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Michael Fowler honored for multicultural teaching

April 15th, 2009

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Michael Fowler

Michael Fowler
Political Science, College of Arts and Sciences
Exemplary Multicultural Teaching

Students who take political science professor Michael Fowler’s international negotiations class get an immersion into the thought process of people from different cultures. Through role-play, they might take on the part of a Japanese businessman involved in a health care merger, a French investor working on a European real estate transaction, or a United Nations representative trying to negotiate a cease-fire between warring Latin American states.

That was Monica Marks’ experience. A University of Louisville honors student, Marks nominated Fowler, this year’s recipient, for the Exemplary Multicultural Teaching Award.

Cross-cultural thinking in this and other classes Fowler teaches is the rule, not something slipped in haphazardly at the end of the semester, said Marks, a political science major with minors in Pan-African Studies and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.

“While I have studied abroad extensively in foreign countries (including Tanzania, Jordan, Tunisia and Turkey), I have never been so challenged to consider high-level issues from deeply analytical multicultural perspectives,” she said.

The award annually honors a faculty member who incorporates multicultural and global perspectives into teaching and scholarly activity; whose methods reflect diverse groups; and who understands that cultural literacy should be at the core of scholarly activity.

Fowler has a lifetime of interaction with people from other cultures and countries that he brings to his work.

His experiences are far-reaching and date back to his childhood when his father, an American diplomat, was posted to Bogotá, Colombia, at a time when it was emerging from a lengthy civil war. Later, Fowler lived with a local family while studying abroad one semester in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

In law school, he researched hostage negotiation while studying with Roger Fisher, author of “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In.” The law firm he practiced with in Boston had a large international practice that required Fowler to work with foreign corporations and governments.

His interactions with people from other cultures became more extensive after he entered the academic world. A Fulbright took him twice to Japan. He repeatedly has been a visiting professor in China, Laos and Vietnam for the Program for International Studies in Asia. At UofL, he was founding director of the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution, for which he developed a peace-building program that brought together students from Canada, Mexico and the United States.

He has, he said, experienced firsthand the challenges of joining with others to think through how all might contend better with cultural differences.

“I think that professors ought to try to bring their research and outside experiences into their teaching, and in my case I have especially done this in classes with a strong multicultural perspective,” Fowler said.

His teaching, he said, uses active and collaborative learning, films and videos and simulations.

“Dr. Fowler demands a great deal from himself and his students,” Marks said. “He expects a lot out of us, unlike many teachers at this university, and as a result he has consistently pushed students to new heights.”

He whets students’ interest in international issues, she said, and at the same time gives them concrete tools they need to dissect complex issues of pressing international concern.

Fowler’s influence extends beyond the classroom, she noted. He goes out of his way to meet with students individually, critique their writing, discuss plans and connect them with cross-cultural learning and internship opportunities.

Marks credits Fowler’s ongoing mentorship with helping her to decide to go into a career in international human rights law.

“As international society and interdependence have expanded, as globalization has taken hold, and as the practice of international relations has expanded well beyond foreign ministries, the impact of cross-cultural differences has increased exponentially,” Fowler said. “Helping people to identify cultural factors and to think through how to deal with cultural differences is a scholarly venture that is increasingly relevant in a shrinking world.

“I appreciate being selected for the UofL multicultural teaching award since it attests to the importance of this scholarly endeavor that many classes of students and I have been engaged in for more than a decade now,” he said. “We conceive of ourselves as creating new theories of cross-cultural negotiation as we join together to explore unresolved issues and hypothesize answers that might better explain behavior we have observed or that might guide future cross-cultural interactions more effectively than may have occurred in the past.”

Editor’s Note: President James Ramsey will present the President’s Exemplary Multicultural Teaching Award and the 2009 Distinguished Faculty Awards April 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Celebration for Faculty Excellence. The event is open to the university community and will be in the auditorium of the Speed Art Museum, 2035 S. Third St.

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