Honorary consuls and universities

Honorary consuls and universities

This is the 3rd post about the connection between universities and the foreign consuls throughout our communities. Moreover, I’m talking about those consuls who serve as honorary consuls for a foreign nation. They are long-term residents somewhere in the United States and they are not subject to transfer like their colleagues who hold a career consular position.

There has been no study of the actual number of honorary consuls who hold a university degree, but we know from press releases that many new honorary appointees specifically attribute their achievements to the education they received at their Alma Mater. When a new honorary consul is named, his educational background – and, therefore his university – is usually mentioned when he’s introduced to his community. What a wonderful opportunity for a university to piggy-back on this showing of internationalism!

Also, among members of a university’s governing board we find local residents who are honorary consuls. As far as we know, they are elected for their financial success and not because they are official representatives of a foreign nation. Still, through their vote on the board they may influence such matters as the global direction of their universities.

To re-cap: we find honorary consuls among both notable university alumni and on the boards of trustees for these institutions of higher education.

Given the usual financial qualifications (among others) of potential honorary consuls, it’s reasonable that there’s an overlap of alumni in the pool of candidates for honorary consuls as well as university trustees, since service on the board also comes with expectations of a certain financial solidity.

This leads me to ponder the lack of connection between institutions designed to educate and the alumni they have produced who have gone on to become honorary consuls and sometimes return to their Alma Mater as trustees.  As I’ve said many times before, honorary consuls have to learn about their role as consuls on their own. The rest of the community has to do it by pot-luck. So, where does a university come in?

Early in my university career dealing with foreign students I made a startling observation: compared with our domestic students, those from abroad had a much broader knowledge of what a foreign consul stood for. Maybe it was out of self-preservation (the usual advice to travelers being that one should always know the location of one’s own consulate), but I tended to believe that there was a disconnect between a university’s mission and the facts of life.

Anecdotal evidence shows a lack of teaching of the meaning of being a foreign consul of any kind – honorary, or career for that matter (I exclude here those graduates who seek to make a career in the foreign service, because they’ll obviously continue their training in the subject). This means that alumni who are either honorary consuls and/or university trustees often cannot satisfactorily explain how their role as a local bridge to globalism can benefit their Alma Mater.

While some academicians bemoan the fact that even those universities that promote themselves as “international” or “global” don’t offer even the smallest consular component I actually did something about it: I wrote a practical guide –The Foreign Consuls Among Us: Local Bridges to Globalism – to the consular institution (http://seagreenpress.com/consuls/).

Chapter 7 (pp. 67-78) of this reference suggests the following (abbreviated) ways universities can fill the existing void. Feel free to copy the leadership of your institution with these suggestions:

  • The curriculum should include a consular component, even when the university claims it’s already infused with a so-called “international” perspective.
  • The position of an honorary consuls comes with prestige and special recognition that, when properly shared, reflects on the Alma Mater of the consul.
  • Local consuls are a natural first-link to faculty and student exchanges when there’s an understanding of their role.