The University Record, September 11, 2000

Symposium focuses on globalization issues

By Jane R. Elgass

President Lee C. Bollinger (left) and Havel. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
The symposium following presentation of an honorary degree to Czech President Václav Havel last week focused on “Globalization’s Intellectual Challenge.”

Panel members were Havel; President Lee C. Bollinger; Glenda Dickserson, professor of theater and drama; Jan Svejnar, executive director of the William Davidson Institute and the Everett E. Berg Professor of Business Administration; and Michael D. Kennedy, vice provost for international affairs and director of the International Institute, who moderated the discussion.

Havel, whose remarks were translated by interpreter Alexandra Brabcova, addressed his country’s adjustment to “the phenomenon that is post-Communism.”

“Post-Communism almost surprises us [the Czech people] and generates both surprise and mistrust,” he said.” In the time when politics were divided, “a number of problems were not as visible as they are now that the bipolar division is gone. It affects our politics, values and ideas.”

The Communist era, Havel said, helped conceal various movements. Ten years after that, “we are morally returned,” but what matters is content. In the Czech Republic, he noted, “we see the less fortunate aspects” resulting from the huge transformation the economy has undergone. “I see some danger in the loss of human values.”

In the early days of post-Communism, he said, small stores emerged on the streets, which developed into “crossroads of life and human contact.” Huge supermarkets have created a loss of identity. For example, is the food Czech-produced or is it shipped in from some global location?

Provost Nancy Cantor (left), Regent Rebecca McGowan and Václav Havel at the ceremony. McGowan read the honorary degree citation that was presented to Havel. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
“This is just one example on the surface,” Havel noted. “We need to discuss the dangers of globalization. Intellectual reflection is tremendously needed. Intellectuals should play a role and extend into politics and politicians should play a role.”

Citing universities’ involvements in global activities over the past two centuries, Bollinger noted that the “exponential increase in interconnectivity” has raised serious issues.

Universities have responded in different frameworks, including study abroad programs, admission of international students and faculty exchanges.

Faculty devoted to their discipline need to think about globalization, he said, and universities also need to do this. The U-M may need to rethink its own framework. For instance, is study abroad just travel or does it reap educational rewards? International students at the University account for about 4 percent of enrollment. Should that number be increased, especially among undergraduates? What about financial aid for international students, more language instruction, more faculty contacts abroad?

The United States’ major research universities, through membership in the American Association of Universities, talk among themselves about global education. There is no counterpart to that in other countries, Bollinger said.

Bollinger said institutions of higher education need to think more deeply about the relationships between universities. Universities are places where ideas can be explored without worrying about traditional constraints, and they need to think about their relationship to the broader society.

And, he added, while it is “more mundane but important,” universities must examine the extent to which they “take on identity with people outside our borders.”

A new world order is emerging, noted Svejnar, and states and borders are less important. And while this has the potential to make the world a better place, there are two major problems:

  • People often fear globalization, and the benefits so far are unequally distributed. If people are given access to the rewards, a new economy will result. This is a fundamental challenge for the Czech Republic, Svejnar noted.

  • There is wide access to universities in the United States, intense competition among them, resulting in quick dissemination of information. European universities don’t generate the same quality as that available here.

    Symposium panel members (from left) Jan Svejnar, Michael Kennedy and Glenda Dickerson. Interpreter Alexandra Brabcova is at the far right. Photos by Bill Wood and Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services
    Svejnar said American universities need to work with countries like the Czech Republic to increase the quality of their schools and to increase access and resources.

    Globalization accentuates differences, he noted. The challenge for the University and others is to become truly global, to form alliances with other institutions.

    Programs similar to the Davidson Institute, which has placed thousands of students with hundreds of companies, are valuable approaches, as is distance learning, “a real promise for the future.”

    As one of the most respected internationally-oriented universities, the U-M could become the first to meet this challenge and “contribute enormously to the welfare of the world.”

    In closing the symposium, Kennedy noted that Havel “reminded us quite responsibly to live in truth. Universities can be a refuge to think deeply”, even though truth is not an ivory tower.

    Czech Studies at the U-M

    The University has been a leading center for the study of Czech culture, history, language and politics since the early 1950s. The U-M programs emphasize cross-disciplinary training in anthropology, architecture, art, economics, film, history, literature, linguistics and sociology, taught by faculty from a number of departments.

    Units affiliated with Czech Studies include the Center for Russian and East European Studies, first designated as an NDEA Slavic Language and Area Center in 1959 by the U.S. Office of Education. It is a U.S. Department of Education-supported National Resource for Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia.

    The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures offers a wide range of undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in Slavic language, literatures and linguistics, as well as interdisciplinary courses examining Russian and East European culture.

    Students can specialize in Czech Studies within interdisciplinary minor, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, and a graduate certificate program in Russian and East European Studies. They also may focus on the Czech Republic in selected minors and in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs in a number of disciplines.

    The William Davidson Institute, established at the Business School in 1992, is an independent non-profit educational institute. The Institute’s executive director is Jan Svejnar, one of the chief architects of the Czech Republic’s economic reforms in the early 1990s, and economic adviser to President Václav Havel.

    Letters to Olga

    Citing Václav Havel’s steadfast defense of human rights, theater and drama Prof. Glenda Dickerson offered those attending last week’s ceremony and symposium a compelling look at the importance of his commitment to the ideals he holds dear.

    Dickerson read a series of excerpts from Havel’s letters to his first wife, Olga, who died in 1996. The letters were written during his imprisonment in May 1979 and the early 1980s. They were published in 1984.

    Some of Havel’s letters were published at the U-M in the journal Cross Currents, whose publication was coordinated by Ladislav Matejka, professor emeritus of Slavic languages and literatures.

    June 4, 1979

    Havel told his wife that the astrologers were right in predicting prison for him again, and a hot summer, “some kind of permanent sauna” . . .“Every movement has to be calculated to the last millimeter.”

    November 3, 1979

    Havel said he was becoming accustomed to his new situation and set forth tasks he wanted to accomplish while in prison—“self-consolidation,” to be a better “myself,” and “return as the cheerful boy I once was,” to reconstitute himself physically and mentally, write plays, improve his English and German, study the Bible. “If I succeed in fulfilling this plan, perhaps these years would not be totally lost.”

    January 1, 1981

    Havel was in a good mood on the whole, but discovered that “the human body requires that one occasionally become upset and act this out, most often in telling somebody off,” which he had done that afternoon. He was astonished by how good he felt afterwards.

    March 1, 1981

    The murder of John Lennon was “so senseless. . . this shot was fired by the reality of the eighties at one of its departing dreams, the dream of the sixties about peace, freedom, brotherhood, the dream of the flower children.”

    March 20, 1982

    As Havel approached the end of three years in prison, two-thirds of his sentence, he took time to reflect on his “rich plans” to work on himself, which turned out to be “infinitely naive. I did not have a notion about all that [prison life.] The experience is probably truly incommunicable.” There was one thing left, he noted, to prove to himself that he was not “some sort of clown. I stand behind and mean it sincerely. I had to act as I acted. It was simply not possible to act in another way.”

    Havel was released from prison in summer 1984.