Renewed leadership commitments open doors for expanded collaboration with University of Tübingen

By Rawan Abbasi '20

UNC Global Affairs

Leaders at UNC-Chapel Hill and its longtime strategic partner Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in Germany are finding new pathways for interdisciplinary collaborations.

A Carolina leadership delegation including Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen, Vice Provost for Global Affairs Barbara Stephenson, and UNC Hussman School of Journalism & Media Dean Raul Reis, recently traveled to Tübingen to continue discussions on the universities’ shared interests and collaborations with Tübingen’s new president and other leaders.

“The visit, which included a substantive meeting with Tübingen’s new president, Karla Pollmann, affirmed the strength of the UNC- Tübingen partnership,” Stephenson said. “Not only do we share academic strengths, but we are also committed to similar goals for producing research that benefits society.”

According to Gordon-Larsen, the two universities share similarities in size, collaborative approach and areas of research strength including: cancer, imaging, microbes, data science and society, law, media studies, sport science, humanities and more. 

“We’ve identified many complementary research areas that benefit from this collaboration and our mutual desire to address the most pressing global challenges,” she said. “Our shared emphasis on research excellence, innovation and impact transcends disciplines and borders.”

The visit coincided with the conference “The Weaponization of Knowledge” on the shared concern of “the misuse, manipulation and reappropriation of knowledge for anti-democratic purposes.”

The organizers included UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members Tori Smith Ekstrand (Hussman School of Journalism and Media), Priscilla Layne (Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures), and Francesca Tripodi (School of Information and Library Science), and Guido Zurstiege from Tübingen’s Institute for Media Studies. Twenty-one graduate students and faculty members from six institutions joined the conference.

“‘The Weaponization of Knowledge’ is an outgrowth of a variety of social, political and economic factors; the problems we face in democratic governance worldwide will only be addressed through interdisciplinary dialogue,” Ekstrand said. “This kind of cooperation among colleagues and global partners is essential to defining the problem and addressing it.”

An emerging collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill and Tübingen faculty in digital humanities was also timed with the visit. Astrid Franke, professor of American studies at Tübingen, hosted the workshop “Humanities, Health, and Science: Exploring the Power of Narratives” with three UNC-Chapel Hill English department faculty members: Courtney Rivard, teaching associate professor and director of Digital Literacy and Communications Lab, Kym Weed, teaching assistant professor and co-director of Health Humanities Interdisciplinary Venue for Exploration (HHIVE), and Jordynn Jack, professor and founding director of HHIVE.

Both the conference and the workshop were funded by a joint seed fund established by Carolina and Tübingen in 2022, which supports interdisciplinary collaborations in data science. Carolina’s portion of the fund is provided by the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

“Big, complex problems demand global partnership and a multidisciplinary approach,” Guskiewicz said in welcome remarks at the conference. “Our partnership is an example of how we’re contributing to society by breaking out of silos and solving the grand challenges of our time.”

As the universities continue to identify areas of collaboration across multiple disciplines, Stephenson sees faculty engagement as a cornerstone of the partnership.

“While this partnership has long counted on strong support from university leadership, faculty play a critical role in making our relationship with Tübingen vibrant; this visit has clearly demonstrated their integral involvement,” she said. “They are highly engaged in collaborative research and teaching with international partners, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs is here to support them as a facilitator, strategist and enabler.”

Applications for the joint seed fund will open soon. Subscribe to the UNC Global Affairs newsletter to receive updates.