Laura W. Bush, Plenary Speaker at NAFSA 2018. Say What?!?

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I’m still shaking my head in disbelief, wondering why NAFSA:  Association of International Educators chose Laura Bush as a plenary speaker for its 2018 annual conference in Philadelphia, PA, USA.  What does she have to offer international educators who attend these speeches to learn something, gain a new insight or two, be inspired?  Here’s her bio on NAFSA’s website:

Laura W. Bush, former first lady of the United States, is an advocate for literacy, education, and human rights.

laura_bush_150x200As first lady, Mrs. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the need for preparing children to become lifelong learners, convening a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development in 2001 and creating the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

What’s not to like about supporting “literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and foster healthy families and communities”?  What, pray tell, does that have to do with the work of international educators?  

What’s not to like about human rights, which her husband and his administration trampled on, both in the US and in other countries, most notably Afghanistan and Iraq, during their disastrous eight-year rule?  While I don’t hold Ms. Bush responsible for the sins of her husband and that cabal of neocons, there is a certain distasteful dishonor by association and hypocrisy at work here.

It’s not Laura Bush’s fault that she’s speaking at this international education conference.  It is NAFSA, after all, that invited her.  Let’s assign blame where blame is due.  What were the powers that be at NAFSA thinking?  Wasn’t there anyone else (and better) from whom the audience could actually learn something new, gain a new insight, or be inspired?

Here’s a spot-on analysis from one colleague who shares my disgust and disappointment at this choice and the organization that is behind it: 

I think the aspect I most dislike is how these niceties normalize war and US led-violence. There will be thousands of attendees sitting in respectful attention, listening to tired platitudes, and leaving with a saccharine feeling about what a genteel lady Laura Bush is.  I remember when a NAFSA attendee confronted Colin Powell during his plenary speech about his role in BSing the US into the Iraq invasion. It was great stuff.  But too confrontational for NAFSA.  So fast forward to today and, if I’m not mistaken, NO live questions will be allowed of Laura B.  Gotta keep it sanitized!

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I wonder how much it will cost to have Ms. Bush tell thousands of international educators what a great job they’re doing and how important their work is? The Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Laura Bush,  describes her as one of the most popular first ladies in history and a compelling advocate for issues of national and global concern.  Seriously?

While I’m not going to hold my breath that this will actually happen, here’s something for NAFSA to think about for future conferences.  Since this is a professional association that relies on membership dues and conference fees for its fiscal survival, why doesn’t it put these speakers to a vote rather than making these decision behind closed doors, or at least make a concerted effort to seek member input?

A colleague asked me if I was planning to attend this plenary session or if could meet with her during that time.  You can guess what my response was.  My hope is that 50 people show up.  A guy can dream, can’t he? 

Postscript: One of my sources told me that the “conversation” was about the Bush family.  My neck is getting tired.  Still shaking my head in disbelief.

Who’s next for NAFSA 2019, First Lady Melania Trump, Betsy “Amway” DeVos, Secretary of Education, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary? 

Peace, MAA

Bonus:  Here’s a radio commentary I did in 2004 in response to a speech at that year’s NAFSA annual conference in which the speaker, a Bush/Cheney political appointee, said that one can no longer claim to “hate this government’s policies but love the country.”  In other words, government and country are one in the eyes of a US nationalist aka neocon.  For some reason this went over most colleagues’ heads.  Can you guess who the speaker was?  Hint:  He used to work for IIE.  Yes.  Really.

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“International Students Contribute to Our Economy & American Innovation”

This image, created by NAFSA:  Association of International Educators, a “non-profit professional organization for professionals in all areas of international education including education abroad advising and administration,” was recently posted on Facebook by a US higher education colleague. 

All compelling points with which I agree 100%.  In fact, they could create another graphic that lists more reasons for hosting international students and encouraging a certain percentage to remain, if they so desire.   

Here’s the problem though:  while this information appeals to reasonable and rational US Americans who either already have somewhat of a global outlook, or at least “get it” when it comes to the economics of hosting large numbers of international students, it falls on blind eyes and deaf ears when it comes to people like President Trump and many (most?) of his supporters. America First, remember?  Their words and actions, rather than making the US better than it is for all people, are accelerating its decline.

Why? Nativism and nationalism – in that order.  If you’re not sure what these words mean, don’t worry you’re in good company.  Many people with a Ph.D. after their name don’t know either.  Just read the articles linked from one or both of the words. 

MAA

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Latest Executive Order Undermines America’s Safety & Values (NAFSA)

To the students, scholars, doctors, refugees, family members and others who wonder if the United States has lost its commitment to its core values as a nation of freedom, opportunity and welcome, let me unequivocally state that American citizens will not tolerate policies such as these that undermine our values and endanger our safety. We understand that America is part of the global community, and we will raise our voices with Congress, with the White House, with the media and in our communities to continue to adhere to the principles that have always made us strongest.

nafsaI was very pleased and heartened to see this statement from Esther Brimmer, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, about Donald Trump’s executive order banning US entry of “thoroughly-vetted refugees and citizens of seven nations in the Middle East and Africa, undermining the nation’s long-held values and making America less safe.”

In the past, NAFSA’s leadership has been hesitant to voice criticism of US government (USG) policies or actions not because the organization receives any funding from the USG but because of “relationship,” according to a reliable source.  This reflected the previous executive director’s/CEO’s management style.

For example, I don’t recall hearing an official peep from NAFSA after the US invaded and occupied Iraq based on the WMD lie.  In fact, NAFSA invited a senior State Department political appointee aka neocon to speak at its 2003 annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The gist of his speech was the one can no longer claim “to hate this government’s policies but love the country,” as if government and country were one.  I wrote a related radio commentary entitled Patriotism in Troubled Times that aired later that summer.  (It occurs to me that this applies to the current regime.  Just substitute government with president and administration.)

Follow this link to read the 30 January 2017 NAFSA press release in its entirety. Thanks to Esther Brimmer for speaking truth to power and saying what needs to be said in a forceful and eloquent manner.  The profession and the country need more people like her.

MAA

Cross-Border Education vs. Overseas Study: Similar But Different

In the 1 July 2014 issue of NAFSA.news there was a misleading statement about Vietnamese students and overseas study.  Below are 1) the headline and statement from NAFSA; and 2) the actual University World News article on which the NAFSA post is based, along with my response.

[For the uninitiated, NAFSA:  Association of International Educators, is a US-based non-profit organization for professionals in all areas of international education, including education abroad advising and administration, international student advising, campus internationalization, admissions, outreach, overseas advising, and English as a Second Language (ESL) administration. As of 2010, it served approximately 10,000 educators worldwide, representing nearly 3,000 higher education institutions.]

1)  Vietnamese Students Losing Interest in International EducationInterest in overseas study might be waning in Vietnam after years of effort to promote the benefits. The government has tightened regulations while some investors have pulled out of the higher education sector, and more students are choosing to stay within the country rather than explore international options, according to University World News.

2)  Cross-border education losing favour with studentsTransnational higher education providers in Vietnam are having to work harder to attract students and some international investors are bailing out as cross-border education appears to be losing favour after almost a decade of exponential proliferation.

If you take a few minutes to read the UWN article, you’ll discover that it’s about cross-border education, not to be confused with overseas study, and the government’s attempts to regulate foreign education providers in Vietnam.  Young Vietnamese who study abroad and those who study at home comprise two distinctly different market segments.   

My hope is that NAFSA will print a correction or clarification and, in the future, that its editors will take the time to read an article before writing about it.  Given how busy everyone is and NAFSA’s credibility, my guess is that many colleagues are inclined to take the summary at face value without reading the original source article.  In this case, they might actually believe the screaming headline that Vietnamese students are “Losing Interest in International Education” and the lead sentence that “Interest in overseas study might be waning in Vietnam…” 

The fact is that interest in overseas study among Vietnamese students remains strong.  Speaking of which, the answer to the question I posed in my June e-newsletter is in this blog post entitled 125,000 Vietnamese Studied Overseas in 2013. (No winners this time!) According to the April 2014 SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly report (PDF download), nearly 21,000 Vietnamese students are studying in the U.S. at all levels.

MAA