Internationalization Is Really Politicization

(Editor’s note: This is a slightly different version of an article that was published on The American Thinker on January 18)

The political left never rests in its drive to transform the U.S. into a more statist, more collective society. Its adherents are always scanning the status quo for openings and vulnerabilities to exploit, and they tirelessly produce a wide array of initiatives to advance their cause. It is hard to always know what they are up to: these initiatives are often veiled to look benign on the surface, or they contain rewards for special interests that defuse likely opposition.

When closely examined, however, the initiatives are embedded with plans for major fundamental changes. Well-known recent examples include the Common Core, the Affordable Care Act, and Agenda 21.

One such initiative with the hidden potential for sweeping transformation is the “internationalization” of higher education. It is a diffuse movement advanced by numerous groups and individuals throughout academia, from independent centers to professional associations to college faculty and administrators. Despite an innocent façade, its declared intention to internationalize the entire college curriculum provides cover for a highly aggressive campaign of multiculturalism, “global citizenship,” redistributive economics, and anti-Western attitudes.

One organization attempting to take the lead is the Association of International Education Administrators (AEIA). Located on the Duke University campus, with Darla Deardorff as its executive director, it is solely devoted to advancing the cause of higher education internationalization. Founded in 1982, it has grown dramatically in recent years, doubling in membership since 2006. One of its major functions is the production of the movement’s “Bible,” the Sage Handbook of International Higher Education, an extensive summary of trends, theories, operational programs, and strategies for expanding internationalization efforts.

AIEA is hardly alone in its pursuit of tearing down borders. It is often joined by some of the most influential organizations in the higher education world, such as the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) and the American Council on Education (ACE).

So far, the drive to internationalize higher education has escaped widespread media exposure. It has high potential for gaining support from the global business community—particularly because of its goal to enable students and faculty to cross borders more easily. Other pragmatic-looking steps to help shrink the globe include encouraging U.S. students to learn more Asian and Middle-Eastern languages instead of European languages and establishing branch campuses of established schools in foreign countries

Those aims seem reasonable enough, yet they mask the push to implement intensely political academic practices.

One of those practices is to subtly inculcate anti-Western perspectives. One internationalization advocate cited by the Handbook (Haigh, 2009) suggests that constructing a curriculum “on different cultural foundations and pedagogy,” in which “world-views and presuppositions underpinning Western educational structures are questioned,” is beneficial despite the fact that it makes students “uneasy.”

Of course, this attack on the Western intellectual tradition and Westerners’ allegiances to their traditional institutions and beliefs is nothing new; it builds upon an existing anti-Western framework.  Many students today are either exposed to a steady barrage of anti-Western rhetoric or can graduate from college having completely ignored the study of their own country and culture.

The attack on Western influence is also not just on political and cultural fronts; it is in many ways an attack on all knowledge. When a scientist in any other part of the globe conducts research, he or she uses a scientific method developed in Europe. When government officials, bankers, or businessmen elsewhere discuss economics, they use primarily Western concepts, models, and definitions. The same goes for almost any other intellectual discipline.

The internationalization movement even includes politicizing the science and mathematics curricula. Mathematics should be especially impervious to cultural influences, yet the Handbook cites Applebaum, Friedler, Ortiz, and Wolff (2009) who “argue that as mathematics is shaped by the culture, the mathematics culture should be internationalized.” They suggest that is necessary for mathematics students “to study abroad to gain the cultural knowledge they will need to collaborate successfully and internationally.” Furthermore, they wrote that mathematics “capstone” programs, akin to senior projects,  “should incorporate cultural issues.”

The Handbook also cites Carter (2008), who argues for development of a new science curriculum that focuses on “the way in which globalization has resulted in the uneven distribution of science while privileging Western scientists.” This suggests a complete denial or misunderstanding of development dynamics: science is not “distributed” by some Grand Keeper of All Knowledge, but arises and spreads in an organic process of innovation and exchange through the ages—an Invisible Guiding Brain, of sorts. The West is more advanced because that is where the formal scientific method arose; to somehow suggest that this is unfair can only be seen as vengefulness and jealousy—and as a justification for oppressive redistribution.

Yet, if the goal of internationalization were actually to foster greater collaboration between mathematicians and scientists from different countries, it would make sense to encourage the already-widespread use of English as the international language. However, the Handbook raises the question whether it would be better to counter that trend by limiting the use of English.

Ironically, while some proponents of internationalization argue that study abroad programs are good for U.S. students to learn about other cultures, others (Caurana and Hanstock, 2008; Coleman, 1999) argue about a “danger” that these programs can reinforce “a stronger sense of the rightness of one’s own nationality and cultural identity.” In other words, they are worried that foreign study will cause U.S. students to appreciate our freedom and prosperity more by observing differences in cultures or economies. Ditto for the possibility that their bonds with their fellow Americans could be intensified by sharing common experiences in foreign lands together.

Almost all traditional thinking is viewed through a jaundiced lens in the Handbook. It cites Hough (1991), who wrote that “universities needed to become more outward-looking and community-focused and to foster interdisciplinary discourse that might transcend individualism, nationalism, and anthropocentrism.”

That statement suggests a truly radical remaking of the Western mind. Not only does it diminish individual rights as a foundation of society and the nation state as the guarantor of those rights, but it suggests an end to mankind’s elevation above other species. The latter cuts to the core of Western religion, in which man is made in God’s image and the use of animals to serve man is a God-given right.

In place of our long-held fundamental beliefs, internationalization advocates offer hazy notions of “the common good” and “global citizenship.” Global citizenship is another one of internationalization’s central concepts that may sound innocuous to many ears. Like many other concepts in internationalization literature, its definitions vague; even the authors of the Handbook are admittedly unclear of the term’s meaning at times.

But the Handbook’s authors offer as a blueprint for such “citizenship” the United Nations Global Compact’s “10 universally accepted principles related to human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.” These principles adhere to an extremist environmental agenda and to the U.N.’s definition of human rights, which guarantees economic rights such as a specific standard of living—an essentially socialist platform.

Some of the specific programs lauded in the Handbook almost seem as if they were initially conceived in dystopian novels as the means to choke off all dissent. In one example, Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has “introduced an innovative new undergraduate curriculum” that includes “Equity & Diversity Groups working together with faculties and offices to embed principles of inclusion, equity, and diversity” in university courses and policies.

These Equity & Diversity Groups are likely to be comprised of radical professors and highly politicized staff members from “Diversity Offices.” As described in the Handbook, they can determine course content in any subject according to political concerns, as sort of an academic “Thought Police.” If such practices became universally adopted, higher education’s central tenet of the objective pursuit of knowledge could be buried beneath a pile of political correctness.

For now, the internationalization drive is still young and growing. It may continue to avoid notice by opponents, incrementally making inroads into individual universities and organizations. In time, the movement may get a jolt of support from the federal government, as was the case with Common Core. States were strongly encouraged to adopt the K-12 standards by tying them to eligibility for Race to the Top grant money, among other incentives. As a result, 45 of the 50 states adopted Common Core with little opposition or fanfare.

Another possibility is that the internationalization of higher education could become a requirement in the all-important important accreditation process that schools must satisfy to access U.S. federal funding, including financial aid for students. There is already at least one precedent: the University of Monterey in Mexico was able to use its internalization efforts to meet a Quality Enhancement Plan required for international accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges Schools, a regional accrediting agency.

Almost the entire agenda of the radical Left is touched upon somewhere in the internationalization campaign: wealth redistribution, diminishing the importance of the West, tearing students away from traditional allegiances and beliefs, multiculturalism, diversity, environmental extremism—even animal rights. At times, it even subordinates the objective pursuit of knowledge to political concerns—the hallmark of totalitarian regimes. And it is stealthily moving forward even as we sleep.



Applebaum, P., Friedler, L. M., Ortiz, C. E. & Wolff, E. F. (2009). Internationalizing the university mathematics curriculum. Journal of Studies in International Education, vol. 13 ( no. 3), pp. 365–381.

Carter, L. (2008). Globalization and science education: The implications of science in the new economy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol. 45 ( no. 5), pp. 617–633.

Caruana, V., & Hanstock, J. (2008). Internationalizing the curriculum at the University of Salford: From rhetoric to reality. In C. Shiel, ed. & A. McKenzie (Eds.), The global university: The role of senior managers (pp. pp. 30–35). London: DEA.

Coleman, J. A. (1999). Language learner attitudes and student residence abroad: New qualitative and qualitative insights. In D. Killick, ed. , M. Parry, ed. , & A. Phipps (Eds.), Poetics and praxis of language and intercultural communication (pp. pp. 75–95) Leeds Metropolitan University: Glasgow University Press/Leeds Metropolitan University.

Haigh, M. (2009). Fostering cross-cultural empathy with non-western curricular structures. Journal of Studies in International Education, vol. 13 ( no. 2): pp. 271–284.

Hough, J. C., Jr. (1991). The university and the common good. In Dr. Griffin, ed. & J. C. Hough, Jr. (Eds.), Theology and the university (pp. pp. 97–124). New York: State University of New York Press.