A Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) Student Speaks Out

I recently received an intriguing message via LinkedIn from a Vietnamese undergraduate enrolled at FUV (Tagline: Creating the next generation of change-makers in Vietnam for a rapidly evolving world) in HCMC. Here’s the unedited back-and-forth between the student and me, which he gave me permission to share on an unattributed basis. I appreciated his candor and insights.

FUV Student: Hi Dr. Ashwill. I am “Linh,” a freshman at Fulbright University Vietnam – the institution that you have taken a keen interest in even before it went into operation.

I have read all of your posts on your personal website regarding our school and to be fair, they are honest and sincere criticism that the school should closely listen. 🙂

I agree with your opinion that FUV shouldn’t be a tool for US’s foreign policy!

As you may or may not know, Founding President Thuy will leave the school summer this year. I do not know what you think of her, but we, students at Fulbright, respect her a lot for her sincere commitments and belief to us and the school.

What we afraid is the unknown new President. Would he/she be too corporatist, turning the school into a “not-for-profit” in name only and destroy the original vision of the scool or would he/she be another tool for the US? Only time can tell.

I look forward to seeing your take on this new President!

Have a nice day and thank you for being a fervent outside observer of Fulbright!

MAA: Thank you for reaching out. You’re right – time will tell. Do students have any input into the hiring process? At US universities, candidates usually meet with all members of the academic community, including faculty, staff, and students. I have respect for Ms. Thuy, but I also know she was involved in some of the decisions I have written about (and criticized) in my FUV-related articles. I’m curious – how many FUV students share your view?

FUV Student: We students do have inputs into the hiring process, albeit not much. When news of President Thủy stepping down was announced, the trustee board, whom I suspect the American side of the board is behind most of the pro-American actions, created an open Google Form to ask for our nominations and advice as well as established a committee for presidential search. They also recruit an international head-hunting firm with its regional base in Hong Kong to assist fyi. As for the meeting up with the school community as you mentioned, so far I did not see any candidates visiting the school, but to be fair maybe I didn’t notice.

We are fully aware of the school’s infamous reputation for being somewhat a US foreign policy tool. The majority of us go to the school because Fulbright’s vision – an independent, not-for-profit, prestigious and liberal arts university of the Vietnamese people, for the Vietnamese people just like Obama said back in 2016.

To be honest with you, many of us, including me, can understand and sympathize with the school. Accomplishing Fulbright’s original vision needs lots of financial support, yet Fulbright is one-of-its-kind in Vietnam. Its financial system is the same as any US colleges as the school mostly relies on philanthropists and its endowment. Sadly that kind of funding is an alien concept to most Vietnamese people, to be frank, and USAID has been a reliable source of funding since the school’s inception. That’s why the school needs to appease the funders by favouring the US.

So in short, we have mixed feelings. We really hope that the school can get on its two feet soon and be a promising education institution. I can assure you that not everyone in the governing bodies at Fulbright is content with seeing their brainchild being used by the US.

A Kernel of Hope

I was gratified that this student was motivated to reach out to me and express his opinion about his university. It gives me a measure of hope that there are young Vietnamese who think about these matters. Full disclosure: I was contacted by the executive search firm he mentioned but I had no suggestions for potential candidates.

I imagine the job is similar to the country director position I held with the Institute of International Education (IIE) from 2005-09, i.e., kind of like working for the US government with the usual constraints and moral compromises. Unlike me, I’m pretty sure the FUV board will have the new president sign a NDA to prevent future, how shall I put it?, “unpleasantness.”

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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