Thursday, May 29, 2014

The rewards of guiding the debate: SAIS Europe Director Keller bids farewell

Dr. Kenneth Keller will hand over the reins of SAIS Europe to Prof. Michael Plummer this summer after eight years as director of the oldest U.S. international affairs graduate program in Europe. Prof. Keller, former president of the University of Minnesota, will continue teaching a course in science, technology and international affairs at SAIS Europe. Below he reflects on what the Bologna Center experience means to himself and to the students.

Two weeks ago, we ended our academic year at the Bologna Center; a special time in university life.

For students, of course, it was a celebration of personal success, accomplishment, coupled with the anticipation -- that rich mixture of hope and anxiety -- about the next stage. For most it meant taking off for summer internships around the world and then on to our Washington campus in the fall.
Dr. Kenneth Keller

But it was also a special time for faculty members like myself, perhaps this year especially for me, finishing my eighth and last year as Director of the Bologna Center, and my 50th year of teaching; a different rite of passage!

So what was on my mind as I looked out at our 200 students and almost as many friends and relatives?

Enormous pride in the present moment; inexorable reflection on what we’re about as an institution; satisfaction about the value of what we do and how we do it; gratitude at the opportunity to be part of it all. Since this is a mid-point for most of our students rather than a final graduation, they don’t wear caps and gowns, but that meant the individuality of the class was the more apparent, the great and beautiful diversity in dress reflecting the diversity in backgrounds, in culture, in interests.

But they shared a lot: the smiles, the joy, the humor, the warmth of a group that, like those who came before them for the 59 years in which the Bologna Center has been around, has built a community, has formed bonds that will last a lifetime. In fact, we deal with the most serious issues in the world, but our lives are lived in the comfortable ambiance of personal friendships, informality and mutual support.

Diversity, community, perspective. When verbal, engaged students from 35 or 40 countries come ready to duke it out about urgent global issues, the reward is trustful, respectful appreciation of different viewpoints. When a year of studying global problems in a European context is coupled with a year of studying them in an American context, the reward is a unique, enriching educational experience in international affairs.

When year after year, as a teacher, you get to be present at the debate, to stir it up, to guide it a bit, then teaching merges with learning, and the reward is the sense of a professional life well-spent.

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