Wednesday, September 25, 2019

U.S. Dept of Educ challenges Duke/UNC Middle East Studies

The U.S. Department of Education has criticized the Middle East Studies programs jointly convened by Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill as not serving the purposes of the Title VI funding that supports it. The letter to the program administrators from Assistant Secretary of Postsecondary Education Robert King indicated "a lack of balance" in the Middle East Studies program, favoring Islam over other religions, and "advancing ideological priorities" instead of language development and geographic/historic discourse on the Middle East.

Terry Magnuson, Vice Chancellor for Research at UNC, responded that, "The consortium organizes public events presenting diverse perspectives and a wide range of views on many of the Middle East's most challenging subjects, including -- in recent years -- conferences on censorship in Turkey, Islam and religious identity, World War I and the transformation of the Middle East, the aftermath of the Arab Spring and lectures on human rights in Iran, civil war in Syria, repression in Egypt, and many other subjects."

U.S. House of Representatives Democrats challenged the Department of Education's review of the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies by saying, "The Title VI stature only requires curricular to offer 'diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate.'" The Department of Education responded that their inquiry related to a lack of diversity and absence of a language requirement in the Duke-UNC Consortium.

It's not terribly difficult to read between the lines in these exchanges. While the Department of Education is claiming that the Duke/UNC program is ideologically imbalanced, the topics being addressed are a natural part of academic discourse and just so happen to touch on issues that the US Department of Education might not want exposed and more broadly discussed. Who's guilty of ideological bias?

Mitchel Stevens of Stanford indicated that viewing the Duke/UNC program criticism as the result of the Trump administration's ideological leaning is a mistake. He poses that it is indicative of "steadily growing government skepticism about the value of academic knowledge of the rest of the world." Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, Sigal Ben-Porath expressed concern that the U.S. Department of Education criticism of Duke/UNC criticism represents an unhelpful intrusion in regulating free speech on campus. Joining with 29 other higher education organizations, the American Council on Education sent a letter of concern about the U.S. Department of Education's collection of information on foreign gifts and contracts. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Mixed messages on academic and research collaboration

Regardless of the economic and political wrangling between the U.S.A. and China, academics and researchers reinforce that research collaboration is beneficial to both countries. Lee and Haupt's study indicated that Chinese scholars are driving much of the research in science and engineering and that Chinese scholars would have forged ahead without partners in the U.S.A. Some scholars are now leaving the U.S.A. in the face of investigations of their ties to China, which ironically contributes to fulfilling China's goal of attracting Chinese scholars to return.

While China seeks status for having leading research and scholarship universities, another report indicated that its actions are undermining that aspiration. Robert Quinn, executive director of Scholars at Risk, opined that failing to protect academic freedom "poses grave personal and professional risks for Chinese scholars and students and serious academic, reputational and financial risks for foreign academic institutions that have partnerships with Chinese counterparts, in China or abroad.

Making progress in establishing international academic partnerships often involves Chinese scholars serving as visiting researchers or faculty in other countries. But these partnerships can sometimes be suspect when these visitors take initiative at the behest of the Chinese government, which was apparently the cause of Prague's Charles University firing Chinese visiting faculty. Researchers and governmental officials in the U.S.A. have sounded alarms about cultivation of Chinese scholars to steal research innovation. Jodi Black, who directs the extramural research of NIH was quoted in a meeting of academic researchers as saying, "evidence is plentiful that foreign governments are engaged in organized efforts to co-opt discoveries and ideas from American universities -- in ways that divert proprietary information, undermine peer review and 'distort our (science) funding model,' by giving grants to scientists on the payrolls of other countries that could have gone to other deserving scientists."

Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education, indicated that "many higher education institutions, including those impacted by the current cases, already are taking proactive steps to confront these issues. But all of these incidents serve as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to ensure that institutions and their faculty members are fully in compliance with the letter and spirit of all federal requirements."

Iranian graduate students denied visas in U.S.A.

Adding to the list of countries where international students have been denied visas (ie. Palestine and China), at least one dozen new Iranian graduate students were denied visas last week. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said there had been no change to their policies.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Who said internationalization would be easy?

Liz Reisberg's recent essay about internationalization is based on a pretty simple assumption - that it has become more complicated and difficult to navigate. She cited the optimism of those who pursued internationalization with the belief that the flow of ideas and talent around the world would be easy and would benefit everyone. The reality is a bit different. She said, "We certainly underestimated the enduring legacy of political, economic, and military competition and mistrust among nations. Nor had we calculated the resurgence and effect of extremist ideology."

While I would agree that the dynamics of internationalization are growing more complicated, I also believe that educators should have recognized the potential complexity of the flow of ideas and learners/scholars from the beginning. The problem was the assumed applicability across borders (national and cultural) of knowledge and processes of learning. It was the hegemony of western educators that allowed there to be an assumption that educational transfer was direct, seamless, and easy. I may be in the minority but I'm glad that the current international environment is awakening a realization that internationalization requires serious and deeper work.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Journal of Student Affairs in Africa

The latest Journal of Student Affairs in Africa is focused on student activism and its impact in higher education. Activism is an issue that ebbs and flows throughout higher education's history and takes different forms in different cultures but, rest assured, it is there. The question for student affairs educators is what role should we play when activism is on the rise? Should we stand away from it, engage it, or encourage it?

Some student affairs and other administrators would determine their stance based on politics. Student affairs educators will balance the politics with the educational outcome. Activism can be a very catalytic moment for learning and student affairs educators can help make it positive by carefully engaging in educationally purposeful ways.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Outcomes of dialogue for diversity

Eboo Patel, author and founder of an organization to foster inter-faith dialogue, offered perspective on what those who engage in dialogue across difference should be able to do as a result of their experience. One of the points that he makes relates to how "oppressed people" should be involved in dialogues across difference. He said that "there are students from challenging backgrounds and minority identities in every field and practice" and that they should be involved. In a follow up article, Elin Johnson indicated that the authors (including Patel) "remind college leaders that friendship can't be socially engineered, and that as they craft programs, they should think about what they're doing to nurture and create these relationships that go beyond just contact and conversations."

In a follow-up essay, Patel addressed why creating dialogue of all sorts matters. In relation to civic engagement he opined, "Here is how I define the civic: spaces where people from different backgrounds come together in shared activities that promote the general well-being and that guide cooperative relationships." He went on to say that the civic spaces that we need to benefit all citizens requires leadership that engages across difference.

While Patel's essay didn't develop the point of including diverse students in dialogues across difference, I'm struck by two primary issues: 1) learning to be more aware and welcoming of diversity shouldn't be the burden of students from diverse backgrounds, and 2) how can students that represent diverse voices be expected to speak up in the context of significant power and privilege differences that they will encounter? I agree with Patel that students from diverse backgrounds must be included in dialogues across difference but those who frame these conversations should make the two above points clear at the outset of any conversation.

Specific to international students who study in the U.S.A. or other western countries, any dialogue across difference should explicitly state that international students experience stereotyping, discrimination, and marginalization on a regular basis; they should be recognized, shown appreciation for participation, and not be expected to take the burden of informing others who are naive or worse when it comes to international dynamics. Secondly, any facilitator of dialogues across difference that include international students should strive to make space in these dialogues for the cultural differences that they bring to these groups, cultural differences that are often shaped by the vestiges of colonialism and western hegemony that discourages their candor in a variety of interactions.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sensitive course/topics for IBCs

Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore) cancelled a course on dissent and resistance only 2 weeks before the course was to be offered. The cancellation called into question the degree to which an IBC (International Branch Campus) can offer courses that may be controversial in the local international context. Yale's President, Peter Salovey, raised concern about the cancellation and indicated that the dissent experience was a one-week out-of-class experience to allow students to actually meet with those who have been involved in democratic dissent in Asia.

The president of Yale later issued a statement that the decision to cancel the controversial course was internal to Yale-NUS and reflected critical judgment about the course design. He also asserted that there is a strong commitment to academic freedom at Yale-NUS and that it is "a model of innovation in liberal arts education in Asia."

Mira Seo, an associate professor of humanities and head of literature studies at Yale-NUS, indicated that the investigation into why the course was cancelled confirmed that no Singaporean governmental control was exercised. Seo asserted a essential point for international educators by saying that academic freedom, "works within an ecology of the larger political society, but does that mean if you do not have an identical political society with the same rights and protections as in the U.S., you can't have academic freedom? I think there are so many points along the spectrum. There's not one answer for that."

The instructor for the proposed Yale-NUS course, Alfian Sa'at, subsequently indicated that he made multiple revisions of the course and believed that cancellation based on risk concerns (among others) was the easiest way out of the difficult academic freedom question involved with the course content. Unfortunately, keeping the topic alive, Singapore's Minster of Education, Ong Ye Kung, delivered a speech during which he indicated that the government had concerns about the Yale-NUS course. He was reported as saying, "academic freedom cannot be carte blanche for anyone to misuse an academic institution for political advocacy."

Stay tuned, the comments by Singapore's Minister of Education is bound to elicit more reactions from Yale.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

U.K. reinstates 2-year work opportunities

One of the things that international students often value is pursuing work experience after graduation. The U.K. recently reinstated a policy allowing internationals to remain in the country for two years after graduation, a move that will surely be attractive and is likely to improve recruitment of international students to study in the U.K.

When students exclude each other

Student government at Monash University's Caulfield campus (Australia) recently passed a rule disallowing international students to run for office. With international students representing 62% of the total student population, the purpose of the rule is obvious - denial of representation and a message that international students don't matter. The election was quickly cancelled and the student government claimed to have introduced the rule to clarify how much time it takes to be involved in student government.

Helping students understand their role in creating a welcoming campus environment, especially for international students, is essential if situations like the Monash University example are to be avoided. The exclusion rule raises questions about how much time/effort student government participation should require as well as what role student governments have in representing and embracing all their constituents.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Images of respectful cultures

Different images have been offered for cultures that include and embrace multiple cultures - melting pot and salad bowl are two of the more popular. Eboo Patel, prominent advocate for inter-faith dialogue recently offered the potluck as another model. He says, "Potlucks respect diverse identities by enthusiastically welcoming the gifts of the people who gather. They facilitate relationships between people by creating a space for eating and socializing and surprise connections. And they cultivate in people the importance of not just the individual parts and the connections between them, but the health of the whole. Everybody benefits from a clean kitchen, enough dishes and cutlery, and a safe and open place to eat and socialize. When it comes to a potluck, these are the structures of the common good. Everybody plays a role in the upkeep."

The potluck image captures the essence of the holding place, the mutual contributions, and the actions that create and sustain respect and affirmation. Wouldn't it be incredible if our institutions could cultivate this kind of active commitment among our students, staff, and faculty?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Returning ASU students from China detained

Nine Chinese students who were returning for study at Arizona State University were detailed when they tried to enter the U.S.A. ASU officials have not been able to determine the cause for Custom and Border Protection officials' action. The students returned to China and are continuing their ASU studies on line.