Bringing Together Campus-Wide International Activities

The University at Buffalo made a strategic decision in 1989 to establish the Office of International Education and consolidate all of the university’s international activities in a single division. Always an internationally active campus, the University saw dramatic growth in international activities following the award in 1986 of a $16 million contract by the Government of Malaysia to offer UB undergraduate degree programs in Malaysia. This led to the admission of large numbers of Malaysian students to UB and the development of additional overseas centers in Indonesia, Cambodia, Japan, and Taiwan.

The experience gained on the Malaysian program highlighted the fragmented nature of international activities at the University: international student services and study abroad programs were located within the Division of Student Affairs, some functions of employee immigration services were located in the Personnel Office while others were handled by the international student office, international admissions were handled by a .5 FTE officer in the Admissions Office, there was no international recruitment effort, and exchange agreements were negotiated and signed by deans, chairs, and even individual faculty members with no central review or coordination. Acting on a proposal made by Professor Stephen Dunnett, then-Provost William Greiner established the Office of International Education, bringing together in a single division all international activities and vesting responsibility in a Vice Provost for International Education.

For the first time ever, a SUNY campus had a chief administrative officer at the vice-provostal level responsible for all international aspects of the University and the authority to speak on behalf of international students, scholars and overseas programs and initiatives. Furthermore, the provost committed the resources necessary to make the office a success by assigning a basic state budget and encouraging us to seek additional outside funding.

A Shared Mission, Vision and Goals

The establishment of the Office of International Education (OIE) brought vertical integration to the international area and permitted the development of a common vision and mission. For the first time all international activities were directed toward a common goal without competing for resources with units in different administrative areas with radically different objectives. The charge was simple: to integrate all of the international activities of the University in support of the University’s goals. The realization of this objective is more difficult but nonetheless achievable.

In support of the University’s enrollment management goals, OIE established an International Enrollment Management office to recruit and admit full tuition paying international students. The International Student and Scholar Services office contributes to our enrollment management efforts by offering orientation and support programs designed to enhance retention. OIE strives to offer international students a seamless experience from initial contact through graduation. The office reviewed all UB’s exchange agreements in an effort to eliminate duplication and ensure that agreements are sustainable, broadly based, and support the academic and research objectives of the institution. Over the past dozen years the diverse units which make up the Office of International Education have coalesced into a well integrated unit sharing a common vision and goals and committed to excellence in service to students and the University.

Unparalleled Opportunities for Faculty and Students

A key component in OIE’s success has been our relationships with faculty and researchers. The Council on International Studies and Programs (CISP) is one way we engage faculty on a macro level to seek their input and advice on matters of policy and direction. Faculty engaged in international programs from every school and college are represented on the Council and serve not only to inform our office of what is going on at the department level but also help inform deans and department chairs of international initiatives and concerns at the university level. Another avenue to engage faculty members has been our sponsored overseas programs which offered teaching and research opportunities to faculty in a host of countries, including China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, and Zimbabwe in fields as diverse as earthquake engineering, management, pharmacy, English as a second language and early childhood education. OIE works closely with faculty in developing study abroad and exchange programs that complement the research and pedagogical strengths of the University and offer unparalleled opportunities for faculty and students to pursue their own research interests. In this manner OIE is able to bring a more diverse international perspective back to our campus while offering students the opportunity to experience other cultures first hand.

A Proactive Response to International Issues

The vertical integration of the international area has enabled the office to respond quickly and proactively to emerging international crises. For example, during the Asian financial crisis OIE worked with the Office of Student Accounts to identify students impacted by the devaluation of their currencies and offered loans and extended payment options as a way for them to continue their studies and maintain their enrollment. As a result UB not only retained those students already enrolled but were able to increase enrollments from Asia the following year because the university had demonstrated its concern and a creative approach to addressing the problem. More recently OIE spearheaded efforts to implement the SEVIS tracking system mandated by Congress. Understanding the new reporting requirements imposed on UB, OIE brought together colleagues from Computing Services, Student Accounts, and the Registrars Office to develop a comprehensive, integrated approach to this problem. Once the scope of the problem was defined and the recommended solution identified the Provost provided full institutional support in providing the financial and personnel resources necessary to implement the  recommended solution. As a result UB is not only fully compliant with SEVIS but is one of the leading institutions in the country in implementing and testing the new systems and procedures.

The Office of International Education at the University at Buffalo is successful because each unit recognizes that it is part of a larger whole contributing to the mission and goals of the University. Each unit understands that it is essential to meeting our goals and understands how it fits within the larger context. There is an esprit de corps within the division and each unit coordinates with the others and works well together. Competent, dedicated staff are essential and OIE is fortunate to have some of the finest professionals in the University working for us.