We get the job done

In high school I was quite involved in theatre, owing to the fact that I loved my Honors English teacher who also led the high school and community theatre programs. Occasionally I found myself on stage but mostly I was behind the scenes making sure that the actors knew their blocking and lines, and helping with costumes. This, I think, explains a lot about my mix of academia and love of fashion. Since then I’ve remained a fan of the theatre – the stories told, the way art can bring people together, and the opportunity to dress up and step out of reality for a bit. While I’ve not had the opportunity to see Hamilton just yet, I know most of the music and fan girl over Lin-Manuel Miranda and his love of Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing any chance I get. One song, Immigrants, is particularly relevant these days and has played in my head and my iPhone on repeat.

In truth, save for our Native American friends and colleagues, we are all immigrants. About 20 years ago when my father was recovering from surgery, he had some time on his hands and decided to research our family’s genealogy. He’s an all or nothing guy so he went as far back as he could, particularly on my mother’s side. He was able to trace my maternal side all the way back to the Mayflower, where my ancestors came from Scotland and England. There’s an old castle in the highlands of Scotland that used to be in the family. I’m not sure where we went wrong, but it’s now a bed and breakfast. We were the “good kind” of immigrants with money and prospects. Less is known about his side but I’m also of German decent with his mother’s side going from Huberocker to Overacre when the reached Ellis Island. Still fairly harmless.

Coincidentally, I’ve spent the past few days attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges & Universities. The theme was Building Public Trust in the Promise of Liberal Education and Inclusive Excellence. While I have questions about what “inclusive excellence” means (if it’s truly excellent, shouldn’t it already be inclusive?), the message is clear – we need to show each other and the world that we are using post-secondary education for good and restore the public purposes of higher education. Liberal education prepares young people, and those who return to school later in life, to contribute to our global economy, to understand different perspectives, to work across differences, and so much more. This does not happen in a bubble. In part, it comes from sitting across someone who comes from a different socio economic or cultural background, who holds different political or religious belief, and the list goes on. It comes from conducting research outside the United States and learning from faculty who bring expertise that American faculty may not be able to provide.

While there are all sorts of implications for Trump’s recent executive order on immigration, I’ll focus on the impact on higher ed and liberal education. My understanding of this order is that international students, researchers (many on federal contracts), faculty, and others from certain countries will not be able to leave the United States (at least temporarily) for fear of not being able to return. It means that those who are already abroad either conducting research or visiting family after the holidays may be unable to return. For now, this might be a short-term and possibly illegal “inconvenience.”

The long-term implications are not yet known. How will this impact student enrollment from countries outside the US, not just the ones listed? Who is to say that their country will not be added to future lists? If they do decide to come to the United States, will they feel safe? With decreased funding, will faculty and staff have the resources necessary to support them? How would we compensate for the loss of learning from fewer perspectives? Additionally, those outside the higher ed bubble may not realize that international students are full pay students. Fewer intentional students means less financial support for domestic students. How will this impact funding for research and dissemination? Will campuses lose faculty because of this?

Clearly I have many questions and very few answers. These just scratch the surface. With the impending Brexit, the UK is having to answer many of these same questions. I didn’t the United States would have to as well.

On 2017

Admittedly, I’ve been slacking a bit on the blogging front. Thanks to vacation, an office move, the holidays, and then being sick, other things have taken up my time.

Somehow we’re already in 2017. A new year is typically filled with promises – to ourselves and others, new goals, and sometimes fear of the unknown. I’d say I’m squarely in the middle.

Personally, I will commit to writing more. This blog is a start but each year I tell myself I will work on a journal article or book chapter and then I get distracted by other things. No longer working in academia has helped my procrastination, but it’s time to get serious. I also commit to reading more. Starting with Well-being and Higher Education. Among many others, it contains a chapter by my friend and colleague, Dr. Andrew Seligsohn who serves as the president of Campus Compact. Our new office has a cozy seating area with lots of bookshelves and I should be able to end most days with a few pages.

Professionally, I intend to tell our story better. Not only the story of service but the importance of civic and community engagement. This is related to one of my fears in 2017, which is the impact that the incoming administration will have on our field. We need to be better at telling our stories with data, not just anecdotes. We need to set outcomes and achieve them. I’m also committing to learning more about how organizations operate. Non-profits are different beasts than colleges and universities and joining a nonprofit board will help me personally and professionally. I only hope that I can contribute as much as I’ll learn.

My fears, at least related to higher ed, are many. They actually started after the Brexit vote. The UK is a region that I hold near and dear. I’m unabashedly an anglophile and there are times, even now, where I’m ready to pack my bags. This article makes some predications about the higher ed landscape in the UK and this sentence resonated with me- “Universities will need to do lots of hard work to ensure they are in closer touch with their surrounding communities – many of which voted for Brexit by large majorities.” Most colleges and universities in the UK have only recently started paying attention to their neighbors and using the term “civic engagement.” I’ll be watching from across the pond to see the implications Brexit will have on international students, on faculty, and on research as well as in the neighborhoods that institutions call home.

While many colleges and universities in the US have been committed to their communities for decades, I think that their relationship with them is changing. There’s been an unfortunate uptick in the number of racially motivated crimes on campus as well as sexual assaults. There are open questions about guns on campus. We don’t know whether international or undocumented students will be able to remain on campuses. I’m also concerned that we’ll continue to strip away liberal education in favor or pure job preparation – I’ve always believed that we can marry both of these while cultivating the type of young people we need for our democracy. Despite my fears, I remain hopeful because of my colleagues, their commitment to students, and the energy of the next generation to “do good” in the world.