Summit on International Education

01-17-2006

When I last wrote, I was preparing to attend the U.S. University Presidents Summit on International Education in Washington, DC, where President Bush unveiled his National Security Language Initiative.

The president’s plan—to align federal resources in order to increase the numbers of Americans fluent in critical-need foreign languages like Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi—is a good example of how government is beginning to see new opportunities to partner with universities and schools across the country to address post-9/11 national security concerns.

Beyond the introduction of the president’s plan, the summit was a great opportunity for me to network with higher ed peers from across the country and administration officials to get MSU “a seat at the table” in the expanding conversations with others involved in key international work, in particular with regard to a wide range of global competitiveness issues. We also heard from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes, and I was seated at the table with Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling for dinner on Thursday night.

After 9/11, higher education and many of our international programs were examined in terms of possible security issues. However, the current conversations—of which we are very much a part—are seeing more of a balance, with higher education and our programs increasingly viewed as an important strategic asset.

Closer to home, but in a similar vein, on January 10th, I was invited to a special meeting arranged by Jim Byrum, chair of the Michigan Agriculture Commission and president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. Along with Governor Granholm, representatives of DuPont and Monsanto and other key Michigan agri-business leaders, we discussed how many of the challenges currently facing Michigan’s agricultural sector are also having an impact on the state’s manufacturing sector. We talked about how linking the agricultural and manufacturing capacities of those sectors with the ongoing work of Michigan’s research universities could be the basis for a “bioeconomy” to create economic expansion in Michigan that would be much greater than the sum of the individual parts.

We’ve put together a position paper that has the support of the Michigan Departments of Commerce and Agriculture and the ag community to encourage the governor to think broadly and aggressively about a bioeconomy for Michigan, and to develop some clear, cross-cutting strategic initiatives to coordinate resource allocations across these sectors into an integrated system that will take full advantage of Michigan’s assets. You can read the report at Bioproducts for Economic Expansion (MS Word .doc).

Like the National Summit on Competitiveness that I attended back in December, these were “big picture” events—different pictures to be sure, one with a global vision and the other focused primarily on Michigan—but both consistent with the elements and strategic directions we’ve laid out for the future of Michigan State in Boldness by Design, and in many ways, what we’ve been doing for decades as the nation’s pioneer land-grant university.

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