Although his Old North office looks toward Dahlgren Quad, professor Sanford Ungar, whose career has been dedicated to the exploration and education of international affairs, keeps his eyes set on global issues. Surrounded by books, his work is interrupted only by the chiming of the chapel bells.
“I don’t need to wear a watch here, because every 15 minutes when I’m in the office the bells tell me what time it is,” Ungar said.
At Georgetown, his position as a distinguished scholar-in-residence is flexible and in a state of flux. During the fall term, Ungar spends most of his time working on special projects for the Office of the President, the Provost and the Vice President for Global Engagement.
Last year, his work centered on the experiences of international students at Georgetown. After hosting focus groups and conducting interviews, his research culminated in a report that will facilitate improvements to the program.
Although his project for this year has not yet been determined by his superiors, he expects that it will be focused on how the university confronts issues of free speech in repressive locales where it sends students and faculty for study abroad and research opportunities.
“Almost any project I’m going to work on here will be involved in the international arena,” Ungar said.
This does not come as a surprise, as Ungar’s own career began abroad.
After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Government at Harvard College and his Master of Arts in International History at the London School of Economics, Ungar had originally planned on becoming a lawyer. However, he was attracted by other exciting, international opportunities.
Ungar spent his first three years after graduate school abroad. Eventually, a job opportunity at The Washington Post led Professor Ungar to D.C., where he went on to write for The Atlantic and The Economist, before receiving an editorial position at Foreign Policy Magazine.
“It was a much quieter publication back then,” Ungar recalled.
He then worked as a National Public Radio host before moving into education and becoming the Dean of the School of Communications at American University. Ungar’s diverse experience and employment history are a testament to his willingness to explore new areas.
“I basically reject the idea that we have to choose one thing to do early on and then we have to do that for the rest of our lives,” Ungar said. “It’s hard to trace a line between what I’ve done, because sometimes I just took advantage of opportunities that came my way.”
Exemplifying this tendency, he describes how, during the Clinton administration, he accepted the position to be the director of The Voice of America, a government-funded multimedia outlet that Ungar describes as “the most important source of information for people in some countries around the world.”
This work preceded the longest position that he has held to date: President of Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. Although Ungar’s career has taken him through a variety of fields, there is a common passion that has oriented his entire life.
“One thing that pulls together things I’ve done is the international component to them. I’ve always gravitated toward international opportunities,” Ungar said.
He even managed to incorporate international affairs into his position at Goucher. During his time as President, he implemented a program requiring all undergraduates to go abroad. Although this helped distinguish Goucher, Ungar’s primary motivation was his belief in the necessity of international experience.
“Every line of work, every profession, has an international aspect to it now,” Ungar said. “And not just in this country — everywhere. So that’s an emphasis that I think needs to be added to everyone’s education.”
After stepping down as president in 2014, Ungar came to Georgetown to pursue his interest in teaching. Currently, he teaches a course on free speech at Harvard in the fall and at Georgetown in the spring.
“There seemed to be a niche for an advanced elective in the journalism program,” Ungar said.
The course is a seminar of 12 to 15 students, typically juniors and seniors. Ungar estimates his class to be approximately one-third to one-half journalism minors, one-third SFS students, and one-third international students.
The class, which requires weekly essays, discusses free speech subjects spanning a wide gamut. Topics include the history and legacy of the Pentagon Papers, the breakdown of Supreme Court case rulings and the evolution of their doctrines, campus speech codes, protests and even pornography.
“It’s a constant examination of the potential boundaries of free speech,” Ungar said. “Are there limits and, if so, where are they?”
In light of the presidential election, Ungar expressed not only a fear for the state of American democracy but an overall concern regarding what is being revealed about the American people as a result of the election.
“I think the great problem is that young people are not really being trained and convinced that one of the purposes of their education is to be a good citizen and to be involved in civic participation. And when you fail to do that, all sorts of abuses are possible,” Ungar said. “It’s pretty sad when people are vulnerable to that sort of attack.”
He looked out the window and smiled, listening for a moment to the bells.
“I think people should just understand the privilege and the great opportunities that they have here and take full advantage of that, because this is a pretty wonderful place. It seems like a ‘goody-goody’ thing to say, but I believe it. I really do believe it.”
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