International Imperatives

As we await the next steps in the conflict over immigration policy, it is worth articulating the importance of international partnerships and global engagement to the University of Rhode Island. In 2010 I wrote the following statement about our goal to internationalize and globalize the University of Rhode Island:

“Our world is shrinking as technology breaks down borders and time zones, allowing businesses and communities, large and small, to develop new relationships on the other side of the globe. Our students must be prepared to live and work in an increasingly globalized economy.”

Since then, our world has become even more connected. This transformation is irreversible. The technologies that stimulate and support our global connectivity are becoming more accessible to more people every year. Global travel is easier and more common. Among the world’s largest economies a global market now exists for goods and services, even for many relatively small companies. News, information, and images can now be transmitted across the world to hundreds of millions of people in seconds. Consequently, the University of Rhode Island, and especially its students and faculty, must operate within both a global economy and an increasingly global society.

This fact was recognized in the Ninth Circuit Court ruling that denied the Trump administration’s motion to immediately reinstate the executive order that banned entry into the United States of individuals from seven countries. As noted widely in the press, the harm to public universities inflicted by the executive order was a key component in the decision rendered by the Ninth Circuit. When considering the question of whether the states of Washington and Minnesota had appropriate standing to challenge the Executive Order, the court noted that:

“Both schools [the University of Washington and Washington State University] have a mission of ‘global engagement’ and rely on such visiting students, scholars, and faculty to advance their educational goals. Students and faculty at Minnesota’s public universities were similarly restricted in traveling for academic and personal reasons.”

And further noted:

“Under the ‘third party standing’ doctrine, these injuries to the state universities give the States standing to assert the rights of the students, scholars, and faculty affected by the Executive Order.”

In other words, the damage caused by the Executive Order to the “global engagement” missions of pubic universities provided sufficient legal justification for the states of Washington and Minnesota to challenge the Order in court. We should not be surprised.

In calling for action by the Board of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education, Professor Betsy Cooper (URI/AAUP President) pointed out that “The quest for knowledge knows no borders.” Exactly. Knowledge, wisdom, insight, and expertise may be found throughout the world, and a university must seek them out. Otherwise it does a profound disservice to its students and its constituents.

Moreover, global connectivity has dramatically heightened our awareness of the interests, opportunities, and challenges that all humanity shares. Prosperity is now mutual; economic growth in one nation is dependent upon growth in many others. A country’s economy, society, and even its politics are no longer independent of the rest of the world. The challenges of the 21st century are truly global in scope: climate change, terrorism, infectious disease, food supplies, water, and war, to name a few. No single country – no matter the size of its economy, the capabilities of its military, or the heights of its walls – can overcome these challenges by itself. The nations of the world must work collaboratively. And the world’s research universities must work collaboratively to discover the knowledge and develop the tools that will be required. The University of Rhode Island is already globally engaged to assist in these efforts, and our commitment will only grow over time.

The United States of America is a great nation, rich in talent and resources, strong, diverse, resilient, and innovative. A great nation has the responsibility, indeed the moral requirement, to provide global leadership. Accordingly, America must be globally engaged, must think internationally, devote resources to solving the world-wide challenges of the 21st century, set an example for the protection of human rights for all people, and promote democracy, freedom (especially of speech and the press), and liberty. America’s research universities must be, and are, prepared to devote our resources, our talent, and our efforts towards these goals. At the University of Rhode Island, we shall not waver from that mission.