Guru Mantra: Dr. Mitch Leventhal, Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs, SUNY

Dr. Mitch Leventhal
Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs
The State University of New York (SUNY)

Prior to his appointment at SUNY, Dr. Mitch Leventhal served as vice provost for international affairs at the University of Cincinnati, with responsibilities for global strategy, institutional collaboration, international recruitment, and curricular internationalization. Reporting units included UC International Planning, UC International Programs and UC International Services. Dr. Leventhal has extensive international experience across many industry verticals, including shipping, chemicals, finance, insurance, information technology, technology transfer and education. He is widely recognized as a leader in international student recruitment strategy, enterprise-wide data systems, consortium-based initiatives, and public-private partnerships.

Prior positions include founder and president of the Microstate Corporation, adjunct assistant professor of Information Management Systems at The George Washington University, founding CEO of the Intellectual Property Technology Exchange, and co-founder vice president for strategic initiatives and managing director of Planet Payment, Inc. Prior to his last position at the University of Cincinnati, he headed North American operations for IDP, a firm owned by Australian universities.

Dr. Leventhal is Chairman and President of the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC), and sits on numerous other commissions and boards. Leventhal earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Politics and a master’s in Comparative and Developmental policies from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. in the International Political Economy of Education from the University of Chicago.

RC- What excites you about your new position as vice chancellor for global affairs at SUNY system? What are your strategic priorities?
ML- SUNY is the only public system of higher education in the united states which has prioritized global affairs to such a point as to create a cabinet level position. Given the immense complexity of our system, which has a comprehensive range of institution types (ranging from community colleges to technical institutes, comprehensives and research institutions), with 64 campuses and more than 440.000 students, the challenges are huge – but the potential benefits of coordination are also gigantic. My priorities will be to create an infrastructure which allows the 64 campuses to benefit more from their “systemness,” that is to create mechanisms that allow them to focus on their core strengths (including internationalizing all aspects of the educational experience), while the system provides services that need not be undertaken at the campus level. For example, we will create an information system that will allow all campuses to see the global relationships that exist across the entire system so that they are not always re-inventing the wheel with each opportunity; we will create master recruiting agreements with the system such that campuses do not need to negotiate separate deals with agents but can instead focus on recruitment; we will create a global center in Manhattan, New York City, so that each campus can have a base for delivery of its curriculum at the heart of the world financial system.

RC-  Your previous high impact work at University of Cincinnati and now appointment at SUNY has proved the value and need of international education profession in university strategy. What advice do you have for future education leaders in international education administration? What do you believe are the top competencies required to be a successful in this area?
ML- Senior International Education Officers (SIOs) have been too timid in the past. They need to demand a seat at the table – not just the study abroad/exchange/recruiting table, but at every table which may touch on international affairs. All too often, important issues are missed because someone focused on the international dimension is not involved in early discussions. International issues pervade university operations today. In additional to those listed above – which conventionally define the responsibilities of the position – there are others, such as: international technology transfer, global corporate relations, international alumni relations, foreign currency risk, human risk, institutional review for human subjects, export controls, compliance regulations, and much more. So SIOs need to push their way to many tables and demonstrate their value at each. As their centrality within the many institutional debates grows, so do the resources available to them.

Effective SIOs need a broad range of skills. A broad liberal education can be very helpful, since they must effectively deal across many disciplines. In addition, diplomatic tact, consensus-building and persuasive skills are vital – but timidity is definitely not an asset. A leader must know when the time has come to push hard on initiatives, otherwise institutional inertia inevitably takes over. Entrepreneurial skills are also essential – universities are long on ideas and perpetually short on cash. A creative approach to initiative and project launch will take an SIO a long way. These skills are often best honed in the private sector, though there are many examples of entrepreneurial leaders in academe. Last, having academic street cred is vital for obtaining the respect of faculty and enlisting the support – in most cases this means having earned a doctorate, though it does not necessarily require having worked one’s way up through the traditional academic career pathway.

Last, and perhaps most difficult, is the need to abandon fear of losing one’s position or being fired. Bold leaders are respected, and it is difficult to be bold if one is always looking over one’s shoulder.

RC- You are also the Chairman of American International Recruitment Council (AIRC). How do you assess the evolution of AIRC in last 15 months and future directions?
ML- AIRC is having a truly transformative effect on us international recruitment practice. Since its creation in late June 2008, I have discovered many institutions who have finally admitted publicly that they have worked with agents for years, but lacked the institutional cover to discuss their approach publicly. AIRC has removed much of the stigma of agency-based recruiting, by framing the practice within a rigorous quality assurance framework.

The AIRC pilot phase is nearing an end, and AIRC now has more than 15 additional agencies in the pipeline – all of this with no organized marketing or promotion. As institutions begin to adopt agency recruitment – and make AIRC certification a prerequisite for consideration – I believe agencies will scramble to go through the process.

The paradigm is shifting in a big way. Consider the fact that SUNY never had an agency policy before. Now, SUNY will start working with selected AIRC certified agents at the system level. Don’t you think that access to a comprehensive system of 64 campuses – and unlimited capacity to absorb international students – will be a strong incentive to pursue AIRC certification? And imagine the effect this will have on other universities and state systems across the United States.

I believe that we are on the verge of a new renaissance in the US as a study destination.