I just returned from India. It was my fourth trip there in a year, and only a week long. Somehow traveling like this has become the norm in my life and my career, and I’m not sure how it happened, other than I have a very thick passport, a university with a “global mission” and no children. In the past five years, I have spent a considerable amount of time alone and with students in a variety of countries, including South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, India, the Dominican Republic, and before that, in Moldova, Estonia and other places….I’m clearly not an area specialist, so I suppose one could call me a “global specialist.” My own research focuses on local and global activism, and my teaching mission is to teach students the practice of activism, so I feel incredibly lucky for these opportunities to do what I love.
Recently, my vice-provost asked me how I felt about starting programs in Haiti or Indonesia (or both!) and of course, I found myself agreeing to it all. And then he reminded me that I should probably get a second book out within the next year or so before I go up for tenure.
And here lies the problem: this schizophrenia of being globally oriented while also striving to meet the more parochial, local demands of “academia.”
Most universities and even many colleges in the US seem to have caught the fever for “global” initiatives. They look to expand their boundaries outwards, to embrace whatever benefits globalization might have created (and certainly we’re in a new world where globalization will have to mean something different), but the centrifugal force of the old system remains. No matter how many international programs are created, no matter how many global connections are forged, the expectations of faculty meetings, curriculum committees, articles published, classes taught, robes worn–all remain. Despite the new-found global missions, those expectations will be the guiding principles for tenure approval, so we “GenXers”, who are more comfortable with this global vagabond life, will have to carry the double burden of global and local until the sea change occurs.
My junior colleagues and I seem to be facing even greater challenges than we were prepared to handle (I don’t ever remember a grad school professor advising us how to juggle teaching a class in India while also teaching one in the States, in the same semester), but there is the exhilarating sense of being a part of the vanguard. As Meg wrote in an earlier post, adjectives like “international,” “global,” and “world” don’t really capture the sense of what many of us are doing now, and there are few signposts to guide us. I suppose we’ll travel ’til we get there.