Expanding the Fulbright Legacy in Vietnam (?)

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.  -Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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This was the title of a 2018 article written by Mary Beth Marklein (MBM) for Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning (Volume 50, 2018 – Issue 1, pp. 63-70).  The online version was published on 22 May 2018.  Since I have been following the development of Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) since it was first announced, I read Mary Beth’s piece with great interest and, ultimately, disappointment.  It read like a one-sided, US-centric puff piece that could easily have been written by the FUV public relations office or that of its benefactor, the US State Department. She took the time to speak to quite a few FUV people who, of course, confirmed her rosy view of this institution and whitewashed its recent controversial history.  In other words, she committed a number of sins of omission.    

Here are some comments from colleagues who know Viet Nam, all of which are spot-on, in my opinion.

She has drunk the establishment Kool-Aid.  She thinks no one can truly do any wrong, I guess.  She certainly skated lightly past a few important issues, such as how money was extracted from the Vietnamese for Fulbright U.  

Like most Americans, she conflates two quite different concepts: “unbiased” and “pro-U.S.”  Ironically, at most high-quality universities in the U.S. a large number of faculty see it as their mission to make their students aware of the powerful criticisms of the “neoliberal” world order, “globalization”, and U.S. policy.  Even in the U.S., serious scholars (with some exceptions) are not mindless sycophants of U.S. imperialism.  But FUV is much more U.S.-nationalistic than most universities in the U.S.  So it’s worse than just “meddling” and imposing a U.S.-style institution on Vietnam — it’s imposing a lousy U.S.-style institution on Vietnam.

Below are some of my comments in red after the author’s paragraphs in blue.  

If U.S. readers have heard about FUV, it is probably because of the cloud that hovered over it in 2016 when FUV announced that Bob Kerrey would be chair of the FUV’s board of trustees. A decorated war hero who went on to become the Governor of Nebraska, a U.S. Senator, and a university president, Kerrey’s reputation was forever stained in 2001 by a revelation that he had led an attack in 1969 that killed 13 Vietnamese women and children civilians, and then covered it up. 
 
Where did MBM get the “13” figure – Kerrey’s memoir or the US military?  The figure I have from various reliable sources is 21.  That’s number that was used in the initial New York Times report from 2001 that broke the story.  In fact, his Bronze Medal citation reads as follows:  “The net result of his patrol was 21 Viet Cong killed, two hooches destroyed and two enemy weapons captured.”  
MBM also stated that Kerrey and his unit killed only women and children, forgetting about the 65-year-old grandfather whom Kerrey held down as one of his men, Gerhard Klann, slit the man’s throat, according to Klann.  
 
MBM referred to Bob Kerrey as a “decorated war hero” without mentioning the fact that one of his medals, the Bronze Medal, was awarded for the Thanh Phong war crimes.  
MBM neglected to mention that rather important fact that Kerrey’s mission that fateful night in February 1969 was a Phoenix Program operation.  
 
Kerrey has acknowledged and apologized, multiple times, for his actions; still, the FUV appointment prompted both demands for Kerrey’s resignation and a spirited defense of his appointment. Today, Kerrey’s name remains on the FUV website as a member of the board of trustees. FUV Trustee Ben Wilkinson disputes a report, published in May 2017, that Kerrey had quietly resigned (Ashwill, 2017). Nevertheless, Thuy has taken over the chair’s duties (Taft, 2018). 
 
I’m afraid MBM is missing the forest for the trees.  The point is Kerrey should never have never been offered that position and, having been offered it, should have refused.  Of course, Ben Wilkinson (BW) disputed what I revealed in my May 2017 article.  Always the loyal soldier, I refer to BW as the “quiet American,” a textbook example of someone who is interculturally competent (IC as a skill set) yet a US nationalist (nationalism as a mindset/ideology).  His blood runs red, white, and blue.  He was dead wrong in this case.    
 
The debate over Kerrey is healthy and necessary, but it also distracts from the larger story of the making of Fulbright University Vietnam, a story that includes cautious baby steps and giant leaps of faith.    
 
Regarding the “debate over Kerrey” – whose fault is it that?  Two consecutive PR disasters:  1) Bob Kerrey’s appointment; and 2) Thomas Vallely’s interview with Isabelle Taft for Politico.  He said that Kerrey shouldn’t be singled out for criticism because of the sheer ubiquity of violence against civilians in the Mekong Delta. In other words, so what if Kerrey and his Raiders murdered a couple dozen people in some village.  It was a common occurrence.  Besides, “There’s no one in Thạnh Phong going to FUV,” as he put it in a snide and hurtful as remark.  (Check out my article from August 2018 for more information, if you dare.)  FUV is its own worst enemy.  Ted Osius, former US ambassador to Viet Nam, joined FUV as vice president and then resigns six months into the job.  A little birdie told me that Vallely is on the way out.  Gee, I wonder why?  

Last but not least, another sin of omission is a major source of funding for FUV, namely, the balance of the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF), a scholarship-for-debt program.  That $20 million came indirectly from the Vietnamese government, a partner in this project in more ways than one.  

Finally, what about the victims, both the living and the dead, of Kerey’s war crimes in Thanh Phong?  What about the cruel and insensitive comments by Vallely in that Politico interview?  What about the cynical and persistent use of education not only as a tool but as a weapon of soft power in trying to shape Viet Nam in the USA’s image, which is decidedly anti-Fulbright?  

I could say more but I think this will suffice for a blog post.  

Note:  The author is a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University, where her focus is on US higher education as public diplomacy.  My hope is that she develops a more critical perspective on the issues she writes about and doesn’t continue to uncritically toe the line of US public diplomacy.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA, The Unquiet US American

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Another Make-Work Job for ICE

Visa document logo close up of the United States of America.
Source:  University World News

Set thine house in order... 2 Kings 20: 1

It’s as if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has nothing better to do than to create yet another faux university to entrap more people like so many flies to honey.  Enter the University of Farmington in Michigan.  (The last fake university created with the same purpose in mind was the University of Northern New Jersey.) 

It’s not like there aren’t already enough “approved” and “accredited” US universities (and I use that term loosely) doing exactly the same thing, some of which have been in the media but are still in business, thanks to the current business-friendly MAGA regime.  They tarnish the good reputation of legitimate US higher education.  Why not investigate them first?  Hell, for that matter, why not NOT allow unaccredited universities to issue I-20s?  You know the an$wer.  This is not likely to change during the current administration.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

On the outside looking in: A US American in Vietnam

outside looking in

I have spent over 40 percent of my adult life outside of my home country, never content with having my soul controlled by geography, to paraphrase George Santayana. I carry a U.S. passport but it doesn’t define me. I am a U.S. ex-patriot and global citizen who calls Vietnam home.

Follow this link to read my latest essay for VNExpress International.  It includes some personal reflections of my nearly 14 years of living and working in Viet Nam.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

(Yet) Another Variation on the “Dog & Pony Show” Theme

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Courtesy of Poocheo

This is a topic I’ve written (and spoken) about for many years.   It might be time for me to update a 2014 article of mine entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment about the many ways in which education companies cheat their partners, non-partners, and clients.  The list just keeps getting longer and longer.  Sigh.  

OK, here’s how it works.  Company ABC organizes an education fair.  In order to ensure that all of the colleagues in attendance are “shown the love” and to guarantee better photo-ops (think quantity over quality), attendees receive a GIFT, if they speak to ALL of the representatives. 

Go to the tables, ask a perfunctory question or two, get your stamp, and repeat – until you’re finished.  Then go collect your GIFT.  I sure hope it’s a good one for all of that effort.  Jump through the hoops and get the reward.  You earned it!  (Don’t forget to pick up a few pens, pennants, water bottles, and whatever else you can get your greedy little hands on along the way.)  Good job.  That’s a wrap. Now find another fair that does the exact same, stupid thing, and let another fun begin – again.  

smoke and mirrorsThe only problem with this approach is that fair attendees who do this really don’t care (I’m writing for a G-rated audience here…) about asking meaningful questions or picking up promotional materials of interest to them.  In fact, it’s safe to say that most probably don’t intend to study abroad.  They just want the stamps, the way your dog, cat or whatever wants its treats, which lead to the gold, or whatever, at the end of the rainbow.  What do colleagues whose institutions pay large sums of money to travel overseas and recruit students get?  Wasted time and the empty feeling of being played.   

This is on par with 1) paying students who “bring a friend” a finder’s fee of sorts; 2) paying student volunteers a per head fee for every “warm body” they bring with them; 3) busing in unqualified students; and 4) hiring “faux students” through a service to boost attendance.  (I described these in this 15 January 2019 post.)  What do these practices have in common?   Say it with me, They are part and parcel of a DOG & PONY SHOW!  It’s pure deception and not very subtle, at that.  Giveaways are fine at these events, but for God’s sake, and the sake of ethics, don’t link them to active participation. 

It never ceases to amaze me just how many ways companies engage in unethical business practices.  Imagine what the world would be like if they channeled all of this energy and creativity into doing the right thing!  

And the beat goes on…

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Postscript:  If you work for a company that plays one or more of these games, then the shoe definitely fits.  Wear it but definitely not with pride! 

More Vietnamese Students in South Korea Than Australia

Yes, it’s true.  Check out the infographic below, courtesy of the Australian Department of Education and Training.  As of 11-18, Viet Nam ranked 6th among sending countries with 24,094 students studying at all levels in Australia.  

vn students in australia 11-18

Incredibly, there were more Vietnamese studying in South Korea than Australia last year.  As in Japan, Viet Nam ranked 2nd with 27,061.  Speaking of the former, I’ll talk about Vietnamese enrollments in that country, which are off the charts, in another post.  

Note:  I wish the US government had the same data quality and quantity as Australia’s. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam

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Follow this link to read my latest article, which is about a phenomenon I’ve observed over the years, namely, how some young Vietnamese who study in the USA become what I refer to as honorary US nationalists.  (If you’re not sure what nationalism means, have a look at this 2016 essayHint:  It’s quite different from patriotism.)  

Here’s an excerpt:  

Overseas study is a unique opportunity to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the host country, all the colors of its social, political, and economic rainbow, as it were, a sentiment echoed by Senator J. William Fulbright, whose name is synonymous with international educational exchange in the country of his birth:  There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is–not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is… [From the Forward of The Fulbright Program: A History]

My advice to these three young Vietnamese, whose stories I have shared, and others like them, regardless of nationality, is as follows: Learn more about your country’s history, the sacrifices made by previous generations, and the role of foreign powers in domestic affairs. Learn about other countries as they are, not as some people wish you to see them. Preserve your intellectual and spiritual independence and, by doing so, retain your integrity. Finally, never allow yourselves to be used by people whose primary concern is their own country, especially when those interests run contrary to those of your country, and other nations and peoples. Be true to yourselves and to historical truth.

Shalom (שלום), MAA