As I write this in December 2016, discussions continue in the U.S. about the surprise outcome of November’s presidential election. Few analysts expected Donald Trump to win, and even fewer understood the negative opinions voters had about globalization. This is a topic that emerged throughout the U.S. campaign—including in the October 9th president debate at Washington University in St. Louis, and Trump’s election made it clear that many Americans have come to view the costs of globalization as outweighing the benefits.

This debate is emerging in many places in the world today, especially in Europe, where the “Brexit” vote in the UK and other elections in Italy, France, and even Germany reflect the rise of populism with calls to close borders to immigrants. Some analysts have suggested that this is part of a more protracted cycle in which decades of deglobalization follow its opposite. For those of us raised on the assumption that globalization moves inexorably forward, this is something of a shock.

My intention here is not to make predictions about Donald Trump or about deglobalization more generally. The election results should be a warning to anyone predicting anything about politics these days! But I can predict something about the McDonnell Academy; namely, that we will remain committed to building global connections among future leaders and institutions. We will follow this course regardless of whatever else is going on in the world. If anything, we take this mission to be even more important in times when nations seem to be retreating from globalization.

At the Academy we will make our most important contributions by recruiting and mentoring Academy Scholars as they start thinking about global challenges in their early years. We are at our best when we help Scholars tackle complex issues together, even when these issues involve conflicting beliefs and opinions. And we remain committed to bringing the Academy’s partner institutions together regularly at our International Symposia.

At a time when withdrawal behind national borders may seem tempting, the McDonnell Academy remains deeply committed to recruiting and mentoring global leaders of the future and to developing “academic commerce” among the world’s premier research universities. In the long term there is no better way for universities to contribute to peace and prosperity. As we continue this holiday season we can think of no bigger gift we can give.

A Happy New Year to all!


James V. Wertsch, Director
McDonnell International Scholars Academy