“Losing Hearts & Minds” Say What?

(US) American-Iranian Relations & International Education during the Cold War

The question remains about how institutions of higher education can thrive economically and promote responsible internationalization. On the one hand, educational exchange can help generate change around the world and enhance American influence and prestige. On the other hand, schools, like nations, should not compromise principles such as academic freedom to acquire financial gain or a global reach. American schools today should work to internationalize, but they should avoid getting involved with authoritarian states in a way that would damage, rather than bolster, long-term interests and the prospects for future dialogue.  (Matthew K. Shannon)

  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…  (J. William Fulbright)

NOTE:  No, this is obviously not a post about Viet Nam, at least not directly, but it is about overseas study as an integral part of international education.  (It is most definitely is true to the blog’s subtitle of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue.)  I haven’t read the book with the above title only this Inside Higher Ed interview with the author of the book.  Since I’m not one to shoot from the hip and review books without having read them, this is only some reflections about some of the answers.

Iranian Students Against the Shah

When I was an undergraduate back in the mid-70s, I had some friends from Iran, who were against the Shah.  I remember some of the discussions we had, including about the CIA-engineered coup d’état in 1953 and the overthrow of a democratically elected prime minister.  (Stephen Kinzer, among others, has documented this centerpiece of US foreign policy since the late 19th century in Overthrow:  America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.)

I also remembered an on-campus demonstration of masked Iranian students shouting “Down with the Shah” and “US advisers, CIA agents out of Iran”.  It was of course the CIA and the Israeli MOSSAD that helped to establish SAVAK, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s much-hated and feared secret police, domestic security and intelligence service.  That was months before the overthrow of the Shah.

I was studying in Germany when the hostage crisis began at the US Embassy in Tehran.  All my friends were either German or other international students, including one from Iran.  We talked about that incident not as representatives of the countries whose passports we carried but as human beings.

The Purpose of International Educational Exchange

I’ve always viewed overseas study as an opportunity to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the host country not for that country, in the case of the US, to “generate change around the world and enhance American influence and prestige.”  What kind of change is Mr. Shannon referring to, I wonder?  The kind that only serves US political, economic, and military interests?  The kind that spreads more “democracy and freedom,” at least on paper and, in reality, code for US domination, economic and otherwise, at the barrel of a gun?

Courtesy of Cornell University Press

I hold this view because I’m a one-time patriot and a longtime global citizen not a US nationalist.  The US has done some good in the world but it also has a long, bloodstained track record in many countries, including Iran and the country I have called home since 2005.  Its leaders and a majority of its citizens have yet to overcome their country’s past in the spirit  of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, a “struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past.” I wonder if Mr. Shannon, the author of Losing Hearts and Minds, is a patriot or a nationalist?  Like anyone, his world view, and the values system in which it’s rooted, clearly informs his work. 

I also wonder about his statement that the US should avoid getting involved with authoritarian states in a way that would damage, rather than bolster, long-term interests and the prospects for future dialogue.  That would eliminate the majority of current international student enrollment in the US, which is currently in steady decline, the result of a variety of factors that include, but also transcend, the current administration. 

Of Hearts, Minds, & US Nationalism

As someone who has lived and worked in Viet Nam for nearly 13 years and whose first-hand experience with the country dates to 1996, I’m not sure if Mr. Shannon chose the best title for his book.  I wonder if he’s also aware of its rather nasty connotation, given how it was used during the American War in Viet Nam, where not many “hearts and minds” were won by the foreign invader du jour and its client state.   

Finally, this whole notion of “winning hearts and minds” is not a justification for real international educational exchange, unless you represent the US government, the US Chamber of Commerce, or you’re a red, white, and blue true believer aka nationalist.  (We’re #1!  We’re the greatest!  USA, USA, USA!  You get my drift.) 

fulbrightMr. Shannon may want to learn more about J. William Fulbright’s views on this subject, including the one contained in the quotes above and below about the Fulbright Program, taken from this page of Selected quotations by J. William Fulbright on international educational exchange on the US State Department website, no less.  (Obviously, no one from the Trump administration has gotten around to deleting it yet.)   

The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy–the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program…is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope…. [From The Price of Empire]

Peace, MAA

Du học không khó (Study Abroad is Not Difficult)

book launch image (28.12.13)

This is the matter-of-fact title of a new book written by Trần Ngọc Thịnh, who earned a Master’s degree in 2011 from the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri with the support of a Fulbright scholarship.

Du học không khó is a unique A-Z Vietnamese language resource that’s chock-full of valuable information, advice and tips to guide young people through the sometimes daunting process of preparing for an overseas study experience, including in the U.S.  Best of all, it was written by someone who speaks from first-hand experience, a young man who earned a Master’s degree in the U.S. and returned home to contribute to a dynamic and rapidly changing Vietnam.

The U.S. remains the preferred destination for young Vietnamese who want to study overseas, ranking 8th among all places of origin, according to the latest update.  The American higher education system is large and diverse, which means students have literally thousands of choices.  In addition to the many other resources available, both on- and offline, Du học không khó will help young people and their parents navigate this path, find the most suitable institutions for them and be in a better position to benefit more fully from the experience, academically, socially and culturally.

Recognizing the reality that most Vietnamese enlist the aid of an educational consultant, I made this point about identifying qualified and ethical companies:  The best ones have your best interests at heart in guiding you through the selection, admission, and pre-departure process.  They will look for a match between your qualifications, interests, goals, ability to pay, etc. and a short list of colleges and universities (i.e., not chasing after commissions).

Click on the photo to read a Vietnamese language article about the event.

Capstone Vietnam, of which I’m managing director, and our International Academic Center (IAC) members, Kansas State University and Lane Community College (Eugene, OR), are proud to be sponsors of the book launch, the first event of which took place last Saturday afternoon in Hanoi.  I participated in a panel discussion with the author and a representative from the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF).  As I mentioned in my concluding remarks, Du học không khó is a labor of love that Thịnh wrote as a means of giving back and, to borrow a slogan from VietAbroader, a way to “pass the torch” to younger people, some of whom will follow in his footsteps.


“Institute Accused of Falsely Reporting How It Spent State Dept. Funds Settles Lawsuit for $1-Million”

Now that’s a headline you don’t see very often in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the weekly bible of the US higher education community.  This is not just any run-of-the-mill institute but the Institute of International Education (IIE), one of “the world’s largest and most experienced international education and training organizations,” according to its website.   

This 16 April 2012 story, which IIE successfully managed to keep out of the media until an enterprising CHE reporter caught wind of it, is about fraud and mismanagement.  The Institute, which receives 66% of its funding from US government sources, including the State Department (i.e., think Fulbright), guards its reputation in pitbull fashion, lest it run the risk of losing part a piece of the US government fiscal pie on which it relies so heavily and/or alienating its donors.

The whistleblower was punished, while one of her superiors, who did nothing, ends up working in the president’s office, as one reader pointed out.  I’m afraid that my former employer behaved very badly in this case.  Kudos to my former colleague, Rachel Goldberg, one of the plaintiffs, along with “United States,” for her courage in pursing this matter at great cost to herself. 

Why do I include this in An International Educator in Vietnam?  Because it involved the Vietnam Student Fulbright Program, among other reasons.  Specifically, three of the “Defendant’s False Claims Schemes” (VII.) in the AMENDED COMPLAINT AND DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL (PDF) were as follows: 

16.  In connection with IIE’s contract or contracts with the Department of State, IIE submitted to the Department of State, and Goldberg was asked in effect to prepare quota sheets purportedly containing dollar items of direct costs, i.e., tuition and fees, to fund students’ grants, when in fact these items improperly included amounts that IIE used for “supplemental benefits” (e.g., books and computers) that were not provided for as direct costs.

17.  The quota sheets were submitted to the Department of State in connection with initial requests for funds and as periodic budget reports.  At all relevant times, the quota sheets were submitted annually and the government funds were transmitted to IIE on a quarterly basis.

18.  IIE’s contract with the Department of State for the Vietnam foreign student program did not allow for supplemental benefits to be included in direct costs. 

Disclosure:  I served as IIE-Vietnam country director from 2005-09. 


By Ian Wilhelm

The Institute of International Education has paid $1-million to the U.S. government to settle a lawsuit that accused the nonprofit organization of falsely reporting how it spent State Department funds over eight years. The investigation involved a whistle-blower within the institute, who said she first raised concerns about financial procedures to her superiors and had received unfair treatment as a result.
The lawsuit was filed by Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, and was settled in June 2011. The settlement went largely unnoticed at the time but began circulating among international educators last week. While alleging violations of the False Claims Act, the suit does not accuse institute staff members of pocketing federal dollars for personal gain but instead paints a portrait of improper accounting practices that allowed the institute to squeeze every dollar from the grants it received.
The complaint says the organization inaccurately reported labor costs while managing various international scholarships under the State Department’s Fulbright Program. Instead of keeping records on how much time employees actually spent working on Fulbright grants, the complaint says the institute told its employees to fraudulently charge their time based on predetermined percentages. It also says the organization shifted funds between grant programs so it could use up all available money. (The government required that leftover funds be returned.)
“Over an eight-year period, the program’s administrator did not comply with grant requirements and repeatedly made false claims for payment,” Mr. Bharara said in a statement shortly after the settlement was reached. According to his office, the institute did not change its practices until it discovered it was under investigation in 2008.
The institute is a major player in international education, organizing educational training programs for universities, overseeing scholarship programs, and providing emergency funds to help scholars in dangerous parts of the world. According to its 2011 annual report, it had 600 staff members in 17 offices worldwide and a budget of $326-million, 66 percent of which came from the federal government.
The institute released a brief statement Friday in response to an interview request by The Chronicle.
“We worked closely with the Justice Department to understand and address the time-recording practices in question—and we have implemented effective remedial measures to prevent recurrence,” the statement said. The institute also said independent accountants had reported that the value of the actual work it performed exceeded what the government paid, and that the government has confirmed that the nonprofit remains fully qualified to continue receiving federal grants.
The State Department declined to comment.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint first filed in 2007 by Rachel Goldberg, an employee of the nonprofit international-education institute at the time. Ms. Goldberg, who was part of the foreign-students division, says she complained to her supervisor and others in 2003 that the institute was improperly including so-called supplemental benefits, which include books and computers, in accounting for funds meant to pay for Fulbright students’ tuition and fees. In addition, the complaint says the institute used funds meant for seminars and enrichment grants for supplementary benefits instead.
Saying her protests were rebuffed, Ms. Goldberg sent an e-mail message to the State Department about the problems. As a result, the agency stopped providing funds for supplemental benefits.
Mary E. Kirk, who at the time was the institute’s vice president for student exchanges, told Ms. Goldberg “that she should not have sent the e-mail and should have left the matter to her superiors at IIE,” according to the complaint. What’s more, Ms. Goldberg said she had “been ostracized, her staff had been reduced, and she has incurred unwarranted negative performance evaluations.”
As part of the settlement and as a reward for her exposing the accounting practices, the government gave Ms. Goldberg $170,000, which was taken out of the $1-million paid to the government by the institute.
According to her lawyer, Timothy J. McInnis, she no longer works for the institute. Ms. Kirk is now senior counselor for academic exchanges in the office of the president. Aside from the statement about the settlement, the institute declined to comment further on the complaints against it.