Friday, May 09, 2008

Higher Education and honorary doctorates

I was going to refrain from spending too much time on Washington U's decision to award an honorary doctorate to Phyllis Schlafly, until a professor on facebook reminded us all of this, among many, particular gems by Schlafly, from just a few years ago:
How does it make you feel to know that 547,667 places in U.S. colleges were occupied by foreign students in the academic year just ended?

Seeing this quote prompted me to think several things. First, the answer: It makes me incredibly proud to be in service to higher education.

But then I pondered the decision of WashU to honor the author of that statement, not just with a platform, which I'd celebrate, but with a degree, before some of the very "foreign students" she would deny. And then, I felt very ashamed to be in service to higher education, if this is our practice.

Perhaps this is not an issue for a blog devoted to science, feminist philosophy, and environmental philosophy, but at such times, I feel compelled to reflect on the atmosphere in which we conduct our inquiry.


Anonymous said...

The quote you present is taken entirely out of context. It was written in 2003 in support of Senator Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) proposal to take a six-month time-out on issuing visas to foreign students in order to defend Americans from fraud and potential terrorists.

The quote reads: "Has any student in your family had a hard time gaining admission to an elite U.S. college? How does it make you feel to know that 547,667 places in U.S. colleges were occupied by foreign students in the academic year just ended, and the number has been rising dramatically?"

"In lobbying against Feinstein's original proposal, the universities argued that their graduate programs in the sciences, engineering and math would collapse without the foreign students because these courses can't be filled with enough qualified American students. American students rank poorly on international science, engineering and math competitions, and that is reflected in the smaller number who take those subjects in college.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress just reported the results of its 2000 tests. Only one in five high school seniors has a solid grasp of science, only half even know the basics, and 12th graders scored lower than those taking the test in 1996.

What a terrible reflection on the U.S. school system! High school graduates (including those who get A's because of grade inflation) are not qualified to take college courses in science, engineering and math. The provost of Carnegie Mellon University said, "We have tremendous difficulty in getting American citizens to apply for, enroll and be qualified in many of our engineering and science areas." Carnegie Mellon granted 47 percent of its doctoral degrees in 1999 to foreign students."

She was not attacking foreign students... but I doubt context mattered to you.

KateNorlock said...

I love context, and appreciate not just the information provided by 'anonymous,' but in addition, I appreciate Schlafly's years of anti-immigration xenophobia as even more robust 'context.' I never said that Schlafly was "attacking" students, but there is no context in which playing on the resentments ("how does it make you feel") of Americans with "students in your family" is necessary. The fact that Schlafly intended to defend Americans from terrorists seems to support rather than weaken the point that she implicitly denies the deservingness of admitted foreign students. Last, I can't feel bad about even slightly mischaracterizing Schlafly, who is on record as wholeheartedly supporting Lee Atwater's Willy Horton campaign against Dukakis, arguing that any mischaracterization of Dukakis at all would be ultimately good for America! She doesn't deserve the fairness I've already accorded her, and if anyone should understand mischaracterizing someone to whom one is opposed, it's Schlafly.

Khadimir said...

I concur--knowing the wider context of the quotation confirms what the snippet suggested. The difficulty of American student enrollment has been unfavorably connected to foreign student enrollment, and an appeal to pathos was made.

On a related topic, my university has been having small skirmishes with its foreign student population, which has been declining for years, in its recreation programs. It would not be notable except as a reminder of how (what I believe is) semi-conscious discrimination by an organization can have systemic effects.

Queers United said...

if you have info on the student protest please post about it