Tulane’s Half-Hearted Global Perspective
By David Graber
This past summer, President Fitts joined a cadre of American university presidents in visiting some prominent Israeli universities; ostensibly to shake hands, check out the facilities, and talk shop. Creatively named Project Interchange, the program provided “higher education leaders with a first-hand understanding of Israel, its vibrant democracy, diverse society, and regional challenges.” The university presidents discussed topics like “Israel’s high-tech and entrepreneurial landscape, security challenges, diversity in Israeli society and Israel’s approach to global humanitarian aid.” Not discussed, or at least not mentioned in the above-quoted article, were topics like academia’s ongoing complicity in global humanitarian crises or the growing cohesion between American schools and the universities of America’s political allies.
Tulane funnels an increasing amount of its resources into curating for itself the identity of a modern research institution with a “global” perspective. Currently, the school seems to be experiencing some growing pains adjusting to this newly marketed identity and to the greater responsibilities it entails. To get over this, the administration must lose its short-sighted grasp of the political ramifications of its decisions. Educational alliances like Project Interchange are not neutral, for there is obvious violence about cooperating with an expansionist religious ethnostate which doesn’t need explanation. As its outreach becomes increasingly more “global,” Tulane needs to assess whether or not seemingly neutral actions are in reality captive to the interests of a particular worldview or donor group.
An administration that thinks to install televisions into decrepit classrooms is a proper educational revamp is likely to superficialize other concerns too, concerns like the adoption of a “global” perspective. Congrats on making the cafeteria more cosmopolitan by serving pork gyros and Israeli couscous. This year Tulane created two new mandatory class credits, “Race and Inclusion” and “Global Perspectives,” which really is commendable but does not go far enough.
If Tulane fails to properly adjust to the demands of this new identity it claims, and the consequences of inaction require some confrontation, then the school will likely take the same steps it does to address any hot issue on campus: shirking culpability for a serious issue by creating channels of dialogue for the students to confront it themselves, thereby forcing the students to assume responsibility for the outcome, ultimately transferring blame onto the students for the project’s eventual failure. The lack of change is implied to be a consequence of student-body apathy rather than intentional inactivity by the administration. This happened with the empty activism Tulane took to confront the sexual assault numbers and substance abuse epidemic last year, going as far as hosting town halls for students to voice their grievances so that the administration could at least say “we listened.” Much like Tulane’s handling of its sexual climate, substance abuse, endowment in fossil fuels, and any other big issue, the school’s habit of aligning itself with oppressive regimes will probably be concealed as well as it can be, and for the same reason: to secure next year’s crop of competent, wealthy, geographically diverse students.