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Interview: Dean Tom Farer on the Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Korbel School Dean Tom Farer. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Q: How is the Korbel School different from other international studies programs?

A: We primarily prepare students for positions as administrators, analysts and, down the road, policy-makers. To that end we integrate courses drawn from all of the social sciences plus history, law, public administration, public policy, public health and management.

While the school has grown enormously over the past decade, I think it has retained, even heightened, its sense of being an intimate community. The atmosphere is informal and welcoming, but the intellectual challenge is very rigorous.

A second distinguishing feature is both the diversity and range of our programs-from homeland security to global health affairs to human rights-and the background concern with the promotion of human welfare which threads its way through our entire curriculum.

A third feature is the constant enrichment of the curriculum in line with our concern for giving our students a competitive edge. We want them to be ready to add value to any institution as soon as they join it. So we move fast into new areas. Homeland security is typical of our speed and flexibility. A few years ago it did not exist as a program anywhere in the country. Two years ago we were recognized along with West Point for having the finest homeland security curriculum in the country.

Two other distinguishing features are our faculty’s intellectual diversity, as well as eminence, and the school’s student-centeredness. Our faculty’s composition corresponds to the diversity of our curriculum. And our faculty is better than most in thinking beyond the beltway’s conventional wisdom about public policy. As for its student-centeredness, at many peer institutions eminent faculty would have feather-light teaching schedules. Here we have a very balanced emphasis on teaching and scholarship.

Q: What is the future direction of the school?

A: We want to continue to refine what we’re already doing. Beyond that we will focus on strengthening linkages to top universities in other countries, particularly those that are now assuming major roles regionally and globally like China, India, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey. We want exchanges of faculty and students, joint courses (interacting via video in real time), and collaborative research.

Q: How will the Korbel School’s $60-million endowment campaign improve the school?

A: We need two things: one, a major increase in our capacity to award financial aid; and two, an expansion of our senior faculty. Five or six chairs in the $4 to $5 million range will enable us to reinforce our group of world-class scholars in various relevant fields including security, trade and investment, economic and social development, environmental policy and regional studies.

Q: Some say Sept. 11, 2001—and globalization in general—have put international studies, as a discipline, on center stage. What are your thoughts on any revived importance of international studies?

A: It’s not just 9-11. There is intensified interest and concern about immigration, free trade, oil and food prices, turmoil in the Middle East and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these have combined to produce a growing interest in international studies as the best gateway degree to working in the transnational sector.

I think we’ll see more connection between international studies and other disciplines, such as business, engineering, law and public health. Interest is also growing rapidly at the undergraduate level. I hope that before the end of my tenure as dean, all undergraduates, not just those who major in International Affairs, will be required to take courses that introduce them to the essential elements of our ever more tightly integrated world and enable them to think critically about the news that bombards them and to self-educate for the rest of their lives.

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