An Update from the Dean Stronach

SWU Talks the Talk, and Walks the Walk

September 6, 2019

For over 42 years I have repeatedly heard the Ministry of Education, now MEXT, and the Japanese government promote, successively as the fashions have changed, internationalization, the need to develop global human resources, and diversity. And, over those 42 years I have certainly seen change. Back in the ‘70s when my friends and I would run from Numabe down to the Tamagawa tossing a rugby ball back and forth, we’d often be trailed by kids yelling, “Hey, gaijin, gaijin, throw us the ball!” Back then any foreigner living in Tokyo who spoke Japanese well and understood the inscrutable ways of the orient was looked upon as a rare bird. These days any foreigner living in Tokyo who doesn’t speak at least passable Japanese and know the rudiments of polite behavior is looked upon askance. I could go on for many pages with semi-nostalgic then-and-now examples, but the bottom line is that things have changed. I cannot speak for the rest of Japan, but certainly Tokyo is an infinitely more beautiful, cleaner, more open, more diverse, and more welcoming city than it was in the 1970s.

But for all its importance, Tokyo is not Japan, and neither is Tokyo as advanced as it should be or could be. Japanese exceptionalism, the belief that Japan is unlike all other countries and people, cannot be judged by others’ standards, and implicitly superior to others, was highly popular in the late 1970s and through the 1980s as manifested by nihonjinron, or the discussion of what it is to be Japanese. Although dented by the post-bubble recession, Japanese exceptionalism remains in many facets of life, and is a major hindrance to the acceptance of the reforms that need to be undertaken for true global competence and competitiveness. There is often a tendency to explain that things are done in a certain way because “we are Japanese, this is Japan, and so we do things the Japanese way.” I shall never forget an administrator telling me after I, as a foreigner president of his university, had suggested some university reforms, “But, president, this is a Japanese university.”

If one looks at most of Japanese history since the beginning of the Tokugawa period in the early 16th century, diversity, as it is understood in the 21st century, has been a negative, and openness has been practiced only during times of need in the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. So, while MEXT, the Keidanren, University Associations, and the 2020 Olympic Committee all talk about the need for globalization, openness, and diversity, who will take the lead in implementation of policies and actions that need to be undertaken?

I know one institution that is walking the walk and not just talking the talk – Showa Women’s University (SWU). In the 14 years since the passage of the National University Incorporation Law which one could use to mark the beginning of an intensified period of university reforms intended to lead to greater global competitiveness, openness, and diversity, there have been many incremental reforms, such as the University of Tokyo’s announcement that it would allow students to enter in the fall semester. But truly fundamental changes meant to shift the paradigm of higher education in Japan have not occurred. This is what makes the willingness of SWU to partner with TUJ so outstanding.

I say with no humility and no overstatement, TUJ is one of the most, if not the most, diverse and international institution in Japan. By partnering with TUJ and allowing TUJ to share a campus with it, SWU is taking a step forward, a leap forward, in creating a real atmosphere of diversity, openness and internationalization. This should come as no surprise as Chancellor Mariko Bando and other members of the leadership team of SWU have been quick to understand the need for Japanese universities to develop these global human resources. SWU has for some time been developing a number of programs and initiatives designed to increase the school’s global competitiveness. SWU has strengthened its English curriculum, introduced more content courses taught in English, created its Department of Business Design—the third department at SWU with a study abroad requirement—and developed relationships with a number of overseas institutions, including Business Academy Aarhus in Denmark and Colorado University. SWU now has 42 partner universities around the world, where about 100 SWU students study at least one semester each year. SWU is also one of the very few Japanese universities with a campus in the United States. Since 1988, SWU’s Boston Campus has offered an English-based language education experience for its students. Over 500 SWU students study at the Boston Campus each year, 350 who stay for at least one semester.

Given that we have been working together on the new campus for three years, it should come as no surprise that TUJ’s deepest ties are with SWU. We have had a credit exchange program with SWU, under which more than 60 SWU students have studied at TUJ, since 2016. One male TUJ student also broke ground in the spring 2019 semester by being the first male student in a SWU undergraduate course. We have also had a number of joint symposia on a variety of topics. The first cohort of SWU students has already begun the TUJ-SWU undergraduate double-degree program, and we will initiate a similar program for TUJ students, as well as collaborative graduate programs. The new proximity of our campuses will spur even more and deeper ties, and TUJ and SWU are implementing a range of agreements on ancillary issues related to the universities’ relationship, including codes of conduct, sports facility usage, and SWU and TUJ respective campus usage.

But it will not be all chrysanthemums and roses. The reason why so many institutions talk the talk but tiptoe instead of walking the walk, is that making a shift in an institution’s paradigm is difficult and sometimes painful. And do not think that I am writing of SWU alone; I write of both SWU and TUJ. Acceptance of the reality of diversity, acceptance of the thoughts and rules of others, understanding the sensitivities of the other that may not be in sync with your opinions, beliefs, and/or behaviors, being open and frank about dealing with the day-to-day reality of merging cultures--these do not come easily to anyone, or any individual. But SWU and TUJ have made the commitment and we will walk forward, together, and, by doing so, the cross-cultural collaboration that we build will change the paradigm of higher education for everyone.

With best regards,