Colleges and Universities Fail to Meet Demands for Teaching International Relations

By Krasno, Jean | UN Chronicle, June-August 2003 | Go to article overview

Colleges and Universities Fail to Meet Demands for Teaching International Relations


Krasno, Jean, UN Chronicle


Colleges and universities in many countries, particularly in the United States, are not offering adequate courses in international relations that reflect current global affairs, nor are they meeting student demands for a curriculum that is more relevant to today's questions. These were the conclusions reached by a highly select group of scholars and practitioners in international relations, law and economics brought together by the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) and the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization for a two-day dialogue (22 and 23 November 2002) at Yale University. Changes in the world at large have put significant new demands on faculty members concerned with international affairs and in most schools classes on international subjects are likely to be overbooked. Nonetheless, a recent American Council on Education report concludes that graduates and their parents are disappointed that colleges provide students with only a limited understanding of the international world o f which they are a part. Across all kinds of institutions, from elite schools to community colleges, students are frustrated that what they learned about the world and the international system did not meet their expectations. They had expected to learn about the place of the United States and other major powers in the world and, since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, why many people in other countries resent America. They also want to learn about the constraints of globalization.

There is a perception that students and the general public are confused as to what extent countries are under the control of international institutions, particularly the World Trade Organization (WTO). Students have a set of worries about these institutions which is different from past concerns. They want to know how the United States and the major powers can get along with the rest of the world. There is very strong interest in things international; however, this is not captured by the courses currently being taught.

Students also want to know more about the role of the United Nations, which acts as a counterpoint to unilateralism/isolationism in symbolizing multilateralist perspectives, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan personifies that image. An elaborate dance is ensuing and one critical player is Kofi Annan. It is hard to think who in our political science departments could tell us about the role of the UN Secretary-General or even how the United Nations works.

Specifically, college and university departments have not adequately responded to students who are demanding courses that address international security issues as they interact with trade, finance, health, human rights, the environment and more. Currently, political science departments lack programmes that address these questions, have not been able to overcome bureaucratic obstacles which discouraged interdisciplinary degrees and teaching, and do not necessarily encourage research and writing on such relevant issues as international organizations, international law and governance, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Yet, many scholars are coming to the realization that international relations (IR) and other disciplines, like international law and economics, need to be better integrated into the curriculum in order to educate students when they leave college or graduate school for the real world.

International law is a major case in point. Harold Koh a Yale law professor and participant in the seminar, stressed the significance of international organizations and Governments, and the implications for international law with the classic interaction of national, international and the supranational, the UN being the latter. From Koh's experience, the "I's have it, meaning concepts which start with the letter I. The first I is the inevitability of tension between international organizations and national Governments, simply because these organizations, as they grow in activity and institutionalize their zone of jurisdiction, will increase, thus inevitably increasing the zone of what lawyers call "concurrent jurisdiction".

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Colleges and Universities Fail to Meet Demands for Teaching International Relations
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