In this report for the 1998-99 academic year, the 245th in Columbia's history, I will focus on the international character of the University.
A striking feature of our time is the proliferation of institutions that are intentionally global in their aspirations. This feature is striking because, for most of human history, virtually all institutions have been decidedly local in orientation. Even when trade and political relationships and military projection extended beyond an immediate region, means of transportation and communication set severe limits on interaction and exchange.
The most notable exceptions to this local orientation have been occasional empires with global pretensions and religious communities devoted to reaching all people. The proud claim of Victorians that the sun never set on the British Empire can stand for the various attempts to rule over vast expanses and diverse peoples. And Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam exemplify the universal thrust of missionary religions.
Today this pattern of predominantly local orientation with only a few exceptions is changing in two respects: first, there are many more actors on the global stage as economic and technological forces press the world toward greater and greater integration; and second, the way that both religious and political institutions play their roles is undergoing significant adjustments.
In the case of political institutions, recent years have witnessed increasing constraints on exercising power even in spheres in which the authority of the nation state has been established for centuries. Since the seventeenth century in the West--specifically, with the formal acknowledgment of the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648--the nation state has been accepted as the guarantor of peace and the steward of economic well-being in its geographical area. A system of nation states displaced the pretensions of empire with more focused and also more effective regional authority that, in particular, could contain the religious animosities that had helped to fuel the seemingly endless conflicts of the thirty years of war from 1618 to 1648.
As the extension of influence of colonial powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and of Germany, Russia, Japan, China, and the United States in the twentieth century illustrates, imperial ambitions did not simply die out after 1648. But the basic unit of political authority nonetheless became the nation state. What is, therefore, remarkable about our current situation is the extent to which the effective power of the nation state is being constrained.
The constraints operate both domestically and internationally. In domestic politics in country after country the role of government has been diminished as more and more deference is accorded to market mechanisms. High profile examples are the policies of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev, but there are innumerable less visible illustrations of the same pattern. Simultaneously, multinational corporations in effect declare their independence of individual nation states insofar as they participate in global markets for labor and capital and sell goods and services worldwide.
Equally remarkable is the way in which intergovernmental and multigovernmental fora and agencies also intrude increasingly on the prerogatives of the nation state. Recent examples include the 1995 stipulations for membership in the World Trade Organization, the 1997 treaty to ban antipersonnel land mines, and the 1998 establishment of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, the International Monetary Fund sets stringent targets for domestic economic policy as the condition for loans. Multigovernmental military action is authorized to enforce human rights demands, and the United Nations monitors compliance with internationally imposed requirements on the political establishment of individual countries.
The role of the most universalistically oriented missionary religions is also changing. Fervid believers in the ultimate truth of their own religious position are, to be sure, very much in evidence. But even the most passionately intense betray awareness of how powerful and even perversely attractive are other views, certainly secular as well as religious, with the result that conversion of all or even most people to a single religious position is rarely claimed any more even as a goal.
Such fundamental changes in religious and political patterns are reinforced by the presence of so many new actors on the international stage. Intergovernmental and multigovernmental fora and agencies are arguably extensions of nation states. But as the relative independence of multinational corporations demonstrates, the proliferation of transnational forces is much more than a mere extension of government. Indeed, it is arguably the direct expression of economic and technological integration. The power of this proliferating internationalism is evident in the globalization of media and telecommunications and is captured perhaps most impressively in the ways the Internet connects virtual strangers around the world.
Similarly impressive is the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of almost bewildering variety. NGOs by design are not extensions of government, and many are intentionally international in orientation. In the case of human rights or environmental or economic development organizations, NGOs are in effect the secular counterparts of the impulse to universalism of missionary religions. So religion as well as politics now participates in a global arena that is far more crowded than it was in even the recent past.
This arena of proliferating globalization is, of course, also the setting for the contemporary research university. The research university, too, is an increasingly global institution. The focus of this report is to inquire what this orientation means for the research university in general and for Columbia in particular--and, more pointedly, how a research university that is intentionally global can make the most of the challenges and opportunities that this orientation provides. To that end, I will first review our proud history of international involvement, then describe current initiatives that reconfirm and strengthen our global orientation, and finally indicate the substantial issues that we still need to engage.