International task force report awaits feedback

Luke Taylor

A report on the international mission of Missouri Southern has been completed by a special committee of the Faculty Senate and is awaiting feedback from the University President Bruce Speck for submission to the Board of Governors.

After Speck gave a presentation about the Institute of International Studies to the Faculty Senate, he determined more information was necessary. He charged a Task Force on the International Mission with putting together a detailed report on the mission.

“I just tried to get as much data as I could,” Speck said. “After that, it seemed appropriate to have a larger study of the international component of our mission.”

The result of the task force was a 60-page report addressing the international mission’s history, review, overview of the majors and foreign language expansion, study abroad programs, national recognition, international mission funding and other details.

The task force submitted the report to the Speck and the Faculty Senate, but so far there has been no response.

“I have not yet had the time to go back and look at that charge and then look at the report,” Speck said. “Preliminarily, [the report contains] a good history here of what happened and you have some baseline data you can look at.”

The President’s Council has read through the report one time.

“My task is to come back and give a formal response. Then I’ll go to the President’s Council and they’ll edit it.”

Budget cuts

The Institute of International Studies has dealt with two budget cuts in the as many years.

The previous budget was $419,281. Two years ago, it took a cut of $140,000 down to $279,281, according to Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies.

“Ultimately, I made that decision,” said Speck.

Then last year, each department in the school took a 10% cut, or $27,928.10 more of the Institute’s budget. The new budget is $251,352.90.

“Altogether, it was a 40 percent cut,” Stebbins said. “We don’t to lose any more of our budget or any more of our momentum.”

Speck acknowledges that budget cuts to the Institute are disproportionate to other departments on campus.

“The international budget was the fifth-largest on campus,” Speck said. “We haven’t taken anything away in terms of what they do. The whole question about the international mission and all that is a matter for the Board of Governors.

“[They are] the body on this campus that would make the decisions about the mission. I don’t see that there’s a problem with maintaining any of the things we do. The question is, ‘How much can we put into it?’ “

Speck mentioned the current travel moratorium, which severely limits the college from providing money for traveling abroad.

“It’s great for us to travel abroad,” he said. “How much can this institution afford to pay for travel abroad?”

The cuts to the Institute have upset many students, including one former student who participated in a trip abroad.

“Since they cut the budgets, the grants that would let students to on international trips have depleted,” said Jake Adams, who went to Taiwan in 2006. “Now the opportunity to travel has been cut back.”

Foreign languages, a staple at MSSU since it accepted the international mission in the 1990s, has also taken a hit. The performance award scholarship budget went from $90,000 to $35,000.

“Foreign language got hit by the performance award slash of 60 percent,” said Dr. Sherman Hou, a foreign language professor at Southern for 13 years. “We have a unique program that no one else has.”

The committee’s charge

The task force was formed because Speck determined further study into the workings of the International Institute was needed, Stebbins said.

“All I’m asking is, if our claim is that students who graduate from Missouri Southern have been exposed in some sense to international issues, tell me how we measure that,” said Speck.

The report states that the task force needed to include comparative data from other institutions and suggestions for the future of the international mission.

“When you ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s not an unreasonable question. And it means that we need to go back and figure out why we’re doing what we’re doing. And it is time to think about maybe doing that differently,” Speck said.

The Institute’s beginning’s and today

In 1989, Missouri Governor John Ashcroft challenged at least one state institution to accept an international mission. That opportunity presented itself to MSSU when each state university in Missouri was allowed to select a mission enhancement in the mid-90’s from the Coordinating Board of Higher Education.

“The university had the opportunity to choose a mission enhancement,” said Stebbins. “We chose international education.”

Fifteen goals and activities for the Institute were established.

“They’ve all been met,” Stebbins said.

Today, one of Southern’s main draws for incoming students is its international focus.

“Inherent in its international approach to undergraduate education is the University’s desire to prepare its students to understand world affairs, international issues and other cultures as seen through their history, geography, language, literature, philosophy, economics, natural resources and politics,” reads the report the task force compiled.

Originally, Southern had the languages of French, German and Spanish, and also a Spanish major. Upon accepting its mission, Southern added Japanese, Chinese, Russian and eventually Arabic. MSSU also added French, German, international studies and international business as majors.

One way Southern’s international program is different from other colleges is its themed semesters, where a different country is the Institute’s focus throughout the semester. Speck points out that it’s something other schools don’t have.

“I think that’s something that’s very unique about the mission here,” he said.

The number of international students is also on the rise. Southern currently has about 100 enrolled, according to a recent article in The Chart.

“Chad has increased the number of internationals on campus and that’s good,” Speck said. “I see that as a way to make sure that we are having many more people engaged in that international mission on campus.”

The future of MSSU international studies

The report recommends several ideas for enhancing the school’s international mission in the future. The first is that the central administration and the Faculty Senate continue dialogue concerning the international mission.

“This report should be the start of and not the end to a conversation,” it reads.

The report also states that Southern should continue supporting the mission financially, and also pointed out that sciences completely lack international courses. Adding international courses to sciences would “standardize the internalization of each individual student’s experience here at Southern.”

Could the Institute’s previous budget be restored in the future?

“I do not know the answer to that,” Speck said. “I’m not very hopeful that it’s going to be the next budget year. And I’m not sure the following budget year.

“And that’s the reality we’re living in. People have to understand that we’re going to go through some very tough budget years.”