EXPANDING HORIZONS at the University of Oklahoma

By Connell, Christopher | International Educator, March/April 2008 | Go to article overview

EXPANDING HORIZONS at the University of Oklahoma


Connell, Christopher, International Educator


STRANGER VISITING the University of Oklahoma's (OU) graceful campus in Norman, Oklahoma, who drives down David L. Boren Boulevard, or strolls into the David L. Boren Honors College, or spies the statue of David Boren in a cornice on Evans Hall might assume that Boren led the university during its glory days.

He did-and still does. For the University of Oklahoma, these past 13 years since David L. Boren relinquished a powerful seat in the U.S. Senate to lead his alma mater are the glory days. In writing a new chapter in a life of public service, Boren has presided over a period of dramatic growth and growing confidence for the University of Oklahoma. "Sooners" have always taken kindly to Boren, the former Rhodes Scholar and politician. They elected him governor at age 33 in a near landslide in 1974, and he won his last Senate race in 1990 with 83 percent of the vote. On his watch OU has quadrupled the number of endowed professor chairs, raised more than $1 billion, and erected dozens of new academic facilities.

Befitting a former chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a man for whom a federal education abroad scholarship is named, Boren has given international education pride of place in OU s curriculum and activities and made the Norman campus a regular stop for world leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Mikhail Gorbachev. Soon after taking office in 2006 as Africa's first elected female head of state, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf visited at the invitation of Boren and Ambassador Edward J. Perkins, OUs senior vice provost for international programs and former U.S. ambassador to Liberia, South Africa, and Australia.

Spurt in International Studies

Oklahoma has boosted education abroad by providing $250,000 in international travel grants and fellowships for students and faculty; three-quarters goes to students. OU has added 15 faculty positions in Chinese and Arabic languages, Asian philosophy, history and politics, the economics of development, European security and integration, international business management, and other disciplines. The School of International and Area Studies, launched in 2001, has grown from three dozen to 350 majors. "It is a hard-charging group," said political scientist Robert H. Cox, the founding director. "We require them to study abroad for at least a semester and take at least two years of a language." Suzette Grillot, an associate professor of political science, says the myriad of international events held on the Norman campus "gets students energized. They learn something about the world here, and that energizes them to go out and actually see that part of the world or study the issue." Perkins, who was ambassador to South Africa during the final tumultuous years of apartheid, says, "When we first started this, we heard from some professors, 'Don't be ridiculous. Anybody who wants to study international relations is going to go to some place back East to study Well that's not true at all."

Of the 23,000 students enrolled on the Norman campus, 1,551 are international students. Oklahoma has forged exchange agreements with 173 partner universities in 60 countries and each year hosts approximately 750 visiting students while sending an equal number off to study at those institutions. Millie C. Audas, director of education abroad and international student services, notes that in addition to enriching the education of thousands of students, the exchanges also have produced at least 89 marriages. The ebullient Audas, a Bolivian-born former language professor with an OU doctorate in higher education administration, received a second doctorate in honoris causa from Université Biaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, France-OUs oldest partner-in 2005 for building Oklahoma's exchange enterprise over nearly three decades. "I was honored not for any research, not for any academic advancement, but for the human relations and the human attachments between the people of France and the people of the United States.

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