NAFSA comedown edition

And amid geopolitical tensions, a somber anniversary


“Did you know?”

The student’s tone was part accusatory, part searching. He was a freshman studying at an American college. And he had just learned the full truth about one of the most seminal events back home, the protests and subsequent crackdown in Tiananmen Square. He had stayed up until late in the night reading protestors’ accounts and replaying old news footage of Tank Man on YouTube. He had asked his parents the same question on their regular weekend call; they begged him to delete his browser history and forget it. Now he was asking me.

In my time covering Chinese students, I’ve had dozens of similar conversations. There are students who are only vaguely aware of liusi, or June 4, the date of the killing of pro-democracy protestors in and around Tiananmen Square. There are others who have well-developed conclusions never spoken aloud outside a close family circle. And then there are the parents of today’s students, many of them of college age themselves back in 1989. “A stable country is most important,” one of them told me of exchanging her youthful activism for circumspect prosperity. They are the children of Tiananmen.

It is now 30 years since liusi. The anniversary in particular has been sensitive in China, where security officials have rounded up dissidents and student activists. When authorities replaced the leadership of Peking University with party stalwarts late last year, many thought it was an effort to keep potential campus unrest in check. Only in Hong Kong are significant protests expected.

It is easy, in this moment of geopolitical strain, to focus on the differences between China and America, on the trade tensions and spying accusations (see below). But Tiananmen’s anniversary is a reminder of the many things we have in common, particularly on our university campuses.

In these conversations with Chinese students, sources, and friends, I’ve come to realize the importance of bearing witness to an event all but rendered invisible on its home soil. So let me recommend some wonderful young Chinese writers on Tiananmen’s legacy:

From Karoline Kan’s moving family memoir, Under Red Skies, on a childhood photo taken in Tiananmen Square: “But now, thinking of the photo, I felt betrayed...China collapsed for me suddenly. I no longer understood what was in front of me. I had no faith in what I had been brought up to believe.”

And from Yangyang Cheng’s pensive essay, “Four Is Forbidden”: “If only one variable in the complex equation were different, would it have led to a completely opposite solution? If the events in the spring of 1989 had ended peacefully, would China be free?”

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Strained Ties

A pair of Emory University scientists are protesting their firing because of ties to China. The husband-and-wife team say that they properly disclosed their research relationships and that the university never notified them of the investigation or gave them a chance to respond to the allegations. Emory was the second academic institution in as many months to dismiss researchers because of overseas work, part of a broader push by U.S. government officials to limit universities’ vulnerability to academic espionage, particularly from China. For more on how American colleges have been caught in the standoff between the U.S. and China, check out this new piece from the Chronicle’s Lindsay Ellis and Nell Gluckman.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced a bill to tackle potential academic espionage on U.S. campuses. The measure would establish an interagency working group of science, intelligence, and security agencies to evaluate existing mechanisms of control of federally funded research and to develop a policy framework to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients. As NAFSA’s Rachel Banks noted during a recent session on international-ed policy, it’s unlikely that stand-alone legislation will be passed during the current congressional session, but it’s possible that comparable language could be added to a must-pass measure, like a spending bill.

Around the Globe

A doctoral student’s graduation speech backing the boycott of Israel has come under criticism both from New York University, where he graduated from, and Northwestern University, his new employer.

Switzerland, Norway, and Germany lead a new OECD ranking of the countries most attractive to university students. The U.S. ranks fifth but is hurt by its visa policies.

The Hungarian government wants to exercise more control over academics. Legislation to strip the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the country’s largest and oldest academic institution, of its research network follows an effort to try to shut down a prominent liberal-arts university.

A new certificate will measure Arabic-language learners’ proficiency.

Yet another Confucius Institute is closing its doors. The University of Hawaii at Manoa shut down its Chinese-supported language and cultural center as of May 31 in order to maintain U.S. government funding.

Brexit’s future remains unclear, but UK officials have guaranteed in-country tuition to European Union students who start British universities in the 2020 academic year.

Italy’s far-right governing party is calling for a book about it to be removed from a university reading list, raising academic freedom concerns.

China’s first private research university raised more than $100 million in in 2018.

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Listen Up!

Like to exercise your mind while you exercise your body?

Then the Making Global Learning Universal podcast might be for you. Created by Florida International University, the first season of the podcast features faculty members who are part of the college’s “global learning for global citizenship” effort, discussing subjects from international online learning to connecting global and indigenous voices. The guests also suggest additional readings and resources – in case you want to continue geeking out even after your workout is done.

Have other recommendations for podcasts, articles, or books on global higher ed? I’ll post suggestions in a future newsletter.

And finally…

Thank you.

I’m writing this week’s newsletter from somewhere over the Great Plains as I fly back to San Francisco after a fun and fruitful week at the NAFSA conference. I appreciate everyone who took the time to say hello, to share their perspective, and to give me feedback on this newsletter and my other coverage. Thanks especially to those of you who braved the din of the expo hall pavilion to talk about internationalization’s future and those who made it out first-thing Friday for our session on intercultural learning. I come away from my time back in D.C. with brain and notebook chockful of great ideas; expect to see many of them here in the coming weeks.

I’m at once exhausted and recharged, and I hope you are, too.

’Til next week – Karin

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