Nicholas B. Dirks: Scholars, Spies, and Global Studies

Nicholas B. Dirks is a professor of history and anthropology at Columbia University, where he is also executive vice president for the arts and sciences and dean of the faculty.

No one doubts that globalization is one of the most important trends of our day. Nor does anyone question that it affects what we study, how we teach, and whom we seek to reach. Beyond that, however, there is little consensus.

As American universities expand their global footprint with branch campuses in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere, many faculty are concerned about oppressive governance, human-rights violations, and lack of academic freedom abroad. Meanwhile administrators grapple with how these new ventures—and globalization in general—will change teaching and research in the United States. As higher education seeks new audiences, will it be able to maintain the significance and character of the liberal arts, which have played such a crucial role in the educational mission of the American university?

Similarly educators increasingly agree that all undergraduates ought to pursue some study abroad. But should it involve language study and full cultural immersion? Or short-term travel and networking through internships and other kinds of programs?

The lack of clarity is especially troubling in my own field of area studies, where a growing number of scholars have abandoned older practices in favor of new forms of global study....

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