The University of Oklahoma already has three campuses in the state.
Now, university officials are planning to open another location a bit further afield.
OU is renovating and restoring an 18th century monastery in Arezzo, a city in Tuscany. Once work is complete, the university plans to use the building as a permanent campus overseas, said OU President David Boren.
The idea behind the campus, Boren said, is to provide study-abroad opportunities for students who might not be willing to participate in one of the university's other overseas programs.
OU has exchange agreements with universities in countries around the world, including a small program in Arezzo. But many students seem to be apprehensive about going off to one of those universities and being treated more or less the same as any other student, Boren said. Likewise, he said, many parents have misgivings about sending their students to a foreign country where they aren't sure they'll be safe or supervised.
The Arezzo campus would serve as a sort of first step for those students and their parents, he said. Although the campus is on a different continent, he said, it's in a relatively small, safe city, and OU faculty and staff will be on hand.
“In a way, this is sort of an icebreaker,” Boren said.
All told, the project will cost about $20 million to complete, Boren said. The university plans to fund the project through private donations, he said. University officials have already raised about $14 million toward that goal, he said.
OU students are already studying in Arezzo, Boren said. Until the facility is complete, those students are housed with families and in hotel rooms, he said. Although the project is still two or three years from completion, there is already a waiting list for faculty members interested in teaching at the Arezzo campus, Boren said.
OU officials chose the location for the campus based on a number of factors, Boren said. Arezzo itself is a historic city, with a Roman wall and churches with detailed frescoes, he said. It's also convenient to other major cultural areas — Florence is a 25-minute train ride away, he said.
Although the city is in the middle of a rich cultural region, he said, it still provides an experience that is essentially Italian. Once the campus is open, Boren said, OU will be the only American university with a permanent presence in Arezzo. The only other college students in the city will be the roughly 2,000 Italian students from a nearby branch campus of the University of Siena, he said.
That's a stark difference from nearby Florence, he said, which is home to about 50 American university programs. With such a heavy concentration of American college students, Boren said, university officials were concerned that OU students would socialize only with other Americans rather than with local people.
As a way to foster a relationship between the campus and the city, students will be required to take a class that gets them involved with the community, said Zach Messitte, dean of the OU College of International Studies. The university is also looking to organize a program similar to OU's Big Event, an annual student-run service project at the OU-Norman campus.
Having a permanent campus overseas will increase the number of students who study abroad, Messitte said. Traditionally, he said, students who study abroad tend to be language or international studies majors, with a few students in other programs like art history.
A permanent OU campus makes studying abroad a more viable option for students in other programs, he said, because it will allow the university to offer a greater variety of courses in Italy. OU will be sending a professor to Arezzo to serve as the faculty member in residence, Messitte said. That faculty member will teach courses in his or her own discipline, he said, but they will be geared toward a more general audience.
For example, he said, if the faculty member is an engineering professor, he or she might teach a course on Roman aqueducts. If he or she teaches international studies, courses might be offered in issues like human trafficking and combating the Mafia. These courses would be supplemented by other classes taught by adjunct faculty members from the area, he said.
Even as they complete those courses, Boren said, students will be exposed to Italian life and culture. Making such overseas programs available to as many students as possible is a top priority of the university, he said. It's especially important as those students graduate and enter an economy that is increasingly global in nature.
“The vast majority of these students will in one way or another need to be able to interact with people in other countries,” he said. “To be fully literate, they need to be globally literate.”
The vast majority of these students will in one way or another need to be able to interact with people in other countries. To be fully literate, they need to be globally literate.”