Internationalizing the Academy: Lessons of Leadership in Higher Education
reviewed by Katherine Punteney - July 18, 2016
Title: Internationalizing the Academy: Lessons of Leadership in Higher Education
Author(s): Gilbert W. Merkx and Riall W. Nolan
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1612508677, Pages: 256, Year: 2015
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Internationalizing the Academy: Lessons of Leadership in Higher Education, edited by Gilbert W. Merkx and Riall W. Nolan, offers insight into the strategies and challenges of internationalizing U.S. higher education through essays written by recently retired Senior International Officers (SIOs). The book simultaneously offers an inside look at career trajectories and offers advice for SIOs, those who aim to be SIOs, and those who seek to understand the contexts within which SIOs work.
The editors intentionally chose recently retired SIOs to share their experiences to allow the chapter authors to write with greater candor. The volume emphasizes the authors work in higher education from the 1980s to 2013. The structure allows common themes to resonate throughout the book, knitted with unique details of each individual journey.
Most of the authors fell into their first position as international education administrators after having an international experience and after being asked by someone in their institution to oversee study abroad programs, international student services, international curricular initiatives, or international research. As their careers advanced, the authors took on additional responsibilities, moved to higher levels, and began to focus on the comprehensive internationalization of their institutions. Most of these people changed institutions as they undertook new opportunities and many were SIOs at three or four organizations. Many of the authors also began careers in faculty roles and some returned to these positions at the end of their careers.
A theme running through the narratives speaks to the constancy and inevitability of external change. The authors write of economic downturns that had dramatic financial and demographic effects on international student recruitment or the suspension of international partnerships. Positive change in the form of generous gifts from donors and new government funding programs were perceived as opportunities to be seized. Personnel were cut during recessions and investment in internationalization led to growth and expansion at other times. Each author recounts ways in which his or her own successes and failures in meeting their professional goals were profoundly influenced by these external factors.
Perhaps the most salient theme in the book is the importance of managing relationships within the institution. Joseph L. Brockington summarizes his work succinctly as managing up but leading across (p. 203). Describing the SIO as a middle manager, Brockington and others describe the need to maintain strong relationships with the president and provost who typically provide funding, while working strategically and extensively across the institution with faculty and staff. Regarding managing up, many of the authors emphasize the importance of keeping the president and provost involved and having a seat at the table in the highest level institutional conversations.
The authors emphasize relationships and the importance of engaging with faculty and their roles within academic affairs. Many of the authors argue that possessing an earned doctorate, being positioned within academic affairs, and reporting to the provost are positions that give them credibility with faculty members. Arguing that true internationalization is not possible without faculty buy in, the authors describe successful initiatives to establish faculty committees to oversee international education and in developing resources and support for faculty international research and collaboration.
Gathering resources is a key function of the SIO role. Writing grants, soliciting donors, developing revenue generating programs, and advocating for centralized funding are SIO priorities within institutional environments where resources are scarce and there is fierce competition between departments and divisions to gain funding for their work. Merkx describes this experience and his transition from faculty member to administrator saying, I spent my creative energy lobbying and writing funding proposals instead of research papers (p. 74).
Several authors write that competing for financial resources can put the international office at odds with academic departments and this action has inherent risk. Each author describes efforts to ensure collaborations of mutual benefit to cultivate allies instead of rivals. Uliana Gabara emphasizes the need to ensure that internationalization efforts do not financially hurt the institution or its units, giving the example of ensuring that increased study abroad participation does not diminish enrollments in residential housing. Gabara writes that,
. . . internationalization from above has the potential for alienating the faculty if they do not feel sufficiently consulted and involved in decision-making. It can also alienate other administrators if their prerogatives are being abrogated. Its roots can be shallow, and the SIO can become a scapegoat in intra-institutional turf wars. (p. 137)
Among the external changes most affecting SIOs is the change in campus president and provost. Maria Carmen Sada Krane writes that,
. . . on the average, I reported to a different provost, vice president, or associate vice president every two years of my career as a senior international officer. Each one of them came with different views, perceptions, and priorities related to international education. (p. 111)
Most authors discuss shifting priorities and the loss or gain of resources with the change of president or provost. These changes directly influence the levels of institutional power, influence, and effectiveness of each SIO and when conditions are not favorable, often prompt the SIOs decision to seek another position at a new institution.
Readers are left both with insight into how to be a successful SIO and profound understanding of the ways in which variations of institutional mission, history, and culture affect the success of internationalization initiatives. Successful strategies illustrated in this book emphasize finding institutions with supportive leadership, building relationships across campus, involving faculty, and building sustainable funding models. At the same time, readers must acknowledge how much is out of the SIOs control; external changes and changes in leadership can hamper and even undo previous successes.
This book looks back at approximately the past 30 years and leaves readers with questions about future prospects in this area. Only two of the ten authors are women, reflecting the demographics of international education leadership over the past decades. However, there are increasing numbers of women presently taking on SIO roles, raising the question of how the SIO experience may differ for women in the future. Also, with the professionalization of the international education field, more individuals with extensive professional experience in international education are seeking these roles, and perhaps fewer faculty members will fall into these positions by happenstance. Finally, colleges and universities in the U.S. continue to evolve as higher education becomes commercialized and commoditized while public funding decreases. These changes invite the reader to imagine what a similar collection of essays might look like twenty years from now.
Internationalizing the Academy offers current and aspiring SIOs the opportunity to reflect on the challenges, strategies, and priorities of this role. It offers advice through the relatable and engaging format of personal narrative. Asking retired SIOs to contribute to this volume allows candor and results in an insightful and multilayered examination of the SIO experience that is of value to all those who are passionate about internationalization.