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From the Executive Director's column in the March 1997 Perspectives

Area Studies and Historians

Sandria B. Freitag, March 1997

For the first time ever, a broad range of actors interested in area studies gathered in late January at UCLA to examine past accomplishments, changing contexts, and needs for the future. From the academy, these actors ranged from deans and directors of international studies divisions, through national resource and language as well as undergraduate and business center directors, to librarians and faculty with various appropriate discipline and region-focused specializations. But a number of other well-placed and interested folks participated as well, to bring the numbers of attendees well above 200: besides the U.S. Department of Education (a co-sponsor), a number of higher education associations (e.g., the AAU) sent representatives, as did related organizations (e.g., College Board and the Institute for International Education), foundations (including Ford), and discipline associations.

AHA's participation reflects the Council's committed support for area studies historians. As AHA representative, I attended as a member of two organizations—the National Humanities Alliance and the Consortium of Social Science Associations. Both of these coalitions participate, in turn, in the Coalition for International Education, designed to forward with the Congress and the administration the issues and interests of those involved in international education. As noted below and on page 6, the two consortia of scholarly associations have placed a high priority on securing adequate research support for scholars. The conference at UCLA provided an ideal opportunity to identify significant changes in research support for many of those affected, and to urge new approaches through Title VI to protect these scholars, hit disproportionately by the changing context in which research now takes place.

Occasioned by the upcoming process of reauthorization for the Higher Education Act, especially the Title VI sections on international education programs (and linked to the Fulbright-Hays legislation), this conference focused on painting a broad-gauge depiction of new needs and challenges rather than on specific legislative language. Through plenary presentations as well as ten break-out sessions, participants looked in turn at international changes, the capacity of the academy (and its flexibility) to handle new needs, and the special contribution that can be made by Title VI/Fulbright-Hays.

Context for this fresh look at federal support for area studies was provided by several plenary presentations. Beyond practical information detailing the history and current circumstances of Title VI, conference deliberations were set initially within a framework that treated all of the pieces of international education as aspects of a single knowledge system-this system uses federal funding as leverage and complement for a much broader range of activities that create and disseminate knowledge about the world and America's place in it. This initial insistence on the interconnectedness of training and research about different parts of the world proved extremely important, as the various constituencies quite naturally argued for the importance of their particular contribution to the enterprise.

Voices heard ranged widely among those involved in language training and research; graduate training and research in the disciplines; professional training and research; outreach; undergraduate education; business schools; "heritage" populations; library and collection development; overseas programs; participation by underrepresented minorities; and research. Common themes sounded warnings that each of these particular sets of activities had traditionally been underfunded, and that further erosion of support in that area threatened the knowledge system as a whole. More creatively, many participants tried to envision a future in which a twin emphasis on creating new models (for resource sharing and programmatic change) and on leveraging Title VI funding to attract other support within and outside campuses.

Despite the potential for conflict among potential competitors for federal funding, then, participants proved very mindful of the shared nature of the enterprise and the need to make a case together. Members of the sponsoring coalition formed a Task Force to focus later on lobbying activities, and identified the following principles to pursue in arguing for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act-Title VI and the complementary Fulbright-Hays 102(b)(6) legislation:

  1. Given the new global realities that affect U.S. interests, continuation of these international education and foreign language programs into the 21st century is crucial to the nation's long-range strategic concerns. These programs are a direct federal responsibility because of the importance of international competence and expertise to the conduct of foreign poicy, to the national security, to the vitality of the U.S. economy in a global marketplace, and to U.S. world leadership on diverse issues of global concern. Informed decisions in these areas by public and private sectors must depend on persons with the competency in other nations' languages, cultures and systems required to assess the political, economic, or social implications of decisions and actions. As noted by the House Appropriations Committee Report on Fiscal Year 1996 Appropriations for Title VI/Fulbright-Hays, "The Committee has continued funding for these programs because it believes that foreign language and international education are high priorities for the country."
  2. Leadership for building the foundation in international and foreign language education and research to meet national needs must continue to be a partnership of the Department of Education and higher education institutions, with private sector and state roles. Title VI provides modest but absolutely critical funding for leveraging higher education investments in international education, and for attracting additional funds from the states and private sector. Given expanding national needs for international knowledge and expertise, Congress should place a high priority on increased funding for these programs.
  3. Title VI's current emphasis on institutional assistance, coupled with student and faculty assistance, should be maintained and enhanced. Without federal incentives, international education programs, which are interdisciplinary in nature, would be at serious risk in higher education institutions based on disciplinary departments. Likewise, the extensive local, regional and national outreach activities of Title VI-funded institutions, which provide a cost-effective means of reaching out to other educational institutions, government and the private sector, would not survive without federal incentives. With enormous pressure to access foreign information, address newly important thematic issues and internationalize more disciplines, professional fields, and institutions, Title VI should be enhanced to support the development and dissemination of international knowledge to users across programs and sectors.
  4. Title VI should continue to build national capacity through an array of programs which strengthen the pipeline for producing international competence, expertise, and research, from support for undergraduate, graduate, professional and post-graduate training and research, including overseas experience, to outreach activities to K–12 and higher education institutions. Continued and strengthened emphasis should be placed on participation of underrepresented groups, such as women, minorities, and immigrant heritage groups. Merit-based selection of programs for awards in open, national peer-reviewed competitions should be maintained.
  5. As it enters the 21st century, the nation faces the challenges of a vastly more complex world of free trade and expanding markets that bring diverse languages and cultures to our doorstep. In response, Title VI programs should be enhanced to strengthen the nation's strategic expertise on critical languages, issues and world areas, to encourage new forms of cooperation among Title VI programs in building national capacity, and to incorporate new electronic technologies in meeting national needs.

As the companion report on research suggests (See "The Future of Area Studies: Report on the UCLA Conference Session on Research Issues," beginning on page 6 of the March Perspectives), these principles focused on the contribution to be made by area studies specialists must rest on collaboration and complementarity with the disciplines. The AHA is working to ensure this productive synergy, and welcomes suggestions from members on particular projects or conversations to pursue for this goal.