College Chiefs Should Walk the Walk on Internationalizing Campuses, Says SUNY Chancellor

February 16, 2010

The chancellor of one of the country's largest public-university systems had a straightforward message on Tuesday for college leaders about internationalizing their campuses. Speaking to a group of international-education officials, Nancy L. Zimpher, head of the State University of New York, said presidents, chancellors, and senior administrators can't just talk about making their campuses more international places—they have to do something about it.

"Rhetoric is not going to get it done," Ms. Zimpher said, speaking at the annual meeting here of the Association of International Education Administrators. "We have to commit ourselves, we have to hold ourselves to public action."

Ms. Zimpher, who has led the New York system since June, is walking the walk. She will convene a strategic-planning session next month to set priorities for internationalization systemwide, with a focus on how SUNY can help New York's economy.

The daylong session will yield two or three measurable outcomes for international success, Ms. Zimpher said, including targets for international-student recruitment, study abroad, or scholarly exchanges. Having clear gauges for success will hold SUNY officials accountable, she said.

In addition to setting measurable priorities, Ms. Zimpher said college leaders should tie global activities to core institutional strengths. Without linking international work to areas in which a college has "substantive competence," such an effort risks becoming "a thousand points of light, uncoordinated," said Ms. Zimpher, who was an author of a 2004 report by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges calling for a greater role for college presidents and chancellors in internationalization.

Ms. Zimpher also championed a project led by Mitch Leventhal, SUNY's vice chancellor for global affairs, to certify and regulate third-party recruiters of international students. And she argued that universities' international work had to be done in the context of trade and immigration policy. International students have a significant impact on the American economy, Ms. Zimpher said, and universities must do their part to prevent a "brain drain" of talented foreign graduates, through strategies such as placing international students in internships or cooperative-education programs with American corporations.

Most important, said Ms. Zimpher, is leadership and vision. "Vision trumps everything," she said.