A world without borders
By David J. Sammons, Associate Dean and Director
"Travel is fatal to prejudices, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,
and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome,
charitable views of (human beings) and things cannot be acquired by vegetating
in one corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
I expect that few of us will ever forget where we were
on Sept. 11, 2001. As it turns out, a colleague and I were in Ethiopia
on Purdue Agriculture business preparing to assist with a workshop on
Global Information Systems applications to natural resource management
in east Africa.
As sketchy reports about the unfolding tragedies in New
York City and Washington, D.C., began to filter in from CNN, I thought
about our extended Purdue family scattered around the world. I wondered
about the safety of our study abroad students. I tried to remember if
many faculty were working internationally that day, where they were and
how vulnerable they might be to unknown dangers. I worried about the
impact of the tragedy on our ability to sustain Purdue
Agriculture's international activities. . Would students and their
parents walk away from our overseas programs? Would our faculty hesitate
to continue their efforts with global collaborators? Would safety and
security concerns overwhelm all else? Would we simply have to suspend
our global efforts--at least for a while?
Let me share with you some of what actually happened in
the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11.
- None of our students studying abroad chose to
come home. Our staff continues to communicate regularly with
all of these students and with their parents.
- Our exchange students from overseas were invited
to the home of an IPIA staff member on the evening of Sept. 11
where they were able to discuss events, share their fears and
concerns, and express their resolve to remain at Purdue.
- A group of our students scheduled to leave for
Europe barely a week after the attacks departed without a single
individual choosing to drop out of the program.
- Scientists scheduled for travel to Africa and
the Middle East postponed their trips but, in most cases, have
since rescheduled or found alternative ways to accomplish program
- A training program at Purdue for six Jordanian
water resource specialists planned prior to the events of Sept.
11 was held as scheduled in mid-October.
In sum, our international programs continue but in
a new environment in which we are more cautious. We will not take
unacceptable risks (we never did), but we will continue to move
forward with our program efforts because that is the responsible
thing for us to do. As some in the public spotlight have asserted,
the events of Sept. 11 suggest that now, more than ever, we need
an international presence for Purdue Agriculture. Our unique capacities
in education, research, and outreach--the core missions--can make
the world a better place for all.
An unusual map of the world that holds a lesson for
all of us is located on the wall opposite the entrance to the IPIA
office. The map is a composite of satellite images and shows the
world in beautiful detail. Geographic features can easily be identified:
polar ice caps, deserts, oceans, forested regions, mountain ranges,
and major rivers and lakes. However, the map is missing one major
attribute that most include--there are no borders.
I consciously chose this map for our office because
I think that borders, whether literal or figurative, frequently
do more harm than good. Borders tend to separate people, to keep
nations apart and to cause individuals and groups to think in terms
of "us and them."
Many kinds of borders exist besides those lines that
are missing from the map in IPIA. For example, many of us might
view politics, skin color, culture, religion, economics and language
as "borders"--factors that tend to contribute to a pervasive
sense of separation and division--when, in fact, awareness continues
to grow that we share one earth in this age of globalization.
Increasingly, I have come to believe that a principal
task for those of us who are educators is to prepare learners for
a world without borders. The tragedy of Sept. 11 underscored how
connected we are to people around the world: although our nation
was attacked, citizens from more than 80 nations were listed among
As a globally prominent institution, Purdue cannot avoid an international
presence--nor would we dare to do so. Travel (both for faculty
and students) that leads to human interaction that transcends borders
is "fatal to prejudices," as Mark Twain has pointed out
so well. Moreover, it is an important way that we as an institution
can do what we do best in an era of globalization.