Going Global

Is this an imperialist culture, in which we are getting the Emory name brand out, or is it a genuinely inclusive, reciprocal partnership?

—Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law

Vol. 9 No. 3
December 2006/
January 2007

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Going Global
How in the world is Emory?

Global Scholarship for Informed Action

Around Campus, Around the World

"I think we want Emory people working in global health to have a kind of distinctive, humble, non-arrogant, cooperative ethos."

"Is this an imperialist culture, in which we are getting the Emory name brand out, or is it a genuinely inclusive, reciprocal partnership?"

Swimming with the Turbot
Scholarship for a Global Public

We May Be Using English, But That Doesn’t Mean We’re Speaking the Same Language
Universalizing global knowledge


Academic Exchange: Do you think Emory should be more structured in its development of international programs?

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im: There is I think sense in allowing energy to build upward from different academic units and schools rather than impose a super-plan from the top down. Public health, the graduate school and department of religion, the law school, and the business school can have different types of initiatives which suit the faculty, the student body. It may be wise for the university to allow this to emerge rather than to impose a structure that might inhibit. That is, to allow a more organic development of programs. But of course I think that it’s no longer viable for a national university not to be international because of the nature of globalization, economic interdependence, political events and negative outcomes like terrorism. What I call our shared human vulnerability is such that ecologically, environmentally, health-wise, political action, terrorism action—all of this indicates that we can no longer think in isolation or act in isolation and claim to be a national university of serious academic research and educational standing.

AE: What does a truly international university look like?

AN: I think shared programs—academic, teaching, and research—in partnership with other regions and an understanding of the global factors—economic, health, and otherwise—on national populations and local populations. So if a university has a research mandate and also a public service mandate, it has to reflect that globalizing interdependence in its programs, its student body, its faculty, its research activities.

The important question to me is, Is this a Coca-Cola culture or a CARE culture? Are we projecting the brand name, economic globalization that would trickle down, that somehow would bring capitalist economies, and the benefits would somehow flow? Or is it a CARE culture—international aid, more of a partnership, more of a people-centered development? Is this an imperialist culture, in which we are getting the Emory name brand out, or is it a genuinely inclusive, reciprocal partnership?
Of course, the human impulse is to be imperialist, because if you have tremendous resources, you think you have a clear vision of what the world should be like. We see this in American foreign policy; we see it sometimes with the best of intentions, because it is not always a question of bad people trying to do bad things, but of naively thinking that they can bring benefits to others. That sort of imperialist posture is very human. We can and should change this if we consciously and deliberately counteract that human tendency rather than expect that somehow we’ve transcended it—that we are so good that we are above this.

Even when you have the conscious policy and the institutional commitment to building partnerships and people-centered development orientation, it will still be difficult because the nature of power relations, resource differentials, and location tend to hamper true partnership. It has to be structural; it has to be deeply rooted. You can’t expect it to happen on its own, you can’t expect it to happen in the normal course of those things even with a declared intent, because the relationship is not symmetrical. It’s not balanced.

AE: Do you think we have an international law school?

AN: I think we have a very strong potential for one in the sense that on this faculty there is a strong international and comparative presence. A lot of people teach international law and comparative law subjects. It is the nature of the American legal profession that is holding us back—more of the corporate, bread-and-butter type of approach to law. Of course it’s always dangerous to generalize, but I think there is a more of a tools-oriented, technician-type approach, a trade, as opposed to the intellectual discipline. There are students and faculty who are committed to the intellectual discipline, the scholarship side, speaking in global terms. But I think the dominant culture in the American law school “business”—the bar associations and judiciary—is more of a trade.
I think American legal education is seriously lacking if it does not at least include the requirement of basic public international law. But American law schools that have international law required are just a handful. The field is still hampered. The fact that most major law schools do not require it makes it harder for everybody because we compete for the same student body, we compete for the same employers.
Also, you need not only those who teach international and comparative law, but you need those who teach in other fields who have an international orientation. And I don’t think we have that yet, but it is evolving.