Reaching out to students over seas
Tuesday January 16, 2007
At many universities, the departments keep a certain distance from each other. At one university this has always, and exactly been true. At the University of the Aegean, different departments are on different islands.
The sociology department is on Lesvos, 90 nautical miles distant from the maths department, which is on Samos.
The maths department is 40 nautical miles distant from the department of financial and management engineering, which is on Chios.
The department of financial and management engineering is 100 nautical miles distant from the department of primary education, which is on Rhodes.
Nautical miles are an appropriate unit of measurement, as the departments are connected by ship, by high-speed ferries and, in recent years, by the internet.
The distantness is not maintained as strictly as it might be. This is not a case of one department, one island. Most are forced to share their island with several other departments.
In addition to sociology, Lesvos houses geography, and social anthropology and history, cultural technology, communication, environmental studies and marine sciences.
Maths shares its landmass with two other departments. Financial and management engineering also has two neighbours within walking possibility.
The department of product and systems design engineering shares its island with no one. This department may be more stand-offish in other ways, too. Its online bulletin board lists only one upcoming event, the Third Aegean International Conference on Design and Analysis of Manufacturing Systems, scheduled for May 19-22 2001.
The University of the Aegean is young, founded in 1984. Traditions about inter-departmental relationships must, to some extent, be considered fluid. Maybe these represent the waves of the future, so to speak. Maybe not.
At least one other university lives entirely on an array of islands. The University of the South Pacific spans not just an archipelago, but a good chunk of the Pacific Ocean. The campuses are on 12 island nations: the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. This spans, the university likes to point out, an area more than three times the size of Europe, though with a total landmass about equal to that of Denmark.
But, for the connoisseur of departmental distancing, the University of the South Pacific is a most impure institution. Many a department is duplicated or divided across multiple locations.
The two universities have been known to collaborate, if, well, distantly. Perhaps the sweetest example is a study published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. Ioannis Tsaousis, of the University of the Aegean, and Robin Taylor, of the University of the South Pacific, together with researchers from elsewhere (the authors list spans three pages) examined the notion that no man – or woman – is an island. Their report, Patterns and Universals of Adult Romantic Attachment Across 62 Cultural Regions, concludes that, almost everywhere, “secure romantic attachment”, not distance of the heart, is “normative”.
(Thanks to Andy Gleason for bringing the University of the Aegean to my attention.)
· Marc Abrahams is editor of the bimonthly magazine Annals of Improbable Research and organiser of the Ig Nobel Prize