Going Global

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art - Detail from Happy Buddha by Ik-Joong Kang, 2007

The spectacular cultural and economic rise of China in recent years and the rapid development of other parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim are fundamentally changing the world in the twenty-first century—altering expectations about balances, alliances, threats, challenges, and opportunities in the spheres of politics, economics, environmental concerns, the military, the arts, and, of course, education. The University of Oregon, its faculty members, and its students are participating in and contributing to these global developments in scores of ways, among them, by hosting a high-profile meeting that will bring top administrators from an organization of forty-two Pacific Rim universities to the UO campus to envision and help shape that opportunity-laden future.

The Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), an organization that includes the UO along with other leading Asia-Pacific research universities, will hold its sixteenth annual Presidents Meeting in Eugene, June 27–29.

“The overall conference theme is ‘Shaping Asia-Pacific Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century,’” says former UO vice provost for international affairs Denis Simon, a China innovation specialist instrumental in early planning for the meeting. “But it’s really about relationship building and opening up new areas for cooperation. This is an occasion for the UO to sit at center stage, helping enhance Asian-U.S. relations.”

Dennis Galvan, Simon’s successor, sees the presidents meeting as a great opportunity to foster even more of the kind of cross-cultural learning that has become a hallmark of a UO education. “Many of our students immerse themselves in multiple languages,” he says, noting “a quarter of them take advantage of our study-abroad programs, and in 2009–10 we were ranked fifth in the nation for the number of faculty members going overseas as Fulbright scholars.”

This APRU assembly also fits perfectly with the goals of two of the five “Big Ideas” adopted by the UO in 2009 as a framework to guide the institution in a rapidly changing world. Both of the themes—“The Americas in a Globalized World” and “Global Oregon”—are geared to preparing students and the state for a future of increasingly diverse and globalized markets, research priorities, workplaces, and opportunities.

Galvan lists ways a UO education already reflects APRU goals and ideals—a solid lineup of Japanese university exchange agreements, a program allowing UO students to develop fluency in Mandarin while pursuing most majors, and three wings of the new Global Scholars Hall dedicated to language immersion in Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish—a reminder that APRU also represents several eminent Latin American universities. A presentation at the June meeting will explore possibilities around extending aspects of the UO’s Sustainable Cities Initiative (currently focused on one Oregon city each year) in a partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing.

UO Interim President Robert Berdahl is uniquely connected to and familiar with APRU. While serving as chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley in 1997, he was instrumental in helping shape APRU at its inception and was active throughout its developing years.

 “It’s important for Asian institutions to consider the high quality of education at universities such as Oregon,” Berdahl says. “The APRU’s presence here allows us to celebrate the increasing globalization of universities and showcase the many fine qualities that the UO has to offer in this arena. There’s an awful lot of talent here.”

The timing of the APRU event should show Eugene at its best: the three-day meeting coincides with the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in track and field and the Oregon Bach Festival, all under (fingers crossed) sunny June skies. And while attendees may be able to work in a few hours enjoying these cultural and athletic offerings, it is the University’s academic infrastructure that has brought the meeting to Eugene.

Jeffrey Hanes, director of the UO’s Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, explains how the center’s programs have long been cultivating two-way cooperation. “Since 1987, we’ve been arranging for scholars and distinguished figures from the Asia-Pacific region to come here,” Hanes says, “but we’ve also fostered collaborative research overseas, and helped UO colleges train professionals for doing business in East Asia.”

The percentage of international undergraduates enrolling at the UO in recent years has shot up well beyond the national average. This year, approximately 2,700 students from abroad attend the UO, with three-quarters of them coming from Asia, Oceania, and the Pacific region. China is the largest single source of international students with about 1,000 currently enrolled.

The American English Institute (AEI), a longstanding UO fixture, serves as a kind of port of entry for most incoming Pacific Rim students and reflects the trend toward ever more global interaction. The institute helps students learn English and teachers improve the ways they teach English, all in an environment of cultural exchange and increased understanding. The number of undergraduates being served by AEI has increased dramatically over the past several years, from 137 in fall 2005 to 717 as 2012 began.

Another dimension to the UO’s Asian outreach was added in fall 2010 with the inauguration of the Confucius Institute for Global China Studies (UOCI), funded by the Chinese Language Council, in partnership with East China Normal University in Shanghai.

“The China specialist faculty members that make up our advisory board decided to focus its programming on understanding China’s emerging global impact on sustainable technology, international media, and its presence in Africa and South America,” reports history professor Bryna Goodman, who directs UO Asian studies and serves as UOCI’s executive director. “Faculty initiatives across our campus in architecture, geography, physics, and information sciences are building direct links with Chinese institutions.”

On the level of broadening cultural knowledge, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has been cultivating appreciation of the Pacific Rim for nearly a century. Anne Rose Kitagawa, chief curator of collections and Asian art, explains how in 1921, “Over 3,000 precious and finely crafted objects gifted by Gertrude Bass Warner in memory of her late husband firmly established the UO as a leader in trans-Pacific erudition.” The Murray Warner Collection eventually became the foundation for the extensive Asian holdings the museum treasures and displays today. Augmenting the collection, the museum’s active program of changing exhibitions “reflects both the ever-evolving artistic sensibilities and long-held traditions of East Asia,” Kitagawa says.

As China and other Asian and Pacific Rim countries continue to increase their presence in global economic, social, industrial, and cultural spheres, the UO’s ongoing connections and relationships with students, faculty members, and administrators at the APRU member institutions are likely to become even more important than they are currently. Sharing our successes with a who’s who of Pacific Rim university presidents may go a long way in fostering such relations.

What’s up for Pac-Rim students and alumni 

When Pacific Rim students leave the campus, they’re not just “gone and forgotten,” says Cynthia Stenger Riplinger, MA ’01, assistant director for international outreach at the University Development office. She has been expanding the UO’s alumni relations activities, including the annual International Alumni News, a newsletter currently distributed to nearly 15,000 Ducks worldwide. She expects the publication to evolve into a global electronic e-newsletter in the near future, opening possibilities to even wider dissemination of news from the UO campus.

Upon returning to home countries, students wishing to meet with fellow Oregon graduates have officially recognized alumni chapters in Japan and Korea, two countries with long ties to the UO. But with the large influx of Asian and Pacific Rim students from beyond those countries in recent years, opportunities appear to be broadening. “Informal alumni groups are forming in China, Indonesia, and Singapore,” Riplinger reports.  

And what about opportunities while on campus? Anselmo Villanueva, PhD ’92, a UO ethnic studies instructor, points out that “Currently at the UO, Pacific Rim undergrads have organizations such as the Asian–Pacific American Student Union, Vietnamese Student Union, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans for Higher Education, People of the Pacific, Hawaii Club, and Kultura Pilipinas.”

With the UO Alumni Association’s full support, Villanueva has been developing an “Asian–Pacific American (APA) Chapter” for U.S.-born Asian–Americans and Pacific Islanders to further complement these existing student groups.

“Alumni can do things like recruit more APA freshmen and fund scholarships,” he says. “The UO helped get us to where we are now, and many of us enjoy finding ways to give back.”

By Joe Lieberman