Sunday, July 12, 2020

DHS Announcement is a Move in the Wrong Direction

The following appeared as an opinion piece in the Daily Item, 10 July 2020.

DHS Announcement is a Move in the Wrong Direction

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that international students will be prohibited from staying in the United States if they are enrolled in online-only instruction. This includes a shift to online-only classes in response to changes in the status of the pandemic after a semester begins. On Wednesday morning, Harvard University and MIT jointly filed a lawsuit seeking temporary and permanent injunctions on behalf of their students.

The policy change came with little warning, and it is difficult to understand who benefits from this change. A headline in Tuesday’s New York Times posits that the move was intended as leverage to impel institutions dependent upon international-student revenue to remain open for face-to-face instruction in the Fall.

Like Susquehanna University, many institutions are doing all they can to open their campuses for in-person classes safely, and no institution that opens its classrooms this Fall is going to move to all-online instruction mid-semester unless it is in the best interest of the health of the campus population and that of the surrounding community. If that is the case, how can immediately putting the international members of a student body onto airplanes and sending them around the globe be a compassionate or responsible action?

Allowing those students to have the option of sheltering in place until conditions improve is the ethical approach for the well-being of the students, and it is better business for our nation. There are some countries, like China, that will support visas for students to study in the U.S., but will not allow the same students to enroll in online U.S. programs from home. Under the new DHS mandate, were these students to attend a U.S. institution that temporarily moved fully online, they would be sent home, and the semester would end unfinished.

International students studying in the United States provide remarkable benefits to all our students, they strengthen higher-education institutions, and they are a boon to the U.S. economy:

·      International students diversify our campuses culturally, intellectually, and experientially;
·      They enrich the global awareness and fluency of our domestic students;
·      By educating citizens from around the world, we develop advocates of the U.S. abroad, and many international alumni of U.S. institutions become leaders in their home communities and nations;
·      We have the opportunity to engage some of the best young minds from around the world in our domestic academic enterprise;
·      For many institutions, international enrollments provide significant revenue to support the education of all our students.

In 2018, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy. The initial economic impact is revenue to universities, but these students contribute greatly to the commercial vitality of our surrounding communities and the nation. Sending students home if their programs move online strips that economic opportunity from our communities, and worse, it is affront to young people who have had the courage and passion to travel around the world to learn and who have chosen to invest in those communities as part of the experience.

Just as we all benefit from international students enrolling in the U.S., we are ethically obligated to be good stewards of them as our students. This includes advocating for their ability to complete their courses and their programs, tending to their health and safety as we would our domestic students, and treating them as welcome guests on our campuses and in our nation.

This has been a hallmark of international education in the United States for decades. In the face of our global crisis, the need to support our international students has never been more important. The DHS announcement is a move in the wrong direction.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Self-Evident Truths

Self-Evident Truths

I recently had a rich conversation with a friend about the political tensions and social divisions we currently face.

I mentioned that because of Title IV (federal financial aid) expectations, as a university leader, I had often said that I couldn’t be publicly political, but that I had been corrected by a colleague from a sister institution who averred, “We can’t be partisan, but we must be political.”

This is absolutely true. College presidents have an obligation to lobby for education and to engage in efforts that protect and support the missions of the institutions they serve. I have a professional responsibility to advocate for my university on a regional, state, and national level.

I also have an ethical obligation to our surrounding community to pursue state and federal support for our students and the institution. As the largest private employer in Snyder County, Susquehanna University’s success redounds to the health and vitality of our region. It has often been said that “All politics is local.” The implication is that voters are driven by what happens in their own back yards, but the literal meaning of “politics” is “the affairs of the city,” so local has always been at the core.

What does it mean to be political, but not partisan? For years, when students have asked me what candidates I will endorse, I have replied, “I will vote for the person who will best support the arts and education.” I am confirming to them that my choice is driven by platform, and that it is in line with my professional position. I am being political, not partisan.

I have a professional obligation to be political, but not partisan. On Independence Day, I am struck by the realization that this should be the goal of all citizens.

A few years ago, I was visiting with a member of the House of Representatives (from another state), and I asked his position on a particular topic. The response was, “It depends on where the other side comes out.” This is being partisan and not political, and it is a toxin that plagues our nation.

In January, I had the privilege to attend a workshop led by William Doherty, Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota and co-founder of Braver Angels, a community organization that seeks to depolarize our nation by seeking common ground between “reds” and “blues.” As Prof. Doherty noted, most people are not liberal or conservative. We are each an amalgam of varied positions across a range of topics. An individual may be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Many who oppose abortion rights adamantly support the death penalty, while others oppose or support both.

Our individual ideologies are often scattered across a spectrum. Not that long ago, that kind of richness existed within our two-party system. When I was a kid, politicians would frequently be referred to as a conservative, moderate, or liberal Republican, or as a conservative, moderate, or liberal Democrat. This fostered opportunities for much richer discussions of ideas and bipartisan achievements than our contemporary “us or them” mantra.

Politics is about values, ethics, and compromise. Compromise is a necessary condition of collective action, but it is not always good.

Where might we be as a society had the Founding Fathers retained the abolition of slavery from the original draft of Declaration of Independence? Would we still be a colonial dependency if the abolitionists hadn’t compromised and struck the clause?

Our greatest triumphs and our most egregious sins as a nation have often been born from compromise. The definition of the outcome has often been whether those in the right or the wrong acquiesced or stood their ground. Progress, by its definition, is incremental, but compromise built on a bet that the next step will be expeditious and continue in the right direction is laden with risk.

Our failures as a nation have occurred when we have been unable to recognize moral issues as being right or wrong rather than right or left. Our greatest successes have been those moments in our history when ethics, rather than affiliation, have won the day.

As I have written many times before, the founders of this nation were profoundly flawed people, as are we all. They seized a moment in history where brave and radical change could be achieved. The Declaration of Independence established an ideological foundation that would not be a lived reality for many in their lifetimes. Although they set a malleable prenatal nation into motion that has since made significant incremental progress, equality, unalienable rights, and a government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed is a self-evident truth that is not enjoyed in common.

We may be living in another rare moment, when, as a deeply flawed people, we can make another heroic leap, and secure for all our citizens the “equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.”[1]

I hope we have the moral courage to make good on that promise from the first Independence Day. It is most certainly political, but it is not partisan. It is not right or left, but it is most certainly right.

[1] Declaration of Independence, first sentence.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Why Division III Athletics Should Report to Academic or Student Affairs

I had the privilege to be yesterday's guest blogger for Spelman and Johnson on the merits of having Athletics report to the Chief Student Affairs Officer or the Chief Academic Officer at D-III institutions. 

That post is linked here:

Thank to Dell Robinson for his excellent support of Susquehanna's search for our new Athletic Director, Sharief Hashim, and for the invitation to provide this installment.


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