Dean of the Faculty

III. Expanding Our Reach in Ideas

3.3 Global Comprehension

To be an educated person in our interdependent world demands of students and faculty that we increase our global literacy. Our students must be more adaptable and better informed about the world than they were a generation ago in order to become responsible international leaders and citizens. This learning comes in multiple ways: through the diversity of our student body (Section II), mastering foreign languages, immersion in other cultures, and studying the dynamics of diasporas, immigration, trade and investment, and other transnational phenomena. The faculty has heard a vigorous debate about the virtues of all these approaches, anchored in a widely-shared consensus about the urgency of understanding ourselves and our times from a global perspective.

The meaning of global comprehension has taken exciting new forms. The greater ease with which ideas, commodities, and capital flow through the world has eroded the significance of the national boundaries around which an earlier generation of scholarship in “area studies” defined itself. While global comprehension continues to comprise the study of the economies, societies, and polities of diverse regions of the world, it has also come to address the multiple ramifications of border crossings.

Language study retains its claims as a fundamental way of knowing. As one of our colleagues has put it, “language frames the way in which we live in the world. It shapes, perhaps even determines, the perceptual, affective, and cognitive filter through which we engage with reality.” The CAP has heard impressive testimony from alumni about how their undergraduate experience of learning to learn languages was crucial to the range of their careers and the richness of their lives. In terms of the depth of departmental programs and the numbers of majors, Amherst is for the most part the envy of peer institutions. An understanding of the United States in relation to the rest of the world is predicated on an ability to engage the study of languages. Foreign language study gives students access to the riches of other cultures and reveals the parochial nature of many of their assumptions about what is “natural” or “obvious.” It also alerts them to the diversity of an America that is already multi-cultural and ever-more integrated into international intellectual and social life.

However, too few of our students arrive with or subsequently attain fluency in a foreign language. Amherst can and should do more to enhance the visibility and reach of our foreign language departments, including enhanced support for study abroad and language immersion (Section IV) and improvement of the facilities for language learning (Section VI). We anticipate that these measures will increase the number of our students who elect to take courses in our foreign language departments. Some of these departments are currently too small to offer the range and depth of courses adequate to serve both their majors and a larger population of students and may need additional appointments. We also note that consideration of further language appointments would be facilitated by collective decisions on the relation between language and cultural studies and on the potential for interdisciplinary linkages. A small college cannot teach the same variety of languages as a major research university, but those it teaches ought to be supported vigorously.

Most of our students take one or more courses on global issues. However there are large areas of the world that are underrepresented in the curriculum and that individual departments are keen to address. Greater attention to Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America is especially important, as are longstanding interests in Latino/a and Asian American studies. It has become ever more difficult to understand the United States adequately without placing it in a global framework.

Given the pressures of our historical moment, some of the curricular growth in the field of global comprehension may occur as retiring faculty are replaced by new appointments geared toward the current global circumstances. However, since such migration of appointments will not be sufficient to our needs, further resources will be needed:

7. We recommend that 2.5 new FTEs be devoted to global comprehension, their distribution to be made by the CEP among departments that are willing to commit themselves to teaching courses with this focus.