The blogs and the press have been fast and furious in following the fast-paced and unprecedented changes in both Tunisia and Egypt over the past several weeks. Indeed, there has been so much going on, and so much processing of events in the media, that it has kept me quiet, reading accounts or glued to the TV rather than commenting on what has been happening in the world. I have found a few truly insightful pieces, and was impressed by the reporting in the NY Times last Sunday about the difficult discussions and awkward statements from the White House and the Department of State.
By Downing Thomas
Last week, with my still fresh New Year’s resolution to read more (more international perspectives in the news, more contemporary literature), I found a fascinating article in Le Monde analyzing the strange fact that the French President has had no spokesperson for over two and a half years. Most Western democracies put their spokespersons on camera regularly–daily in the U.S., twice per day in Britain, three times each week in Germany). Yet, France, in its role as the exceptional democracy, has decided to do without.
In an article originally published in the Global Times and reprinted in the China Daily on October 29th, Zhang Weiwei chided the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, for claiming that “human rights stand superior to state sovereignty.” Weiwei argues that this “obsolete Western tune” is a fallacy for three reasons: that standards on human rights vary from country to country; that no one (and certainly not the Nobel Committee) is authorized to determine what is or isn’t a violation of human rights; and that the notion that state sovereignty must bow to human rights is far from an accepted truth. Support for the latter assertion is found in the Charter of the United Nations, which lists the equality of sovereign states as its first principle.
As I see the many new international faces on campus this fall, I am also hearing many languages–on the bus and on the streets, in the hallways, and in the Old Capital Centre where our offices are located and where many students hang out eating lunch or studying in between classes. It occurs to me that these many languages of Iowa City (who would have thought?) drive home the fact that our monolingualism in the U.S. is the exception rather than the rule. I suspect that the increasing numbers of international students at the University of Iowa are conveying this important fact to all of our students, particularly those from the Midwest who have not ventured far from home.
On behalf of International Programs, allow me to welcome you to the 2010-2011 academic year after what I hope were refreshing and productive summer months. I very much look forward to working with you to support the international research, teaching, and external engagement that you undertake through IP’s centers and programs, international exchanges, linkage proposals, and the new ways you find to pursue academic innovations across collegiate borders.
Thinking about the majority of students who stay on campus during their years at the University, it is intriguing to consider what leads those nearly 20% of UI undergraduates who study abroad to make that decision and to stick to it. Our own Mark Salisbury has been exploring the factors that shape intent to study abroad for some time. One of the findings of Mark’s research is that women are much more likely to study abroad than men because of gender differences in how students respond to interactions with their peers and to the academic environment.
I had the opportunity recently to attend two events that are exemplary of the ways in which International Programs works to connect our campus and community in Iowa to the globe. The first, a lecture by Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, a native of Ethiopia and distinguished professor at Purdue University, was exemplary of the connections between human rights issues and agricultural science.
The other event—actually a full-blown conference, the Obermann Humanities Symposium (co-sponsored by International Programs)—highlighted a new breed of public scholar who champions engaged humanities research.