Higher Education and Public Diplomacy

By Dessoff, Alan | International Educator, September/October 2008 | Go to article overview

Higher Education and Public Diplomacy


Dessoff, Alan, International Educator


An Interview with Patricia de Stacy Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and former Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs

PATICIA DE STACY HARRISON has been president and chief executive officer of the ation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) since 2005. CPB is the largest single source of ig for public television and radio broadcasting.

Before joining CPB, Harrison served as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs and subsequently as acting under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs. Through international education and exchange programs, she focused on reaching wider, more diverse publics with an emphasis on youth. She led an agency managing more than 40,000 cultural, education and professional exchanges annually with a budget of $400 million. In that capacity, she created "Partnerships for Learning," a global initiative providing young people with enhanced education and opportunity. Among other activities, she directed the resumption of the Fulbright Program in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Prior to her State Department service, Harrison was co-chairman of the Republican National Committee. Appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to the President's Export Council in the Department of Commerce, she worked to strengthen export promotion programs on behalf of U.S. Business. She also served in advisory positions with the Small Business Administration and the United States Trade Representative.

A graduate of American University, Harrison has been a visiting fellow at the Institute for Public Service of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

IE: How do you see the role of international education in public diplomacy and international relations?

HARRISON: We have a history of international education that results in people who come to the United States to study becoming rising stars in their own countries 10 or 12 years later. You have to be patient. There's not an immediate return. You could make the case that if you wanted to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of international education programs, it shouldn't be based on whether they support American foreign policy but whether they go back to their countries and become good citizens and contribute to their own civil societies. All we are trying to do is create a community of people of goodwill who, because of the links they have with people in this country and vice versa, will be able to contribute to society.

IE: Members of your panel at the NAFSA conference seemed to agree that the United States has, overall, a negative image abroad. Can international education play a role in helping to improve that image?

HARRISON: It's huge. I hate to posit the idea that international education is the penicillin but in many cases it is. We can be aware, with constant polls, whether people love us or do not love us. Maybe that's the wrong question. It's not an "American Idol" contest. We shouldn't be looking for love in all the right places. What we're looking for is mutual understanding and respect.

But we have to back off from instant gratification. I forgot who said it but a quote I use all the time is "when you want something, even instant gratification takes too long." We have to understand that this takes constant reinvestment and commitment and then it just gets better and better.

IE: Judy Woodruff, who moderated the public diplomacy panel, cited a speech that Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave last year in which he said "We are miserable about communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our politics and our goals." Can international education help us communicate that better?

HARRISON: Of course. An interesting thing happens to U.S. citizens who go abroad to study and people from other countries who come here. …

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