What happens if international students chill free speech?
China’s Interference on Campus
If you haven’t been watching what’s been happening in Canada, well, do.
Last week I told you about Chinese students at the University of Toronto who were trying to oust a student government leader because she supported a free Tibet. In a new incident, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at McMaster University, in Ontario, wrote to administrators to express their “fervent indigination and severe condemnation” of a talk on campus by a critic of China’s treatment of its Uighur minority.
When the students heard about the speaker, an activist named Rukiye Turdush, they reached out to the Chinese consulate in Toronto for guidance. They then filmed the speech, noted who was in attendance, and sent the photos to the consulate. It’s the coordination, which the students wrote about on the messaging app, WeChat, that is alarming.
The Chinese government exercises political control on its own university campuses, and with recent detentions of student activists, there are signs that control is tightening. There is now worry that the government is seeking to exert greater ideological influence over the more than 600,000 Chinese students studying overseas.
Foreign Policy wrote about how Chinese consulates subsidize some CSSAs and have pushed them to promote “patriotic” ideas – for example, encouraging the student groups to post articles praising President Xi’s vision and hold watch parties for the 2017 Communist Party plenum. Embassy officials have allegedly bussed in students to disrupt rallies for Tibet and Falun Gong.
A Woodrow Wilson Center report on broader Chinese efforts at political interference in American higher education noted a number of instances in which Chinese students heckled speakers, ripped down fliers, and boycotted college events perceived to be critical of China. In perhaps the best known incident, the CSSA at the University of California at San Diego demanded that the university rescind an invitation to the Dalai Lama to speak at the 2017 commencement.
Let me pause here and do a PSA for nuance: Over the years, I have gotten to know hundreds of young Chinese, and as a group, they’re far from homogenous. I’ve talked with fiercely nationalistic students and some who’ve told me, with tears in their eyes, how betrayed they felt by their country when they finally saw uncut footage of the Tiananmen Square student protests. I’ve come across CSSAs that seem like small political cells and others run by freshly converted Christians who plan never to go back to China. Some CSSA presidents just like to throw parties.
And, of course, American (and Canadian, for that matter) students have protested campus events and shouted down speakers they disagreed with.
What’s troubling about the McMaster case is the evidence of – forgive me for using this word – collusion. When the Washington Post, which wrote about the incident, reached out to the embassy in Ottawa, it issued a statement that praised the “just and patriotic actions” of the students but didn’t clearly address the issue of coordination.
Governments of other countries attempt to exert control over their students studying at American colleges in ways that raise similar concerns. But other countries don’t account for one in three international students in the U.S. At some institutions, Chinese students make up a sizable chunk of the undergraduate student body.
The challenge for colleges is how to protect the rights of Chinese students to speak up – to be clear, they had every right to disagree with Turdush – without allowing a vocal minority to chill campus speech. After all, Chinese students have come here to have a Western college experience. Central to that education is academic freedom and free expression.
Let me know what you think. Drop a note in the comments, tweet me, or email, email@example.com.
Around the Globe
The benefits of international education are widely assumed. But can we really measure its value?
2018 was another banner year for Canada, with international enrollments ticking up 16 percent. Meanwhile, applications to British universities from outside the European Union were up nearly 9 percent as of January.
Dozens of members of Congress have signed a letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service complaining about delays in visa processing.
Professors at the American University of Cairo have voted no confidence in the institution’s president in the wake of an incendiary speech on campus by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. While there were longstanding faculty grievances with President Francis J. Ricciardone, Pompeo’s speech – in which he criticized former President Obama’s Mideast policy and offered support for some of the region’s autocrats – seems to have lit the fuse.
Safety advocates are pressing for greater federal oversight of study abroad, including mandatory reporting of data about safety on overseas programs to the U.S. Department of Education. In the past such measures have prompted concerns that colleges and study-abroad providers could pull back from destinations or programs deemed too risky.
Several nonprofit foundations will spend at least $2 million to help minority and low-income students from Brazil study in the United States.
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The detainees wrote about the family they hadn't seen and the months they had passed behind bars. They wrote about missing meals and missing home, about the hefty cost of a phone call.
Last summer, as the Trump administration cracked down on migrants crossing the southern U.S. border, San Diego State University faculty members decided to write to people who were detained by immigration agents at a nearby prison. Now these letters are being collected in an online archive. Here’s the story of the unlikely correspondence.
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The Usual Suspects
Every year when the Fulbright Program puts out its list of top-producing colleges, those with the most student and scholar grant recipients crow about it. But it’s hard not to notice that many of the same institutions are doing the crowing, year after year.
I did a quick analysis at the most-recent list, which was published last week: Of the 10 research universities with the largest number of student recipients*, four had been on the list each of the last five years, two had appeared four times, and two were three-peaters. The stats were almost identical for the top baccalaureate colleges. (In interest of full disclosure, my alma mater, Smith College, is a Fulbright perennial. Also: I was not a Fulbrighter at Smith.)
There was slightly more variation among master’s universities, but even in that category, just two institutions were new to the top 10.
Fulbright is aware of this problem and has been pushing for greater diversity among the fellows themselves and their home institutions. But it’s slow going. Consider this: The top research university, Brown, produced 35 Fulbright students; Williams, the top bachelor’s college, had 22. St. Edward’s University, which led the master’s institution chart, had just 7.
When I posted about this, Paula Krebs, the executive director of the Modern Language Association, tweeted at me about her experience working at a college that was a “well-oiled machine” for Fulbrights and one that wasn’t:
Why do you think it’s been difficult for Fulbright to recruit beyond the usual suspects? Are you at a college that has increased or diversified its Fulbright recipients? I want your thoughts and your stories. Tweet me @karinfischer.
*I looked only at student recipients because, as I said, this was a quick analyis!
I was feeling curmudgeonly on Valentine’s Day, as my Twitter feed filled with “roses are red” style doggerel about everything from academic peer review to fight over President Trump’s border wall. Apparently, my crotchetiness comes naturally – I’m a long-time resident of Washington, D.C., the country’s most cynical city, according to CityLab, who now lives in its sappiest, San Francisco.
But even I was moved by this dispatch out of Afghanistan, about a young generation of activists who are pushing against a potential erosion of liberties as American diplomats seek a deal with the Taliban. Valentine’s Day is their day of protest and poetry their medium. One told the Times:
“The beloved in my poetry is not just someone who has beautiful curls, who has beautiful eyes, who has a beautiful physique. My beloved is not someone who just dances with me, who kisses me. My beloved is someone who is affected by the political situation. When she walks the streets, her brother is assassinated, her family could be lost in a suicide bombing...A political beloved, like the university students of Kabul.”
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