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Bringing a global perspective to the ivory tower

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STANDING in the midst of Florida International University, it's not difficult to associate the school with its middle name. Low concrete buildings with names like Primera Casa, Viertes Haus, and Atheneum are separated by blooming tropical plants and warm, humid air. Spanish is a common tongue among passers-by, and the variety of skin tones are products of more than just the Florida sun.

But according to officials of the newest of Florida's state universities - it opened in 1972 - the task of developing an educational program that incorporates that middle name into every student's experience has at times been daunting. How to make a reality of one of the school's goals as set out by the state Board of Regents - to cultivate effective members of a modern global society - has not been obvious.

''The (Florida) Legislature gave us the middle name, but without ex4ensive rationale for choosing it,'' says Steve Altman, Florida International's provost and vice-president for academic affairs. ''We really struggled for the first few years to define what that meant.''

That struggle is not unusual. Colleges and universities across the United States are looking for ways to bring a global perspective t/ the ivory tower: by internationalizing their curricula, making the world an integral part of more courses and majors; by encouraging more Americans to study overseas; and by better tapping the potential offered by a growing number of foreign students in the US.

The reasons for the new emphasis on international education are partly humanitarian. With international travel and global telecommunications becoming commonplace, the world continues to shrink - even as risks of misunderstanding, between individuals or nations, continue to grow. In addition, college and government officials are pointing out with increased frequency that US security and international standing are threatened if the country fails - as many say it has - to train the experts it needs in diplomacy, area studies, and languages.

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