Fulbright Keynoter: University's Main Impact Is Moral
UCLA political scientist Susanne Lohmann underscores the value of values in higher education for a regional association of visiting Fulbright scholars. At afternoon and evening events on April 21, UCLA student leaders, foreign scholars and other invited guests assess the university's role in moral education.
The UCLA-based Fulbright Visiting Scholars Enrichment Program for Southern California, which is one of six such programs nationally, sponsored a series of discussions April 21 on the theme of "Campus to Community: The University's Role in Moral Education." Participating in the seven-hour conference at the Faculty Center were Fulbright Scholars from around the world, Fulbright alumni, leaders of service groups on campus and students enrolled in a course on "Perceptions of America Abroad: Discussions with Visiting Fulbright Scholars" taught by Fulbright coordinator Ann Kerr-Adams. In the keynote speech at the event, UCLA Professor of Political Science Susanne Lohmann said that universities historically have led and today are leading shifts in prevailing societal norms.
Since about 1990, Lohmann said, the number of students enrolled in postsecondary education worldwide has doubled and is approaching 160 million. Driving the growth are developing countries and women, who constitute clear majorities of college students not only in very rich countries but also, for example, in majority Muslim countries including Iran. Chinese women are now overtaking men in the colleges of the world's most populous nation.
Though striking enough on its face, the trend has wider implications than most people realize, because women's education alters societies more than men's, Lohmann said.
"Once a woman has gone through higher education, she's lost for certain ancient ways of doing things, like honor killings and so on. Suddenly, you get things like [higher rates of] divorce, which obviously has its downsides, too. You get different relationships between men and women in the workplace…," she said. "And there's a real potential for revolution here."
Upending accounts that see economics or other forces underlying shifts in attitudes, Lohmann in her presentation took values imparted at the university to come first. She went so far as to credit universities with the sharp rise in global standards of living, felt first in the West, that is more often associated with industrialization. And she said that universities drive away societal maladies including official corruption. Lohmann is completing a book, the culmination of research launched 10 years ago with a Guggenheim fellowship, entitled "How Universities Think: The Hidden Work of a Complex Institution."
Professor Lohmann's provocative talk provided discussion points for the "World Café" organized by a trio of Dutch Fulbright Scholars, Roeslin Segal, Joes Segal and Floris van Vugt. Conferees moved among six tables to discuss the role of morals in academic life, how universities interact with society and how universities contribute to understanding cultural diversity. They reported on the discussions at the end of the April 21 program.
Following the World Café, Kerr-Adams held her regular Wednesday afternoon seminar as a demonstration session for the conference participants. Diego Ubfal, a Fulbright Scholar from Argentina, led students in a discussion of U.S.-Argentine bilateral relations and their history, including U.S. support for military dictators who carried out a dirty war on activists. Every week, the enrolled students grapple with the question of how Americans are perceived by others in response papers based on the discussions.
Over dinner on Wednesday, student leaders discussed their work for (1) the Campus Retention Committee (CRC), which oversees an effort to help students from underserved, underrepresented communities to succeed, (2) the Student-Initiated Access Committee (SIAC), which runs outreach and retention programs for underrepresented groups and (3) the Vietnamese Student Union (VSU). The speakers were CRC Chair Layhearn Tep, SIAC Chair Katrina Vo and VSU President Myca Tran.