AJCU International Education Conference Promotes Global Education at Jesuit Institutions

By Andreas Sobisch, Ph.D., Director, Center for Global Education, John Carroll University

The AJCU International Education Conference is comprised of international educators at Jesuit colleges and universities: individuals who are involved primarily in planning and implementing study abroad and exchanges, international student services, and international recruiting and admissions. While the Conference was formally established only a decade ago and by-laws were not crafted until 2011 (reflecting the fact that international education, in its modern form, is a relatively new endeavor), informally, the contacts among AJCU international education professionals go back more than two decades.

The Conference meets two times per year: once in late May at the main national convention of international education professionals (NAFSA), and once at our “Mid-Year Meeting” in early November. The latter meeting has evolved into a formal, 2-3 day conference, involving participants from all over the world. In fact, what sets the AJCU International Education Conference apart from most other AJCU conferences is its global ambition: over the years, close connections have developed between the Conference members and their counterparts in Latin America, Asia, and, more recently, Europe. These connections among our associations are the result of the strong bi-lateral relationships with Jesuit institutions from around the world that almost all of our AJCU institutions have established over the years. In fact, many of these relationships are decades-old. The responsibility for hosting the annual mid-year meeting alternates between an AJCU member institution and an institution from AUSJAL(Asociación de Universidades Confiadas a la Compañía de Jesús en América Latina), AJCU’s Latin American counterpart.

The International Education Conference has an Executive Board, consisting of six members selected by the Chief International Officers, or their supervisors, of our 28 institutions. In addition to the NAFSA and mid-year meetings, the Board typically meets twice per year at the AJCU office in Washington, D.C. to develop our agenda and plan our meetings. By-laws were drafted in 2011 after a thorough discussion of the purposes of the Conference. In addition to the general goal of promoting and developing “global education” among AJCU member institutions, and supporting each other in practical ways, the Conference seeks collaboration and partnership with Jesuit institutions worldwide and strives to shape the debate about the purpose of global education. It is understood by all that the Jesuit mission, particularly the promotion of justice, has to be at the center of our efforts.

Our Conference's first major accomplishment was the drafting of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), establishing the AJCU Consortium for Study Abroad with the purpose of enhancing international opportunities for our students under the AJCU umbrella. Recognizing that the availability of diverse study abroad programs is central to a liberal arts education and that a wide menu of high quality international offerings serves as a major recruitment tool, the Consortium seeks to facilitate a near seamless process of sharing study abroad opportunities among Consortium members. To date, 27 of 28 AJCU institutions have signed the Consortium’s MoA, which was formalized in 2011 after three years of discussion. The Conference established a website, www.jesuiteducationabroad.org, whose purpose is not only to catalogue our “basket of shared programs,” but also to enhance communication among Consortium members, and Jesuit institutions worldwide. 

At the 2012 mid-year meeting in Quito, Ecuador, a task force, consisting of representatives from several U.S. and Latin American Jesuit institutions, was created. This Task Force, which met in Puebla, Mexico soon thereafter, was charged with identifying ways to further increase the “quantity and quality of collaborative activities across Jesuit institutions” in the Americas and with “developing procedures and strategies that would allow institutions that share the Jesuit tradition to further their internationalization goals, while reflecting their history and mission and building on previous experiences of inter-institutional collaboration."*

In their deliberations, the Task Force members tried to be responsive to the Jesuit Superior General’s, Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., admonition, at a major international Jesuit conference in Mexico City in 2010, that it is time for Jesuit universities and their regional organizations to “…expand … and build more universal [and] more effective international networks of Jesuit higher education.” [Shaping the Future, 2010]

Among the Task Force’s recommendations were that Jesuit institutions in the Americas should develop special and distinct joint academic programs (e.g. “Claver International Programs”) that are personally transformative and prevent the “globalization of superficiality” (Fr. Nicolás’ words) from spreading. They should be rooted in our Jesuit tradition of promoting “depth of thought and imagination" and integrating “intellectual rigor with reflection on the experience of reality together with the creative imagination to work toward constructing a more humane, just, sustainable, and faith-filled world.”

At the subsequent meetings since then, at Universidad Pacifico in Lima, Peru, and at Loyola University Chicago, discussions focused on Fr. Nicolás’ theme as well as on the implementation of the recommendations of the “Puebla Document.” A number of programs have already been developed, serving as models for other institutions to emulate. The community of Jesuit international education professionals is a strong and creative force, and the AJCU International Education Conference plays a leading role in its growth.

The opportunities that exist for collaboration in international education programs have steeled the Conference’s resolve and help forge a more vibrant and active organization. The on-going support from AJCU is deeply appreciated by Conference members.

Andreas Sobisch, Ph.D. is the former chair of the AJCU International Education Conference.

*Quotes from internal AJCU International Education Conference Task Force document