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.

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