Skip to main content

Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Globalization and the Responsibilities of the University

S.T. Lee Distinguished Lecture on Universities for a Global Society
National University of Singapore
August 18, 2010

It is a great honor for me to be here in Singapore to deliver this “S.T. Lee Distinguished Lecture on Universities for a Global Society.”

I am especially grateful to the philanthropist, businessman, and extraordinary benefactor of higher education, S.T. Lee, who made this lecture—and so many others around the world—possible. By providing a platform for scholars and policy makers to address critical international issues, S.T. Lee not only encourages international scholarship…he enhances our ability to address our common problems in common cause.

I also wish to thank NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan—an international leader in promoting global education; the Deputy Chairman of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research; one of the great leaders of higher education…and Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; an accomplished diplomat for hosting this lecture—and for the wonderful hospitality they have shown me.

It is also a privilege to be here at the National University of Singapore—one of our world’s great universities, a leader in engineering; the life sciences and biomedicine; the social sciences; and natural sciences. “May our noble aspiration bring Singapore success,” notes the National Anthem of Singapore, and I’ve no doubt that through the outstanding work of your fourteen faculties and schools, the National University of Singapore has certainly done so…while also advancing the boundaries of knowledge and contributing to the betterment of society.

The work that you do here to promote knowledge and human development—as well your university’s motto, “Towards a Global Knowledge Enterprise”—resonates deeply with efforts in which we are engaged at the university I have called my home for more than three decades. We, too, are striving to evolve into a truly global university. To be a global university requires a different way of engaging with our world—it requires that we recognize that global means multilateral, multinational, and multicultural. It is why we were so happy to join with the National University of Singapore, and ten other leading universities from six continents, to establish our Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London…it is why we participate in student exchanges between our two law schools and—beginning this fall—our schools of public policy.

The work to evolve into increasingly global universities is imperative in our increasingly globalized world where nations are more interconnected, individuals more interdependent. Perhaps no where is the increasing pace and growing importance of globalization more obvious than here in Singapore—which, according to the Globalization Index (a collaboration between Foreign Policy and A.T. Kearny), is recognized as the most globalized nation on earth. 1

In a world increasingly defined and characterized by globalization, I believe there are urgent questions that we must address from the perspective of the university. We are unique institutions and I believe we bear a special responsibility in responding to the forces of globalization. What are the responsibilities of a university in responding to globalization? Have we achieved a consensus regarding the phenomena of globalization? If we have, do we know how we are to respond? And do we have a sense of the moral responsibilities that emerge in a world shaped by this phenomena?

I wish to begin with a working definition of this multifaceted phenomena. I offer nothing original here. I believe the term globalization captures the convergence of forces that include new information, communication and transportation technologies, that create unprecedented opportunities to be engaged, connected, and present in different parts of the world. I agree with President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University, who delivered the inaugural S.T. Lee Lecture here at the Lee Kwan Yew School last fall, when he said: “Globalization is first and foremost an economically driven phenomenon.” 2  Globalization is driving greater integration of markets and is expanding the opportunities for trade in goods and services between and among nations.

But what kind of response does globalization demand? These forces have provided for extraordinary economic growth. China is considered the case study of how a country can benefit from participation in a globalized economic system, with more than 300 million Chinese moving out of poverty in the past generation. But globalization is also blamed for increasing inequalities across nations. The rich are getting richer, the poor, poorer. Half of the world still lives on less than two dollars a day, more than a billion on less than one dollar a day. Globalization is regarded as a source of fragmentation, division—and implicated in this growing inequality. And there is also growing consensus that our international institutions are not designed to cope with this new context. Our most significant institutions are the products of a post-World War II context, and are insufficient to respond to the emerging challenges of our time – climate change, nuclear proliferation, pandemics. New structures are needed. No one has provided more significant global leadership in addressing this need for new structures of global governance than Kishore Mahbubani, and I have learned much from his example.

Today, I wish to bring the issue of globalization into the context of the university. It is within the context of the university that I believe we can find the resources for addressing the questions of moral responsibility. Specifically, it is the very “ethos” of a university that we can bring to bear on the challenges posed by globalization. By “ethos” I mean “the characteristic spirit” that animates the identity and purpose of the university. 3 In my remarks, I wish to recast the framing of globalization within that ethos of the university.

The “characteristic spirit” of the university is to seek the betterment of humankind. Consider these words from the Mission Statement of this University:

“The NUS mission comprises three mutually reinforcing thrusts:

“Transformative education that nurtures thinking individuals who are alive to opportunities to make a difference, are valued members and leaders of society, and global citizens in diverse settings.”

“High-impact research that advances the boundaries of knowledge and contributes to the betterment of society.”

“Dedicated service, as a national university, that adds to social, economic, and national development.” 4

How can we harness the forces of globalization in the service of these three themes? I believe first and foremost we must assert ourselves, animated by the values that are so present here in this academic community, and work to reshape the very meaning of the term, “globalization.” I believe our understanding of globalization is too limited, too constrained. I don’t believe our understanding of globalization should be defined simply by economic terms and market considerations. Instead, globalization should be understood as a force through which we can further advance the betterment of humankind.

Globalization poses new challenges and new opportunities, and perhaps the most significant is how to interpret the reality we are experiencing. Animated by our ethos, I believe our universities offer important resources for reframing our understanding.

I wish to suggest four areas for reflection that resonate with the ethos of the university. It is my hope that by engaging these four areas of reflection we might open up and broaden our understanding of the meaning of globalization.

The first responsibility of the university is the development of the intellect of the young people who come to our campuses. The ethos of the university includes, in the words of my colleague at Georgetown, the distinguished historian, John O’Malley, a recognition of the “preeminence of truth and the dignity of the quest for it.” 5 We seek to instill the habits of mind that will sustain this quest. We seek to nurture thinking individuals who are alive to opportunities to make a difference,

No one has captured the ethos and identity of the university more than John Henry Newman, who in one month will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. Newman wrote, in the lectures that became The Idea of the University, that the purpose of university education is the “real cultivation of mind,” that is, “the intellect...properly trained and formed to have a connected view or grasp of things.” 6  By “connected view,” Newman means the ability to develop a “comprehensive view of truth, in all its branches, of the relations of science to science, of their mutual bearings, and their respective values.” 7

Newman is committed to the idea that we can aspire to what would have been called in the 19th century, “Universal Knowledge,” a belief in a unity of knowledge which is within the grasp of a cultivated intellect. We seek to understand each of the disciplines, but also, the relationships of the disciplines to one another.

Newman’s conception of a “unity of knowledge” would not be held in our contemporary academy. Our practices of disciplinary specialization and the sheer complexity of what we now know make the thought of such integration implausible. But what if, in our pursuit of new concepts that could guide us in responding to globalization, we re-examine this key insight of Newman: that the purpose of University education is to grasp the truth and the connection between and among the disciplines?

Coming from a very different perspective than Newman, the distinguished biologist E.O. Wilson raised just this prospect at the end of the last decade. What if we could establish as an element of our intellectual agenda this challenge of integration of knowledge, the exploration of the potential for what Wilson called “consilience.” What if globalization could come to be understood as an effort at seeking consilience?

A second responsibility of the University entails the formation of character. We use different words to capture this idea. At Georgetown we describe this aspect of our mission as educating “women and men to be…responsible and active participants in civic life, and to live generously in service to others.” 8  This idea is captured beautifully in your words: “…individuals who are alive to opportunities to make a difference, are valued members and leaders of society, and global citizens in diverse settings.” This idea is deep in the ethos of the Academy with roots in the humanism of the Renaissance. The great formulators of this aspect of our ethos, Erasmus, Bruni, Petrarch, sought to ensure a focus on citizenship, on civic responsibility, on the formation of character. The locus of this work is in the disciplines we call the humanities.

Could we imagine an ideal like that articulated in your mission statement of global citizenship -- of global civic responsibility? What would it look like? And what kind of preparation might be required for such citizenship and for such responsibility?

We offer the very best settings in the world for the living of these questions. We are the homes to the most extraordinary young people, with access to the best that has been thought and written, and connected to one another in ways that are unprecedented in the history of our world. For our students, globalization means connectedness. It means access to ideas. It means an ability to participate in the construction of knowledge and the building of communities.

How do we understand the nature of the interior lives of our young people? How are they making sense of our world and their place in it? What affect are new technologies for connecting with one another having on their ways of making meaning in their lives? How are their imaginations being formed, and how do they understand the depth and breadth of their possibilities?

An important insight for us to consider was provided in April by Adolfo Nicolas, the Superior General of the Jesuit Order, in a speech to a gathering in Mexico City of educators from Jesuit colleges and universities from throughout the world. He noted that, “We need to understand this complex new interior world created by globalization….” 9

This interior world – the conscience and imagination that emerges—shapes the nature of one’s engagement in the world. Can we imagine a global citizen? Can we ensure that our engagement with the humanities provides our students with the resources to inform an interior life capable of emerging with a sense of responsibility for others in the world?

Beyond the humanities, we offer other resources that contribute to an understanding of responsibility. This leads me to a third set of reflections that emerge from the ethos of the university and that I hope can expand our conception of globalization. There has been a development that has been underway now for the past two decades, a development that has the potential to transform the way we understand the nature of our responsibilities to one another. This development is best captured in the series of publications that will celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year.

Beginning in 1990, the United Nations has produced an annual Human Development Report. The intellectual father of this initiative is the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, who over the course of his career has developed a set of ideas that is transforming the way we understand our responsibilities to one another. We refer to this set of ideas as the Human Development and Capability Approach. This Approach seeks to address the underlying economic, social, and political conditions that enable each of us to fulfill our promise and potential. This is “an approach to development in which the objective is to expand what people are able to do and be….”10

The animating concepts were established in the very first Human Development Report. Human development was defined as “both the process of widening people’s choices and the level of their achieved well-being.” 11 The core idea: “…The purpose of development is to enhance people’s capabilities…” 12  What is meant by ‘capabilities?’ A capability is the “freedom to promote or achieve what [one] values[s] doing and being.” 13  It is the freedom to engage in the practices and activities that one values doing and for which there is a value doing. It is through these activities that one achieves “well-being” or “human flourishing.” The question that Sen asks and that is at the heart of the Human Development approach is: do you have the capability to engage in the activities, the practices, what Sen calls the “functionings,” that matter most to you? Do the social, political, and economic structures provide you with the framework to achieve this capability?

For so much of the modern era we have considered our responsibilities to each other within the poles of utilitarianism and duty-based theories – between the poles of Mill and Kant. For so much of the modern era, in our understanding of political economy, this has translated into a focus on GDP. The Human Development and Capability Approach asks us to consider a different way. Again, in the words of the first Human Development Report: “The basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. This may appear to be a simple truth. But it is often forgotten in the immediate concern with the accumulation of commodities and financial wealth.” 14  It is lost with a focus on GDP.

This idea of human development deeply resonates with the ethos of the university. Can you imagine an account more focused on the betterment of humankind? I believe we need to embrace this new understanding of our responsibilities to each other for full “integral” development. It would be invaluable if we could support efforts to expand an understanding of globalization that accepts this understanding of human development. But beyond that, could we imagine, in the exercise of our institutional agency, the university playing a deeper role in this work of human development?

This is a challenging question. Let me offer one example from my own context of how challenging this can be. Colleagues of mine at Georgetown, at our Center on Education and the Workforce, led by the distinguished economist, Anthony Carnevale, issued a report this summer, entitled Help Wanted, Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018. Their report projected both job and employment growth in the United States in the coming decade. They project that the US economy will produce 22 million jobs by 2018. But nearly two-thirds of all jobs that will need to be filled in this decade will require some postsecondary education. Their key finding: “… we will under-produce postsecondary graduates by approximately 3 million by 2018.” 15

Job creation is an element of Human Development. Leaders of colleges and universities have long accepted a role for our schools in supporting regional economic development. In your words: “Dedicated service, as a national university, that adds to social, economic, and national development.” The findings of my colleagues, however, point to what is something more of a structural issue. In the United States, in the next decade, given current patterns, we will not produce 3 million people in need of postsecondary education.

The challenges are more acute in other parts of the world. Unemployment is above 25% in South Africa; 20% in Nigeria and in Spain; 13% in Ireland; and between 17 and 20% in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In the United States, we have our highest rates in two decades. The 5th volume of the Arab Human Development Report estimated that 51 million new jobs must be created in the Arab world by 2020. This will be the largest group of young people entering the work force in the Arab world and current projections will not meet these needs.

How do universities respond to these kinds of structural needs? We teach, we do research, we care for patients in our academic medical centers, we provide service, usually in our local communities, and in some cases in different parts of the world. We play a role in supporting regional economic enterprise. In a few special circumstances, we are creating some businesses that evolve from the research in our laboratories. But we are now engaged in the world in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. And a new understanding of our responsibilities to one another is emerging in the logic of Human Development. Can we find ways to contribute to addressing structural constraints to human development? We have an opportunity to expand both our understanding of the nature of globalization and to expand our understanding of the nature of our institutional agency.

A fourth set of reflections: I believe we are uniquely capable of expanding the conception of globalization to capture a greater capacity for understanding one other across boundaries and differences. Our campuses have long been “melting pots,” with students and faculty coming together from throughout the world, creating academic communities shaped by a common commitment to learning, scholarship, and research. Can we draw from this characteristic of our campuses and commit to deepening our efforts at mutual understanding?

There is one area I wish to propose that I believe is of critical importance at this time. Can we consider the possibility of more deeply engaging our religious traditions in the work of the Academy? I don’t mean simply as objects of study – we have pursued the formal study of religion for nearly one-hundred and fifty years in our universities. I mean engaging the intellectual dimensions of our religious traditions on their terms, bringing them into the discourse that takes place in the contemporary academy. I make this recommendation, particularly in the context of expanding our conception of globalization, for two reasons: first, our world has become much smaller. Those with different faiths are in much more proximate contact with one another, both physically and through advances in communications technology. We can no longer ignore those of a different faith. We need to know each other at ever deepening levels. If a significant part of an individual’s identity is animated by faith, we need to be able understand the dimensions of that faith.

Second, our religious traditions are the repositories of deep wisdom. As we seek to explore the impact of globalization on the interior lives of people, these wisdom traditions offer important resources for self-understanding and mutual understanding. For too long, we have cut off from academic discourse the insights of these traditions.

I wish to offer one last comment. As I prepared these remarks, it was impossible not to be deeply moved by the confluence of disasters that are hitting our sisters and brothers in different places around our world. At one point this past week, 557 wildfires raged over a 1740 square kilometer region southeast of Moscow. In China, More than a thousand lives were lost in Gansu province as a result of mudslides. A third of Pakistan was under water, a submerged area as big as the United Kingdom. 14 million Pakistanis have been affected, 2 million are homeless. At times, it seems that we have to be prepared to consider “crisis management” an aspect of everyday life. If we are to understand the nature of our moral responsibility in a context of globalization, we must acknowledge that our academic communities must be prepared to engage these issues. Animated by a “characteristic spirit,” we need to learn how to work together, how to learn together, to determine how we, all of us, understand the nature of this world in which we live and our responsibilities for it.

Globalization provides unprecedented opportunities to better humankind. The ethos of the university, our characteristic spirit, is to seek the betterment of humankind. We need to enrich our conception of globalization. There is work that is properly that of the university that can enrich our understanding of globalization.

Is it possible that one day, when people think of globalization, the ideas that come to mind are the search for consilience, for the unity of knowledge? Is it possible that globalization will entail a commitment to global citizenship and global civic responsibility? Could globalization come to capture the idea of integral human development and articulate the expectation that in the exercise of institutional agency, the university would play a role in such development? Could globalization mean a capacity to know one another more deeply, to understand one another and the deepest sources of our commitments with empathy? Could globalization come to mean an understanding of a more profound responsibility we have for our world and for one another?

Now is the time for us, for our communities of learning, to step in and offer our contribution to our understanding of globalization…an understanding that has, at its core, an acknowledgement and appreciation of the inherent human dignity of every individual in our global community.

Thank you.


1. “The Globalization Index.” Foreign Policy. 163 (2007): 70. Print.

2. Bollinger, Lee. “Universities for a Global Society.” National University of Singapore. 27 October 2009. Keynote address.

3. “Ethos.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.

4. “NUS Mission.” National University of Singapore, Office of Corporate Relations. Web. 1 Aug 2010.

5. O’Malley, John W., Four Cultures of the West. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004) 79.

6. Ker, Ian. The Achievement of John Henry Newman. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990) 20. My emphasis.

7. Ker 3.

8. “University Mission Statement” Georgetown University, n.d. Web 1 Aug 2010.

9. Nicolas, Adolfo, “Depth, Universality, and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today,” Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe, Mexico City, 23 April 2010.

10. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds., An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency (London: earthscan, 2009) 23

11. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds., 26

12. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds., 26-27

13. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds., 31

14. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds., 41

15. Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith and Jeff Strohl. “Help Wanted, Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018.” Center on Education and the Workforce. 1 Aug 2010.

Georgetown University37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057(202) 687.0100

Connect with us via: