New Director of Center for International Higher Education to Redirect Its Focus, and Other News About People

Boston College

Hans de Wit
May 04, 2015

Wider Focus Abroad

Hans de Wit, a Dutch scholar of global higher education who has spent the past few years working in Italy, is heading stateside to lead Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education. But when he becomes director this September, he wants to shift its focus a bit.

"There’s so much happening in China, South Africa, and Russia that is understudied and worth looking into," says Mr. de Wit. "I especially have a strong interest in Latin America, which traditionally hasn’t been the emphasis of the center."

Even with so much shared language and culture, countries in Latin America do remarkably little collaboration on higher education, says Mr. de Wit. To figure out why, he will take a closer look at educational structures and also do research on how higher education and Roman Catholic identity intersect in the region.

In some ways, the new job will be a return to Mr. de Wit’s beginnings. His background is in social anthropology in South America, and he did fieldwork in Peru.

"One of the strengths of my career is that I have been both a practitioner and a scholar at the same time," says Mr. de Wit, who has consulted for the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Most recently, he helped found the Center for Higher Education Internationalization at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, in Milan.

Mr. de Wit says the position in Boston is "the cherry on the cake" because the center and its departing director, Philip G. Altbach, are giants in the field of international higher education. There, Mr. de Wit will have three full-time doctoral students to work with, instead of part-time students, as in Italy, and he expects to build a new master’s program in higher-education internationalization. —Angela Chen

A Place for Islamic Arts

Bard College

Abigail Balbale

Abigail Balbale will be returning to familiar surroundings when she joins Bard Graduate Center in July, as its first assistant professor of Islamic art and material culture. She was a postdoctoral fellow there from 2012 to 2014, before taking a post as assistant professor of medieval history at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

At Bard in the fall, Ms. Balbale will teach a course on the material culture of the Islamic caliphate from the seventh century to the present, exploring with her students questions "about the relationship between political and spiritual power, and about how rulers use objects to legitimate their authority," she says.

A lecture she heard on Don Quixote as a college freshman "led me on this path toward studying Arabic and Islamic Spain, which is still my field," she says. "But along the way I also lived in Syria, Jordan, and Morocco, and researched the history of the Middle East and North Africa. And I fell in love with Islamic art and material culture and medieval Islamic history."

The appointment is part of the center’s effort to globalize its study of material culture, says its dean, Peter N. Miller.

"We have many scholars who work on Europe," he says. "It’s really valuable to be able to juxtapose different cultures instead of assuming, for instance, what has emerged from European history is universal."

Islamic culture contrasts with European arts "because of its lack of mainstream, large-scale traditions of painting and sculpture," he says. "Much of the work and creative energy were funneled into the decorative arts."

The permanent position in Islamic art and material culture was six or seven years in the making, Mr. Miller says, as Bard searched for the appropriate candidate. "To find someone who is both super-competent in their field and can play at a multidisciplinary level, especially at the junior level, is hard," he says.

Ms. Balbale says that part of the center’s appeal is that it is a tight-knit community, "which, by definition, a big university is not. It’s a community of intellectuals and curators united by the common question of what objects can tell us about the past and human society." —Lisa Philip

Long-Distance Intern

Sarah Flagg, CBD Marketing

Danielle Wright (left) and Ellie Kohl

When Ellie A. Kohl, a senior at Kent State University and an advertising intern, needs guidance in her job, she can’t just peek into her supervisor’s office to ask a question. She is in Kent, Ohio, and the firm she works for, CBD Marketing, is 370 miles away, in Chicago.

Ms. Kohl is one of two Kent State students doing virtual internships this year at CBD. Ms. Kohl says her internship has allowed her to expand her network beyond her home state.

She has also learned to work more proactively. The distance has forced her to anticipate her employer’s needs and do things before someone tells her to.

Though the majority of the internship has been virtual, she and Danielle Wright, her fellow intern, had an opportunity to spend a few days in Chicago meeting their new colleagues.

Wendy A. Wardell, a lecturer in advertising at Kent State who advises the program, says that working for a company in a new city can provide students with a different perspective, but not everyone can afford to move away for three months. The advertising industry is starting to have more consultant and freelance opportunities, she says, and virtual internships seem to fit into that new reality.

Without the chance to be a virtual intern, some students could lose out on opportunities, she says: While Northeast Ohio has a good advertising market, it’s nothing like the ones in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago.

This is the second year of the program, and the first in which the interns are paid, Ms. Wardell says.

Ms. Kohl says there are some downsides to not being in CBD’s office. At times, the distance can hinder communication. A lot can be learned from interacting with and observing others in the workplace, and she has missed out on that.

But not for long. After she graduates in May, Ms. Kohl will be moving to Chicago to work with CBD full time. "Without this internship," she says, "that just wasn’t really going to be a possibility for me." —Casey Fabris

Obituary: Rare-Film Collector

J. Fred MacDonald, a scholar whose writings placed popular culture in historic context and a leading preservationist of audiovisual media, died in Los Angeles on April 9; he was 74.

While a professor of history at Northeastern Illinois University from 1969 to 1996, he began amassing one of the world’s largest personal collections of films, and in 2010 sold it to the United States Library of Congress: 40,000 reels of film, as well as 40,000 hours of recordings of vintage radio broadcasts.

The material includes rare records of the civil-rights movement and other historical events, but it is noted for its diversity and often-weird expressions of American culture conveyed in advertising, and in government, public-service, and industrial films.

In 2011, Mr. MacDonald and the library awarded the University of Arizona the license to maintain the free, online American Indian Film Gallery, whose 450 nonfiction films dating from 1922 to 2011 record life among North American tribes.

In a 2011 promotional short about the gallery, Mr. MacDonald said he had aimed to rescue audiovisual materials from loss to decay or destruction, and he encouraged wide use of them online and in classrooms. —Peter Monaghan

Obituary: Anthology Founder

M.H. Abrams, the influential literary critic and founding editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, died in Ithaca, N.Y., on April 21. Mr. Abrams, a professor of English emeritus at Cornell University, was 102.

He joined Cornell in 1945 as an assistant professor and retired in 1983, but he continued to lecture there and at other institutions throughout his 80s and 90s.

Mr. Abrams published major critical works on Romantic literature, as well as the popular Glossary of Literary Terms.

But he is best known to millions of students as the editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, which first appeared in 1962.

In a 2006 essay for The New York Times, Rachel Donadio noted that while the anthology had been "assailed by some for being too canonical and by others for faddishly expanding the reading list," it had prevailed over the years "due in large part to the talents of Abrams, who refined the art of stuffing 13 centuries of literature into 6,000-odd pages of wispy cigarette paper."

Mr. Abrams remained the anthology’s editor through seven editions over four decades. He was among the recipients of the National Humanities Medal for 2013. —Charles Huckabee

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