Everyone is taking a trip Africa these days, from Bono to President Bush to University President Mary Sue Coleman. Hoping to strengthen the University’s overseas ties, Coleman is on an excursion to the world’s second-largest continent and the Middle East. While this trip does precisely what the University should be doing – especially with its growing emphasis on international exchange – there’s more work to do back in Michigan.

Tom Haynes

Among the many goals of her two-week trip, Coleman traveled to Africa to finalize various exchange programs with universities in Ghana and South Africa. Emphasizing academic collaboration, Coleman arranged for more study abroad programs, expanding educational resources and increased student and faculty exchange. In our increasingly interconnected world, these programs foster the necessary cultural exchange that the University needs. Focusing on Africa, the University is looking to a continent that many other American institutions have overlooked.

The University is also promoting these programs in a more mutually beneficial way than most universities. Some universities have decided to establish satellite campuses in major cities. One prominent example is Education City in Doha, which features five different American universities – a regular shopping mall of education. This approach undermines local institutions and smacks of Western superiority. Coleman’s approach has recognized the value of institutions abroad as complementary resources. This expansion of study abroad programs in Africa provides new opportunities for students and faculty of the University of Michigan and its foreign counterparts.

Back home, there is a lot the University can do to make sure these opportunities don’t go to waste. Affordability is a continual problem for many of these programs. Awareness is another. Exchanges don’t do much good if no one is willing or able to participate.

Students and faculty don’t need a stamp on their passports to embrace the spirit of collaboration, either. We have a neglected neighbor a half hour away where exchange programs could be just as beneficial: Detroit. A program is being discussed that would allow students to live in the city, take classes at the University’s Detroit Center and to participate in much-needed community development projects. This program, like study abroad and exchange programs, would have a meaningful impact on the city and students alike. Exchanges allow each side to share its best qualities, and work together in ways that cannot be taught in a classroom.

Facilitating meaningful collaboration between the University and the Motor City serves a dual purpose. Detroit could benefit from the knowledge and perspectives cultivated in Ann Arbor and a stronger Detroit improves the state, which in turn helps the University. While many people cannot afford a costly trip overseas, a semester in Detroit is a cheap, unique way to gain a new perspective.

To the University’s credit, Coleman’s approach has not been about educational colonialism, but rather strengthening local institutions to better the respective region. Still, the University shouldn’t forget about its neighbors closer to home.

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