Monday, December 12, 2005

Scholars from abroad not welcome here. Meanwhile, we barely educate our own children.

Back in June of 2005, I made a small note on a couple of stories from the Chronicle of Higher Education about foreign scholars and students. At the time, I did it as a kind of light post, since the stories' gist was about how there was concern foreign students in the sciences might have access to lab equipment. This was due to a proposal from the Bush Administration to restrict access to foreign scholars to equipment deemed sensitive. While I am not insensitive to security concerns, the issue seemed a bit ridiculous to me at the time because that story was interposed with another story urging the recruitment of more foreign scholars. Later, in October 2005, again starting from a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I pointed to a story about how many foreign students are choosing Australia as a destination for their higher education needs. The concern from the story was, and still is, that the United States is not perceived as a place that welcomes foreign students and scholars. I also pulled together some articles to illustrate what the Chronicle piece was pointing out. The articles pointed out how students applying for visas often faced humiliation and other hardships in order to come and study in the United States. So, that was then.

I recently came across this link from Docuticker to white paper sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Find the paper itself as a PDF here. This paper is entitled "Security Controls on the Access of Foreign Scientists and Engineers to the United States." I saw the item on Docuticker, and I recalled the little pieces I wrote a while back. It just seemed timely. The paper brings up the concerns about making it more difficult for students and scholars from abroad to enter the United States. Now, some people may look at this and wonder, so what?

"When prospective students cannot readily obtain visas to attend U.S. universities, world-class universities in other countries--with the help of visa systems that are simpler, less restrictive, and more predictable--will successfully compete for them. When foreign scientists cannot readily attend conferences, participate in collaborative research, or visit professional colleagues in the United States, U.S. researchers will have a difficult time staying competitive. And when corporations cannot readily bring suppliers, customers, or foreign employees to visit U.S.-based facilities, they will move those facilities abroad. Any of these outcomes harms U.S. economic and scientific interests immediately, and all of them will harm U.S. security in the long run" (1-2).

Some people may say that we can always get our own scholars here. Well, back in October, I mentioned that this was not as easy as it sounded given recent reports that students in the United States are not very interested in math and sciences and that the number of majors in computer sciences was decreasing. To illustrate, I highlighted a CNet News for April 22, 2005 story that discusses a report from the Computing Research Association. The report cited by CNet says, "the percentage of incoming undergraduates indicating they would major in computer science declined by more than 60 percent between the fall of 2004, and is now 70 percent lower than it was during its peak in the early 1980s." In addition, the report from the CSIS adds a few reasons why this may be important:
  • "In 2003, foreign students earned 58.9% of the engineering doctorates awarded in the United States."
  • "More than one-third of US Nobel laureates are foreign-born."
  • "Nearly half the doctorate-lever staff at the National Institutes of Health campus are foreign nationals, as are 58% of the postdoctoral, research, and clinical fellows" (5).
Now, no one is arguing that the borders should be left wide open to let anyone in without any safety measures. The argument is to make the security procedures more streamlined, fair, consistent, and to work on conveying the message that the U.S. does welcome scholarship and learning from other parts of the world. This not only benefits its interests, but it also enhances the U.S. image abroad, which as of late has suffered significantly.

The paper argues that foreign scholars provide a very significant contribution to the United States' interests. They help the U.S. stay competitive, and they help the U.S. communicate its values to others around the world. The report provides a series of recommendations to address the issue. However, it also warns that the U.S. has to take significant steps to improve its image around the world. According to the report, "eliminating roadblocks and delays from the U.S. visa system will not improve this nation's ability to engage with foreign scientists and engineers if the perception remains that these problems have not been addressed" (13). It's basic public relations. On another note, for readers interested in the topic, the report also provides a summary of current rules that affect the visa process and explains the different levels of screening.

The paper cites a joint statement by leading scholarly associations on visa problems. In part, they expressed in the statement that "'the United States cannot hope to maintain its present scientific and and economic leadership position if it becomes isolated from the rest of the world'"(8). And yet, this seems to be exactly what is happening as "Americans are Tuning Out the World." I got this through YaleGlobal Online. The article draws on poll data to show how Americans have gradually and systematically become more isolationist over time. Even with the operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, it is common knowledge that a lot of people in the United States do not even have any idea where these places are at, let alone the significance of such bellicose campaigns. However, what the article points out is the fact that Americans take for granted that the rest of the world has learned or learns about the U.S., so the U.S. has no need to learn about the rest of the world. This includes less travel abroad by Americans as well as less students in the U.S. studying any foreign languages.

I think a better illustration of how this isolationism is a problem is to look at American classrooms. The Education Wonks, a teacher blog, recently posted an entry regarding "America's kids and two days of infamy." What he found is that a whole generation at war does not even have an idea of why the nation is at war in the first place. While 34 students present could recognize the name of Osama Bin Ladin, not one of them could connect him to Al-Qaida or even knew what Al-Qaida was. The context was an introductory unit on Islam required in California schools. These are 8th graders, and he does grant that the attacks ocurred when they were 3rd graders. However, I urge readers to think about this. This is the generation that will inherit what we leave for them. If you look at the children of December 7th, 1944 (years after the Pearl Harbor attack), I think it is a safe bet that they knew why the U.S. was at war and with who. The contrast should be one to concern us. Wonks writes, "I find it very sad that there is a whole generation of young Americans who are growing-up without any knowledge of this "war," why we are in it as a nation, and for what so many of members of our armed forces are sacrificing life and limb." And yet, this seems to be exactly what is happening. Add to this the lowering of science standards around the nation. Add to this the issue discussed already about collaborating with scholars from other parts of the world, and the picture gets worse. Fear, ignorance, some racism, and an attitude of indifference mean that the U.S. is in serious jeopardy of holding onto its leadership position. Opportunities are lost as the rest of the world is alienated by a nation that prefers to bully its way around than to learn and collaborate with others. These issues will not go away, and they need to be addressed. Now, getting to this point did not happen overnight, and the solutions will not come overnight either. It is necessary for the U.S. to get its head out of the sand, to seriously invest in the education of its own children, and to work on mending the bridges burned by pre-emption.


Mark said...

Great post Angel! And while it is clearly up to you where you put things, I'd have liked to have seen this at Gypsy even if not directly library related.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Mark: Hmm, an interesting suggestion. It is higher ed. kind of thing, and I often put those over there, but since I figured I would probably rant (or show my stripes depending on who you ask), I figured here would be a better place. That is something that at times I wonder about: does a topic go better here or there (or back again?)? By the way, I got a hold of the Sara Hall book. Looks like I will be having to read it quick since the ILL period is pretty short. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on blogging.