professional schools, while Weinberg College, where the bulk of classes with global content are taught, was represented by a lone representative.

There appear to be two major foci in this report: The first is to support an array of research themes on this campus. Who can object to that? We have leading scholars in various fields, and to augment such resources by bringing in more international graduate students and post-docs — as well as visiting professors, seed funding to develop research grants for small and large scale projects, etc. — portends to be very exciting. We can quibble about who will decide how this money is distributed, but surely a solution to this can be found. The range of themes identified for research and teaching fields are varied and fairly inclusive. And nowhere is it ordained that our own scholars will be mandated to research according to the preferences of the committee (though, no doubt, market forces in research funding will play some part).

Of course, the true value of this plan will be revealed in funding and hiring over the next few years and strengthening our area studies programs, particularly, in my hopes, within Weinberg. Developing certificate programs in international human rights, human security and national security would place us in line with other institutions and would meet a growing demand from below. In addition to program development, I also hope the plan will boost undergraduate participation in study abroad and make study abroad possible for Pell-eligible Students. And I would like to see classes funded to have a travel component so students can do on-the-ground field work before graduation. I hope this becomes an impetus for the University to pass a diversity requirement for the entire undergraduate program.

The second area is based on the idea of the Northwestern Brand which this committee wants to make global. We might think of this as “the purpling of the globe.” This is where we should get both nervous and worried.

About a decade ago, New York University decided, effectively, to franchise itself across the globe with the most widespread initiative of which I am aware. The feather in the cap was to be Tisch Asia located in Singapore which closed in 2015 after losing a significant sum of money (which NYU is asking the government of Singapore to make good on). In fact, students in this school are presently suing NYU for fraud. NYU opened a range of campuses with the idea that these would all be portals into NYU Central, a “hub” located in Greenwich Village. In brief, this program has not succeeded, it brought down the school’s president and has earned the wrath of the faculty. I am not suggesting that Northwestern is a clone of NYU, but NYU’s effort toward a money-making venture and the production of a global brand failed at both goals. Perhaps the problem is structural, perhaps we can “do it better.”

My second problem with the idea of Global NU is more historical and political. As someone who has studied, written about and taught colonialism in Africa, I get nervous when I hear about expansion overseas and want to know what is the benefit for people there. We are told that global expansion is good for NU, but what would Nigeria get from opening a branch of Kellogg in Lagos? Lagos, for example, has business schools. We already accept students from Africa and Asia into our Evanston campus. Perhaps instead of opening campuses across the world at great expense we should collaborate with existing institutions rather than offering competition. Hoisting the purple flag in, for example, Rwanda will do what for whom? With our seemingly endless resources, we can clearly and favorably compete with indigenous universities in many parts of the world. Would the result be to deplete indigenous resources and put these local universities at risk? Let’s create partnerships with existing institutions. And let’s be mindful of operating in countries with lack of civil rights such as free speech, gender equality, gay rights and workers’ rights.

In my view, the committee’s proposal begins to look like a new kind of educational colonialism; the arrogance and insensitivity by the task force makes me cringe. Flying the purple flag in South America, Africa, Europe and even in other parts of North America such as Mexico should not be part of our goal. Educating our students about global matters, continuing to diversify the campus, passing a two-class diversity requirement (one domestic, one global) and supporting research are all the things we should be doing. Empires are so passé (or, sadly, should be).

These comments are the author’s own and do not reflect the Program of African Studies or any other affiliation.

Jeff Rice (WCAS ‘72) is a senior lecturer in African Studies. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.