Voices
The IE Interview

Gregory Crawford: Establishing a New Normal

The president of Miami University discusses leadership amid uncertainty, what it means to be a global citizen, and which COVID-19-era innovations will remain long term.
“You will not have enough direct experience for every crisis that comes your way as a leader,” says Gregory Crawford. “In those times, you must have the courage to face the challenge head-on with confidence in yourself and your team that you can and will find the path forward.” Photo: Shutterstock
 

­­­Gregory P. Crawford, PhD, the president of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, began his international studies in graduate school at Kent State University. After two international sabbaticals in his career, Crawford developed a passion for providing students with international experiences.

Headshot of Gregory Crawford
Gregory P. Crawford, PhD, president of Miami University. Photo: Courtesy Miami University

Over his career, he has led immersion experiences for student groups in India, Japan, and the Netherlands, as well as implemented such experiences into the many programs he has developed. In 2019, Miami University won the Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Campus Internationalization

Before Crawford became president of Miami University in 2016, he was a vice president, associate provost, and dean of the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame and the dean of engineering at Brown University. His research career has focused on materials, photonics and applications, and pedagogy, emphasizing the teaching and training of entrepreneurship in all disciplines. 

International Educator spoke with Crawford about COVID-19’s effects on Miami’s internationalization and education abroad programs, what it means to be a global citizen, and his perspective on leadership amid uncertainty.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

 

How has the pandemic affected what study abroad looks like at Miami—and what it will look like moving forward?

During the spring and summer, our study abroad team and leadership analyzed our large portfolio of faculty-led, provider-sponsored, and cosponsored programs. We reimagined and designed our portfolio to ensure we are meeting our students’ needs to gain cultural and global consciousness and competence while providing the highest quality inclusive international education experiences possible for students and faculty. 

We worked with our partner universities abroad to develop a stronger portfolio of cosponsored semester and yearlong programs for our students that allow them to pay their Miami tuition and study abroad for approximately the same cost as studying on campus. Thanks to these efforts, we will launch eight new cosponsored programs in 2021–22 in locations that were previously underserved. 

For our winter 2020–21 term, we are reviewing each faculty-led program and location and will make decisions by October 1, based on a careful analysis by our extensive risk management resources and the current and projected situation in each location. However, we have plans for each of the 20–25 proposed winter-term programs to pivot to summer 2021 or to do a version of the program through MiamiConnects, our virtual study abroad options. 

We also have an online study abroad option for our students to choose through our interdisciplinary studies program area called MiamiConnects: Our Virtual World. This offers three areas of virtual cultural immersion: Malaysia (religious diversity), Central America (legal and economic complexities of migration), and Kenya (financial inclusion posed by digital technologies in Silicon Savannah)....The study abroad team, aware of pent-up interest in study abroad, is developing programs for the future that will include even students who have graduated and moved on from Miami. 

How are you keeping internationalization a priority for students during this time? Are there any innovations that will continue when full mobility resumes?

The technology, like the international contacts [students make through these programs], will be a part of the students’ working life when they graduate. They will be used to participating in online meetings with colleagues around the globe.

Examples include a Mexican history class on our Oxford, Ohio, campus that Skypes with students [in Mexico] to share views of history and cross-cultural comparisons; service-learning courses that engage our local Spanish-speaking community members, working with them on a pathway to citizenship and English as a second language; a Global Health Case Competition, where Miami students spend one weekend with external experts, focusing on a solution for a global health challenge; and Social Innovation Weekend, where our students sought solutions for food insecurity. 

These virtual experiences were developed with inclusivity in mind—all students getting an immersive experience that includes connecting with classrooms of university students across the world to share perspectives and providing a space for students to explore their biases and worldview.

We also have a strong focus on teaching languages. One program in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese was highlighted as a best practices model in Radio Ambulante for a podcast created to teach students when we had to switch to remote learning this spring due to COVID-19. 

These virtual experiences were developed with inclusivity in mind—all students getting an immersive experience that includes connecting with classrooms of university students across the world to share perspectives and providing a space for students to explore their biases and worldview. We have invested significantly in our broader diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts and will do more, enhancing our international focus and mission. 

Dr. Cheryl Young, who leads our international efforts, is in Luxembourg for the semester working with the University of Luxembourg on creative and innovation hubs that develop sustainable, continuous, classroom-to-classroom connections, virtual internships, and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate [students] using information and communication technologies. She is also developing potential grant-funded prospects for collaborative research that could allow students to work together in person in the future. 

Miami believes students can receive a global experience in the United States. For example, our program in Cincinnati, the Urban Cohort in Over-the-Rhine, exposes students to global issues such as food insecurity, poverty, homelessness, and affordable clean energy. Teacher education students are student teachers in the schools, and architecture students participate in design-build projects in the area while becoming members of the community. This is an affordable, long-standing, and sustainable program. 

What does it mean to be a global citizen right now? What has the pandemic revealed about the importance of students becoming global citizens?

The pandemic has made vivid our global connections and interdependence. The virus respects no borders and recognizes no political, economic, racial, religious, cultural, or other divisions among human beings. We know that the health of each of us depends on the health of all of us. That truth starts with the physical disease, but it applies politically, economically, socially, and environmentally. 

The global citizen empathetically takes an active role in their local and global communities toward equity and sustainability. 

Our international focus and our DEI focus unite in educating our students to understand their place in the world and their responsibility to affirm equality and seek justice for all. The global citizen empathetically takes an active role in their local and global communities toward equity and sustainability. 

The MiamiConnects: Our Virtual World program includes a “Becoming a Global Citizen” course that introduces students to the skills, strategies, and attitudes necessary to become a global leader along with student colleagues from different cultural backgrounds around the world and to map out their ideal path for communicating their global identity. We are using religious plurality, migration intricacies, and financial aspects related to equity of access to technology to illustrate global citizenship aspects, all heightened by the pandemic experience.

In thinking about the idea of global citizenship, where does that intersect with Miami’s work in diversity and inclusion on campuses? 

Our international focus is deeply linked with our DEI focus; both studying abroad and engaging the international students who come to our campuses are part of growing in cultural competence, understanding, and empathy for others, no matter their differences, that becomes part of the student’s identity. Thus, our new international student center at Miami brings students together and elevates our mission for DEI—and these efforts prepare students to be more effective global citizens. 

Two years ago, we launched a Voices of Discovery Intergroup Dialogue program to bring together students from diverse backgrounds—international and domestic and many other intersections of identity. The facilitated dialogue and relationships influence participants’ understanding of their own and others’ experiences in society and cultivate individual allyship and collective agency to effect social change. One of our first facilitated dialogues was between domestic and international students. 

What do you think are the next challenges that U.S. higher education will face?

The confluence of factors facing higher education—declining demographics for high school graduates, external and state support down, global competition up, technology and the Industry 4.0 revolution accelerating rapidly, and now the international coronavirus health crisis and potential resulting recession—will continue to adversely impact higher education. The pandemic health crisis just accelerated the pace and exposed the weaknesses in our business models overnight. Business as usual is simply not an option. The budget models in higher education are antiquated and inadequate in today’s dynamic world.

You will not have enough direct experience for every crisis that comes your way as a leader ... In those times, you must have the courage to face the challenge head-on with confidence in yourself and your team that you can and will find the path forward. 

Now we must establish a new normal for success in a world of rapid change [that includes] focused resource alignment and prioritization on program excellence and uniqueness, because institutions can no longer do everything and be everything to everybody; a more agile budget and finance model that is real-time and adaptable to change when the institution needs to pivot in a new direction; and a move toward change-focused investments where fewer and larger investments must be made to achieve the impact needed for success rather than spreading resources too thinly. This emerging normal must not overlook the vital role of international connections and education or the responsibility for stewardship of the global environment that is necessary for our continued flourishing. 

What advice do you have about leadership in a time of crisis?

When faced with a crisis, such as the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic, I go back to a personal experience that has always provided a positive perspective. Years ago, I rode my bicycle across the country several times for fundraising and awareness for a rare disease. I would regularly get the question, “How did you get in physical shape to do that?” The answer is, “I didn’t. But I practiced enough to build up the courage to start and the confidence that was needed to complete the journey.” 

You will not have enough direct experience for every crisis that comes your way as a leader—coronavirus has proved that—and neither will your mentors. In those times, you must have the courage to face the challenge head-on with confidence in yourself and your team that you can and will find the path forward. 

The international health crisis really stretched my courage and confidence, to be perfectly honest. We plan for just about everything in higher education—forecasting, modeling, finances—that impacts our future. But this worldwide pandemic has been so vast, so fast-moving, and so devastating, and information from everywhere was coming in so fast. 

It is good to have that courage and confidence, but in such unprecedented situations that cascade minute by minute, you must “trust your gut,” that voice inside founded on your well-established core values and virtues.…Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but with my strong leadership team, we focus on critical and structured thinking and adhere to our mission amid the rapidly changing circumstances.  •

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NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA's 10,000 members are located at more than 3,500 institutions worldwide, in over 150 countries.