Emory Report

August 30 , 1999

 Volume 52, No. 2

John Boli brings global perspective to Senate presidency

John Boli's interest in international contact is not only professional and not just intellectual-it is also quite personal, as it figures prominently in how he met his wife of 19 years, Lisbeth.

"I met her because my sister forgot to get off the boat at the right stop in Greece," Boli said of Lisbeth, a Swede. "They were both still on the boat at the next stop, where they both got off. My wife was wearing an Amnesty International T-shirt, and my sister noticed it because she'd been working for Amnesty also."

The two struck up a conversation, and then the next year when Lisbeth embarked on a low-budget tour of the United States, she did what any cost-conscious traveler would do-she contacted all her American friends, including Boli's sister, for lodging. While in California, Lisbeth stayed with Boli, and the rest is international history.

Actually, Boli's research interest is more accurately described as globalization rather than internationalization, since the latter could describe contact between as few as two countries. An associate professor of sociology, he studies truly global organizations, how they've emerged and how they've influenced the cultures of not only individual nations but the world as a whole.

Boli recently edited Constructing World Culture, a collection of papers that take a comprehensive look at international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs). "What's different about these chapters is they're trying to deal with the entire sector of these organizations over time since they emerged in world society, unlike most of the work that gets done about, say, human rights organizations," he said. "They look at human rights organizations and how they relate to the United Nations, or how they interact with apartheid, and so on. But these are really trying to be comprehensive and say, 'Let's think about how the world human rights regime has gotten organized: what's it made up of? What things are there?'"

It is an area of study Boli hopes to push during his tenure as University Senate president this year. "We need to make sure we get the global component [into Emory's internationalization efforts]," he said. "I'm hoping we might be able to have a lecture series where we bring people in from INGOs, and the same thing for intergovernmental organizations, which have states as members: develop contacts and exchanges with these organizations that are operating as global bodies."

At last year's final regular Senate meeting, Provost Rebecca Chopp talked of "focusing" Emory's international efforts, so Boli could meet with sympathetic ears on the issue. But internationlization is not the only area in which the University could do some focusing, he said. Emory's primary "weakness," he explained, is a byproduct of its tremendous success; the University's meteoric rise in national prominence over the past quarter century is almost unprecedented in the history of American higher education. "It's hard to identify any others that have done it," he said.

But that success has led to a sort of "organizational sprawl" not unlike the suburban blacktop and concrete seeping out from metro Atlanta. "The University can't continue to spread itself ever thinner; there needs to be a firm willingness to say No, to not allow the continuing proliferation of all these new programs and centers and academic initiatives," Boli said. "The way a university gets to be really distinguished is by having a number of really distinguished departments, and the more you proliferate these things, it means people in the departments have to split their energies and resources out."

Boli said the phenomenon is well documented in the sociology of organizations and tends to affect very successful institutions, especially academic ones, more often than those that are less successful.

Other items on the Senate's agenda this year include setting up an orientation process for new Senate and Faculty Council members; enhancing Emory's presence in local publications, especially the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; debating whether to extend certain retirement benefits to employees under 26, an issue that was "settled" last year but may come up again; and providing budgetary support to committees for surveys or other types of research.

But the biggest issue is still a bit unclear. Boli said he's heard quite a bit of talk about the participation, or lack thereof, of Emory faculty in governance matters. As the University debates issues like family leave and tenure for junior faculty and continued duties for emeritus faculty, the role of the faculty as a whole is coming into question.

"It's partly related to the parallel perception that there's not much of an intellectual community here," Boli said. "I don't know that it's worse than the typical place. It's obviously never particularly in faculty interest to be involved in faculty governance because the rewards are very few and the time demands can be very great; you don't get tenure for having chaired a Faculty Council committee."

At a place like Stanford, where Boli received all three of his degrees, faculty participate more in governance not because of more tangible rewards, but just because it's "the thing to do." So University Senate President Boli, in conjunction with Provost Chopp, will hold faculty lunches and meetings open a discussion of governance and other faculty issues at Emory. "It's a dilemma," he said of the faculty's role versus their willingness and ability to expand it. "Whether it will lead to change, I don't know."

--Michael Terrazas

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