Distinguished Alumni Award

Joel D. Barkan


Joel D. Barkan and Sandra "Sandy" Hackman Barkan, 84PhD, brought international education to life at the University of Iowa, helping establish Iowa's reputation as a cosmopolitan institution that welcomes students from all countries.

Joel Barkan, a graduate of Cornell University and the University of California, Los Angeles, joined the UI's Department of Political Science in 1972. He stayed for 33 years, teaching and conducting research on the politics of developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1962, as a participant in Crossroads Africa—a volunteer program that preceded the U.S. Peace Corps—Joel traveled to Kenya. The country inspired him to become an internationally respected scholar and advisor who straddled the worlds of academe and policy. Over four decades of teaching, research, and government service, he worked in African nations including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. In addition to authoring numerous scholarly articles on critical issues such as higher education and governance, democratization, politics and public policy, electoral systems, and legislative programs, he also served as a consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and many nongovernmental organizations.

While Joel helped "map" Africa from a political perspective, Sandra "Sandy" Barkan took a literary approach. She earned her UI Ph.D. degree in comparative literature with a focus on African literatures and brought that academic knowledge, along with the experience of living around the world, to her interdisciplinary teaching at the UI. As assistant and then associate dean of the Graduate College, Sandy also helped ensure that foreign graduate students who came to Iowa encountered a welcoming environment. Her dedication earned her the UI African Students Association Star Award and the African Studies Association Special Recognition Award.

Joel and Sandy also furthered the cause of international education at the UI. Joel founded the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council and played a key role in establishing and nurturing the UI's Center for International and Comparative Studies and then International Programs. Sandy guided the International Writing Program (IWP) through its most turbulent period and helped save it from closure. Says the program's director, Christopher Merrill, "Without Sandy, there would be no IWP."

In 2008, as UI emeritus professors, the Barkans moved to Washington, DC, where Joel became a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Sandy joined the Meridian International Center as a program officer.

Sadly, Joel passed away in January 2014. In a tribute, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga wrote, "Kenya lost a true friend. But Kenya has to march on toward a true democracy. That is what Joel longed for through a halfcentury of his association with the country he loved." Indeed, Joel dedicated his career to African and developing countries throughout the world. Together with Sandy, he enriched the lives of innumerable people by championing the cause of international relations.

In the 21st century, successful universities must be global institutions. Thanks to Joel and Sandra Barkan's vision and dedication, the University of Iowa is well-equipped to meet this new era.

Sandra Barkan is a member of the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.

About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.

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