The University has finally launched a major in International Studies, a move that was long-awaited by many students and one that came some years after peer institutions had established similar programs.
While the International Institute at the College of Literature, Science and the Arts has been active for more than 15 years, the University held out on offering the concentration.
After several years of student requests and a successful test-run with a minor, officials at the Center for International & Comparative Studies decided it was time to move on to a major.
Ken Kollman, director of CICS, said an advisory committee comprised of both faculty and students began drafting a proposal for a new International Studies major 18 months ago.
“There was some back and forth with the (LSA) Curriculum Committee,” said Kollman. “The final proposal was accepted last year.”
According to the program’s website, the concentration “offers students the opportunity to take a set of courses across disciplines bringing multiple methods and concepts together to address global problems.”
Students choose from one of four tracks within the major – Political Economy and Development, Comparative Culture and Identity, Global Environment and Health, and International Security and Norms and Cooperation – taking classes that span from economics to comparative literature to political science.
Though the University offers many courses in world politics and international relations, Kollman believes the International Studies major is special for its breadth.
“It doesn’t take the nation-state as the unit of analysis all the time,” he said. “It is very much oriented towards the study of global problems or regional problems that cut across national boundaries.”
During a roundtable discussion yesterday that was part of a program launch celebration hosted by CICS, students were invited to speak with faculty members who were instrumental in developing the major and hear the professors’ views on why the concentration is such a crucial addition to the University’s academic canon.
Relevance, innovation and internationalization were keywords among those at the roundtable.
Susan Waltz, a professor of public policy, stressed the importance of looking at international issues on a global scale rather than simply through an American lens.
“This major offers us an opportunity to switch reference fields so that we can actually become bi-lingual in the language of the world as well as the language of America,” Waltz said.
Daniel Herwitz, director of the LSA Institute for the Humanities, further emphasized the value of preparedness by noting the role the program will play in students’ study abroad experiences, giving them the “skills to think about what it is to be someplace.”
“(Studying abroad) has to be linked to a certain intellectual preparation, so when you go, you know enough about where the hell you are when you get off the plane to be able to start listening to people and what they have to say,” he said. “Listening just doesn’t come out of nothing.”
Geared toward students who hope to someday do work that spans oceans and cultures, the concentration will provide students with a range of skills for the “understanding of things internationally,” as Herwitz put it.
Lenora Paige, an LSA freshman who attended the discussion, said she is interested in the environmental track within the International Studies major because it “applies environmental studies to international issues.”
Kollman has high hopes for the new major.
“We’re only six weeks into the semester and we have 25 students,” he said. “I think it will be a pretty popular concentration.”
If Kollman is right, the University has plenty of catching up to do. Many comparable universities have had programs in International Studies for upwards of ten years.
At Washington University in St. Louis and Johns Hopkins University, International Studies is the largest undergraduate major. Emory, Indiana, Duke and Wisconsin also boast big numbers in International Studies concentrators.
When asked why Michigan lagged in the trend to establish an International Studies major, Kollman said the University wasn’t in a rush to set up a program that wasn’t up to its rigorous, innovative standards.
“I think it took us a while to get it right, and that’s what we did. We didn’t rush in to it. We took the time to make this a program that we’ll be proud of,” he said.