Prior to the establishment of a study abroad program, there had been three week trips in the summer semester to London. The 1979 Summer Session Bulletin provides details of what this program looked like, students would normally take a 3 credit class as part of this trip. In this year there were also trips to France and Russia.
This was not seen as enough for some students and one student that participated in the Summer Session program wrote to Dr Cohen who had led the trip encouraging the creation of a semester program. Dr Ralph Alan Cohen prepared a feasibility report, dated September 1st 1978 looking in to the possibility of the creation of a semester in London study abroad programme. This was undertaken at the request of President Ronald Carrier. The fact that Carrier requests this is very interesting as this shows that he is concerned with the creation of a study abroad programme. 1978 is two years after the change from Madison College to James Madison University, the change was not just a name change but was trying to implement a change in character of the institution and the way in which it is perceived Carrier wanted in to be one of the major colleges in the state of Virginia. Along with the name change President Carrier created new departments, changed course offerings and greatly expanded the University as has been discussed in greater deal in other posts. The creation of a study abroad programme can be seen to fit into this greater expansion of the university, as a study abroad programme is something which a higher calibre institution would have. This drive to create a study abroad program fits in with the idea of the activity approach and this being the only the way that universities tried to internationalize in the 1970s.
The Report lays out the three main criteria that such a would a program would have to fulfil:
- The program must be good, at a level with other programs of institutions at a similar level as James Madison University. It should be able to contribute greatly to the honour of James Madison University.
- It must reflect the needs of the student body of James Madison University, must correspond to the mission of the University, and as part of this it should aim to be low in cost to make it accessible to the greatest amount of students possible.
- It must be flexible, and in this be able to accommodate changing goals of the program and of James Madison University as an institution overall. Part of this flexibility is to keep it a broad program not specialised towards a particular major so as again to ensure that as is accessible to hopefully any student that wished to go.
Ultimately they wanted to make it beneficial for students, faculty and the University.
- Students – It forces students to re-examine their own culture by placing them in a new one. Dr Ralph Cohen describes London as the “richest cultural centre in the world” this is extremely beneficial to students coming from Harrisonburg which in the 1970s was a rural city that was still to an extent quite old fashioned. There is no language barrier to overcome which makes adjustment easier as well as the fact it will be the first program for the University to establish again making it easier. Dr Ralph Cohen states at length the benefits to English majors, mainly due to the fact that he is an English Professor so this what he is most knowledgable about. However the Report then goes on to list what lots of different majors can gain from spending time in London. One of the most important benefits laid out for students is the belief that it will give them an edge to help them get into graduate schools or gain employment.
- Faculty – It gives research opportunities for accompanying faculty. It is a morale booster as it gives them the opportunity to do something different.
- The University – It is an inexpensive way for James Madison to promote itself, as it sort of will just naturally happen as an offshoot of the program for instance the students will come into contact with people in London and more people will start to hear of the University.
The Report then goes on to discuss the logistics of such a program and how it would operate. Some of this reveals some interesting aspects about the character of James Madison University. Affiliation with a London university is suggest but immediately discounted, the program Dr Ralph Cohen has in mind is very much based around creating a James Madison University community in London. This is achieved through the decision to teach classes themselves so as to retain control. When looking in to how accommodate students in London, several options are listen. One of these is allowing students to find their own flats, which is mentioned is what Syracuse University makes their students do, this is discounted with a statement saying that students make bad decisions. Whilst that is true, this also shows the more parental nature of James Madison University, this is shown again by the fact that it is recommended that they have an in house physician to be included in the cost of the program. As it is thought if they do not students will not bother to seek help for medical issues. This is a program were the students are very much taken care of, which might be reassuring to some it is not forcing them to grow in the same way. Also students would not be in charge of their own finances once they are there being made to pay into fund which they then get a weekly allowance. The option seen as most preferable for accommodating students is to rent out the whole of a section of a larger hotel or the whole of small bed and breakfast. This would create more of a community for the students which Dr Ralph Cohen views as preferable. This however would negate some of the benefits that he lays out of getting to know a different culture as well can one get to know a new culture if being forced to be completely immersed within it.
There are two budget options included in the report, the more expensive one at an extra $2947 for the semester it is noted as being half the cost of comparable study abroad programs to London. This shows that he is fulfilling one of the major criteria of ensuring that is cheap. The fact that this is such an important factor would suggest that the average James Madison student is not from that a well of background, this is an important factor in the character of the campus.
In the fall on 1979, a group of 28 students from James Madison University participated in the first semester study abroad programme in London.
Dr Ralph Cohen is listed as the Director of Foreign Studies in the article showing that the position he advised to be created did come in to existence. This position was the beginning of the what would eventually become the Department of International Programs. The article also states that students on the program are being charged $1253 more than standard on campus tuition, this is $594 less than the expected lower budget as laid out in Feasibility Report. Among the group of students present in London, 24 different majors are represented showing that they were able to achieve their goal of flexibility and making it accessible to a diverse group of students.
The article describes students as being at James Madison University’s ‘other campus’, this statement suggests at the community atmosphere which the Feasibility Report wanted to create. It mentions how living in a hotel has provided them with an opportunity to meet people from all over the world, which will indeed broaden their horizons. It also mentions dining at Italian, Greek, Indian and Chinese restaurants run by people really from there, again giving the students a very diverse experience.
Dr Ralph Alan Cohen, James Madison University A Semester in London: A Feasibility Report. Harrisonburg: James Madison University, September 1, 1978. Print
Summer Session Bulletin. Harrisonburg: James Madison University, 1979. Print
The Breeze, August 31, 1979
The Breeze, September 21, 1979