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Chancellor's Speeches

NAFSA: Association of International Educators
Remarks by William E. Kirwan
Chancellor, University System of Maryland
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Thank you for that very generous introduction. I am honored to serve as the opening plenary speaker at this very important NASFA conference. This year's meeting comes at an especially challenging time. In my forty plus years in higher education, I don't recall a period when there were so many difficult issues relating to international education. On the other hand, I don't recall a time when higher education has been more important in sustaining our nation's global geo-political and economic leadership. I cannot imagine a group better equipped to address these pressing issues than NASFA.

Indeed, for more than 50 years, NASFA has been the primary voice advocating international education and student exchange. NASFA was the first organization to recognize the potential of international education as a means of improving relations among peoples of different cultures. NASFA recognized early on that as institutions "internationalize" their student body and incorporate knowledge of other cultures in their curricula, the educational experience for ALL students is improved. NASFA's leadership and continued advocacy for international exchangeespecially in these challenging timeshas been crucial. All of us in higher education owe this organization a deep debt of gratitude.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak at a NAFSA meeting and reception held at the World Trade Center here in Baltimore. In my comments, I noted that the global economy, which has been envisioned and discussed for so many years, has now begun to assert itself. The spread of democracy, the rise of market economies, and the lowering of trade barrierscombined with advances in technologyhave changed the global landscape for all time, presenting both great opportunities and significant challenges for our nation.

I understand that NASFA has provided a copy of my comments at that NASFA meeting to this conference's attendees. Knowing how busy you all are, I recognize that probably very few of you have actually read those remarks. I will, therefore, briefly recap the major points I made and expand upon them today. I discussed three significant challenges that higher education and our nation face as we adapt to the realities of globalization.

The first of these challenges relates to the changing nature of the American economy and its impact on the U.S. workforce as we move from an economy based on muscle power to one dependent upon brain power. Knowledge, creativity and innovation...these are the keys to the success of America's economy now and for the indefinite future. In many ways, the United States has had a significant advantage over other developed nations in terms of the ability to prosper in this new global economy. The expansion of access to higher education is one of the greatest achievements of post-WW II America. America was the first nation in the world to "democratize" higher education. In doing so, we laid the groundwork that made us the world's economic superpower in the 20th century. But the dynamics of the global economy have also had a profoundly negative impact on certain sectors of our workforce.

The phenomenon of job outsourcing is a perfect illustration of what I mean. The first phase of outsourcing was the "exportation" of what were essentially manual labor jobs - - manufacturing and the like. From a strictly economic/competitive advantage perspective, it made sense to see these jobs go where labor costs were cheaper. The idea was that America's economic future rested in "knowledge" jobs. And our leadership in this realm was significant, thanks in large part to the reach of higher education.

We have now entered the point at which some high end jobswhite-collar, high-tech jobsare also being outsourced. I am sure you all read the fascinating series of articles by Tom Friedman of the New York Times as he examined this phenomenon first-hand in India. One of the most salient points he made was that even though this new era of "knowledge job" outsourcing will undoubtedly require major adjustments by our work force and our government, it is not cause for gloom and doom. The fact is, innovation and creativity remain uniquely American strengths. As Mr. Freidman put it, our creativity and innovation are the "reason that the 'next big thing' almost always comes out of America." In my view, outsourcing of jobs across international boundaries is an irreversible economic force. As Freidman says, let's not fight the inevitable. Rather, let's focus on our strengths: R&D, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Recognizing that this is our niche in the global economy, we must develop curricula at the K-12 and university level that foster these strengths in our graduates.

The second challenge is the need for our institutions of higher education to offer an educational experience that equips students with the depth of knowledge and the breadth of global perspectives required for success in this global workplace. Just as the United States "democratized" higher education in the 20th century, we must now "internationalize" our campuses if we expect our citizens to compete. We must focus on the "global competence" of our citizens. We need an educational infrastructure that supports and encourages the study of world history, cultural exploration, exchange programs, foreign language study, and other international pursuits.

The issue of language education is especially important. The fact that fluency in many Middle Eastern languages was in such short supply before and after September 11th significantly hampered our ability to respond to the crises in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am concerned that there continues to be an underlying notion that teaching or learning languages is "unimportant", since English has become the "international language". Nothing could be further from the truth and to hold fast to that misconception indicates a dangerous arrogance. We do not stand apart fromand most certainly do not stand abovethe other nations of the world.

This problem of American "arrogance" is manifesting itself in other international arenas as well. For example, our nation's unwillingness to "stay the course" and find meaningful common ground on the Kyoto environmental protocols is in my view a national disgrace. Again, it was New York Times columnist Tom Freidman who did a wonderful job crystallizing this issue. In a recent column, he laments our nation's failure to exert global leadership on environmental matters. He writes, and I quote, "I want to wake up one morning and read that President Bush has decided to offer a real alternative to the stalled Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. I want to wake up and read that General Motors has decided it will no longer make gas-guzzling Hummers and President Bush has decided to replace his limousine with an armor-plated Toyota Prius, a hybrid car that gets over 40 miles to the gallon. I want to wake up and read that Mr. Bush has announced a Manhattan Project to develop renewable energies that will end America's addiction to crude oil by 2010." From my perspective, Mr. Freidman is "dead on." In our dealings with other nations on issues like the environment, we need corporate and political leadership schooled in the complexities of environmental and policy matters issues from a global perspective.

Perhaps more alarming is the Balkanization of geo-political interests in this era of globalization. The racial, ethnic, and religious strife rampant in the world today cries out for leaders who practice mutual respect and tolerance and reject radicalism and xenophobia, leaders who are skilled in the art of compromise and conflict resolution, leaders who understand and respect the cultural differences reflected in populations around the world. In a recent newspaper column on promoting the value of democracy, Henry Kissinger captured this thought well. He said, "The advocates of the important role of a commitment to democracy in American foreign policy have won their intellectual battle. But institutional building requires more than doctrine. It also requires a vision that recognizes cultural and historical circumstance. Such humility is not an abdication of American values; rather, it is the only way to implement these values effectively." (End of quote)

As NASFA has long advocated, international educational exchange effortsin BOTH directionsare one off the most effective means to fostering precisely the type of understanding and cultural awareness Mr. Kissinger advocates. But unfortunately, it is a tool that is grossly under utilized. For example, as I mentioned in my January talk, less than 10 percent of college graduates have an education abroad experience during their college years. That is far, far too low. As you know so well, the simple act of living and learning in another country is the best means of enabling students to gain a global perspective. And it's a perspective that stays with individuals for the rest of their lives

The third challenge I outlinedand one I will expand upon further todayis the importance of developing a national policy that can accommodate a steady flow of foreign students, scientists and researchers to U.S. colleges and universities.

No one would dispute the fact that the safety and security of the people of the United States is of paramount importance. But it would be a terrible mistake to push U.S. security efforts to illogical extremes. My fear is that we are moving in precisely this direction. If there is one action that could potentially derail American's leadership positionscientifically, economically, and otherwiseit would be movement toward isolation.

U.S. colleges and universities are among the bestif not THE bestin the world. The world's brightest students, scholars and researchers are drawn to America to learn, study and work. In the process, they contribute to our nation's leadership in the sciences, they boost our economy, they improve our institutions, and they expand the cross-cultural understanding necessary for the spread of democratic values across the globe. Some of these students stay here and make a significant contribution to the advancement of our nation. Others return to their native countries to assume positions of leadership and, most often, they become ambassadors for freedom and global cooperation. Kofi Annan, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Mexican President Vicente Fox, for example, all attended U.S. Universities.

As I have thought more about this issue of homeland security and international exchange, I believe we should modify the notion many now advocate of striking a "balance" between international education and security concerns. This is a false dichotomy. The fact is, the goals of international education and security are not in competition. They go hand in hand, reinforcing each other. Our long term safety and security are best served by remaining a model of openness, tolerance, and learning. Internationalization and cross-cultural exchange are our best hope for creating a safer more secure world. Therefore, we need more international education and understanding, not less.

Unfortunately, current trends indicate that we may be moving in exactly the opposite direction. Last year, colleges and universities saw the smallest increase in the enrollment of international students in nearly a decade. Many predict that results for this coming year will be significantly worse. Heightened security measuresparticularly visa delaysseem to be prompting international students to look to Britain, Australia and other countries that appear more welcoming.

I am extremely troubled by a proposed change in the regulations for student visas currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget. This proposed change would require a prospective exchange student to wire $95.00 to a bank in Chicago, or transfer the money by way of a credit card, at which point a copy of the transaction would be mailed back to the embassy in the student's country. Only then could the student go to the embassy to pick up a visa. Such a process is absurd. First of all, $95 may not sound like much to the people who developed this policy, but we all know that it is more than enough to be an impenetrable barrier to potential students from any number of countries. How many students in China or in developing countries have an American credit card or have the ability to amass $95 in American currency?

Presumably, this cumbersome process is intended to prevent foreign "agents" from entering the U.S. with a student visa. Ironically, in some countries, it is much more likely that a member of a terrorist organization would have access to a credit card or $95 than a legitimate student. Thus, it can be argued that this regulation will increase, not decrease the likelihood of terrorists gaining access to the U.S. In any case, this proposed regulation, if it goes into effect, will have a devastating effect on foreign student enrollments. One is left to wonder the mindset of those who dreamed up such a policy.

A number of higher education advocacy organizationsincluding the American Council on Education, whose Board I chairare lobbying for a more reasonable, affordable approach that protects our security without unnecessary hardship on prospective students.

This brings me back to the need for a national policy on international education. Fortunately, much of the groundwork on this issue has been laid by the American Council of Education. ACE's policy proposal calls for a renewed partnership between higher educational institutions and the federal government to meet several vital needs. In particular, it calls for enhancing international studies and foreign language proficiency; promoting international research efforts; enhancing institutional linkages abroad; and, as I have been mentioning, increasing the number of international students as well as study abroad opportunities for U.S. students.

While I will not outline ACE's proposal in its entirety, there are a three specific areas and corresponding recommendations that I enthusiastically endorse and would like to highlight.

First in the area of enhancing foreign language and international studies, we should launch a nationwide effort to increase significantly the number of experts with high-level foreign language proficiency and in-depth knowledge of world affairs, especially regarding non-Western European nations. Moreover, we in higher education must develop stronger linkages to the State department and other government agencies, making them better aware of the knowledge, expertise and skills available at our universities.

Second, we must expand the international component of the K-12 and college curriculum. In this day and age, no one should be considered an educated person if they do not have sophisticated knowledge of cultures and countries other than their own. To capitalize on the first-hand understanding and insight that only studying abroad can bring, we need a substantial increase in the number of U.S. studentsfrom high school through graduate schoolthat study or intern abroad. In addition, we need to more fully integrate opportunities to study abroad into the high school and higher education curriculum, especially in terms of foreign language study.

Finally, given that it would be both short-sighted and counter-productive for the United States to close its doors to students from other nations, and given that the federal government has a responsibility to protect our safety and security, we must increase our efforts to work cooperatively with the federal government in documenting and tracking foreign students. The solution is to develop a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System that is transparent, streamlined, properly funded, and effective and that provides the necessary national security protection, without becoming a barrier to bona fide students wishing to attend U.S. Universities. The simple fact is that -- to date -- our government has not been willing to make the necessary financial investment to create such a system. U.S. Embassies must be given the resources necessary to handle the flow of international students in a timely manner, while still providing the proper background checks. It is imperative that NAFSA, ACE, AAU, NASULGC, indeed all of higher education keep pushing aggressively for this outcome until it is achieved.

Let me conclude my remarks by once again expressing my appreciation and admiration for the work of NAFSA. The leadership of the professionals that make up this organization has had a profound impact on America's colleges and universities. I know there have been periods when it seemed like no one - including most especially university presidents - was listening. What you've discovered is that we may be slow but we are educable. The priorities you have long been advocating are increasingly being embraced by colleges and universities across the nation. You should feel a tremendous sense of gratification in these developments. I want to stress one final thought: As we face the enormous challenges of expanding international education in an era of global terrorism, your wisdom and counsel are needed more than ever. That's why the timing and work of this conference is so very important.

Thank you for the privilege of addressing you today.