Thursday, 22 March 2012

"... a novel experiment in American graduate education"

"The purposes of The Johns Hopkins University are to increase human knowledge, to instruct students and to guide them into the fields of productive scholarship."

So proclaimed a university catalogue written just after the birth of SAIS Bologna in 1955 and devoted to the fledgling graduate program.

The 20-page document gives a glimpse -- all text, no pictures -- into the early days of SAIS Bologna. Much has changed, of course. But all in all, a lot has remained the same.

A year's tuition in 1955 was $800. Living costs for a single student -- room, food and incidentals -- were estimated at $20 a week.

The good old days.

SAIS's mission statement still rings true. "Combining high academic standards with a practical approach to current world problems, the aim of the School is to provide a limited number of qualified students with a type of instruction and training designed to prepare them for careers in the international field."

There was recognition that SAIS was breaking new ground by opening centers in Bologna and Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar).

The catalogue called the centers "a novel experiment in American graduate education inasmuch as they represent physical extensions of an American graduate institution to areas of specialized instruction."

To this day one of SAIS's distinguishing characteristics is the opportunity to pursue its curriculum on several continents. A year of study at SAIS Bologna followed by a year in DC is a unique combination. And SAIS is also present in Nanjing.

(We once held a weekly quiz on the center in Burma -- and on its demise in 1959.)

A career in the international field, the catalogue says, calls for a thorough understanding of international law and organization, international economics, European diplomatic history and the development and administration of American foreign relations.

Naturally SAIS Bologna's curriculum has evolved and grown since the Cold War to adapt to the changed  international landscape. Now students can concentrate in a much wider range of subjects: international development, conflict management, studies of regions well beyond Europe and the United States.

I will note two other things that have changed:

- the student body was capped at 60 back then whereas this year we have some 190 students;
- the lowest passing grade was "B" compared to "B-" today.

Grade deflation -- an unusual notion.

Nelson Graves