I write this letter in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the health of hundreds of thousands of people, damaged the global economy, and upended normal social life on every continent. It has forced universities around the world—including William & Mary—to cancel study abroad programs, close dormitories, and move courses fully online for at least the rest of the spring semester. In academia, as in all other spheres of our society, we are working as best we can in a state of seemingly nonstop emergency response, while holding out hope that calmer times will soon return.
At a time of such pervasive uncertainty, it may seem premature to ask big questions about the meaning of this historical moment. Yet as preoccupied as we may be with short-term problem solving, we must still focus our attention on the future we are trying to achieve. We must ask: what is the purpose of global education and research at a time like this? As national borders are shut, international flights are cancelled, and global commerce is disrupted, one might think that the novel coronavirus has brought the post-Cold War era of globalization to a decisive close.
Yet paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic is itself a profoundly global phenomenon. The rapid spread of the virus through global and domestic networks of travel and trade has ultimately shown the futility of purely national approaches to halting it. In countries around the world, diverse cultures and societies are quickly learning to adopt new global social practices, ranging from “social distancing” to Zoom videoconferencing. Universities, too, are sharing our responses to this crisis with our international partners in real time, working to maintain cherished relationships of reciprocity that will reignite active academic collaborations once the pandemic has finally passed.
Whatever the future may hold, then, it is almost impossible to imagine that humanity will somehow “return” to a world of hermetically sealed social units with no global interaction. Indeed, such a world has never truly existed. On the contrary, the post-pandemic world will need global expertise, global analysis, and an understanding of diverse global perspectives more than ever before. We will therefore not waver in our commitment to advance the internationalization of teaching, learning, research and community involvement at W&M.