Asian American Academics Boycott Israeli Universities

The general membership of the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS) resolved in a recent vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions, making it the first U.S. scholarly organization to do so. The secret ballot, which included 10 percent of the group’s membership, took place during its annual conference in Seattle this month.

The resolution explains that as an “organization dedicated to the preservation and support of academic freedom and of the right to education for students and scholars in the U.S. and globally,” AAAS stood in solidarity with Palestinian students and academics who have faced “restrictions on movement and travel that limit their ability to attend and work at universities, travel to conferences and to study abroad, and thereby obstruct their right to education.”

Moreover, the association claims that “Israeli institutions of higher education have not condemned or taken measures to oppose the occupation and racial discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, but have, rather, been directly and indirectly complicit in the systematic maintenance of the occupation and of policies and practices that discriminate against Palestinian students and scholars throughout Palestine and in Israel.” This complicity in “Israel’s violations of international law and human rights and in its denial of the right to education and academic freedom to Palestinians, in addition to their basic rights as guaranteed by international law” prompted AAAS members to endorse “the call of Palestinian civil society” for a boycott.

Rajini Srikanth, the group’s former president, drew parallels to boycotts against South African universities during apartheid and stressed that AAAS was protesting institutions, not individual academics.

“The reason that we’re very clear that this is a boycott of Israeli institutions and not Israeli scholars is that we are very aware that there are Israeli scholars who understand the difficulties that Palestinian academics and students have and speak up in support of Palestinian rights,” Srikanth told Inside Higher Ed. “So we would absolutely be working with them, and providing them whatever support they need to challenge their institutions.” Nonetheless, she stressed that AAAS discourages partnerships with Israeli academic institutions so as to avoid “becoming complicit with the discriminatory practices of Israeli institutions.”

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), a pro-Israel organization, condemned the AAAS action. “SPME deplores the AAAS resolution as it is counter to any acceptable academic discourse and is contrary to the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” the group’s statement read. “Additionally, by focusing exclusively and obsessively on Israel, and not on many other countries in the world where actual human and civil rights abuses exist, the actions of those supporting academic boycotts, as well as calls for divestment, are, according to former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, ‘anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.’”

SPME added that “the world academic community frowns upon academic boycotts which it regards as antithetical to the fundamental principles of academic freedom. Whatever their feelings, academics cannot say they support academic freedom and exchange if they boycott, censor, or otherwise interrupt the exchange of ideas, research and information.”

Will other organizations follow suit, or will AAAS be a voice in the wilderness?

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

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Harvard “Reject” to Establish Asian American University

DiversityThinglass / Shutterstock.com

March 31, 2013; Source: Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

Before long, Asian American students may have an alternative to Harvard and other top colleges. Hun Loo Gong, a self-made tech billionaire and Harvard reject, is reportedly establishing a university in California for students he calls “vengeful rejects” of elite institutions, “students who want to let Harvard and Berkeley and Stanford know the schools made a great, big mistake.”

The online college will be named Vincent Chin University, after the Chinese American who was killed in a racially motivated attack in1982, and headquartered in San Francisco. It will target Asian American immigrants and others locked out of top universities. Gong said that enrollment and tuition will be minimal, and that the school will count on future alumni to “pay [the school] when they make it big.” “We’ll give them what they need to succeed,” Gong says. “We don’t have to give them Shakespeare. We’re very focused.”

Last December, the New York Times had various experts weigh in on a discussion about the place of Asian Americans in elite schools, asking, “Are top colleges deliberately limiting the number of Asian-Americans they admit?” Ron Unz, publisher of the American Conservative, wrote, “[J]ust as their predecessors of the 1920s always denied the existence of ‘Jewish quotas,’ top officials at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the other Ivy League schools today strongly deny the existence of ‘Asian quotas.’ But there exists powerful statistical evidence to the contrary.”

S.B. Woo, founding president of the 80-20 National Asian American Educational Foundation, wrote, “Top colleges are clearly limiting the number of Asians they admit, and what’s at stake for America is of more importance than just the number of Asians going to Harvard.” Woo, the former lieutenant governor of Delaware, cited the work of Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who wrote in his book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, that “to receive equal consideration by elite colleges, Asian Americans must outperform Whites by 140 points, Hispanics by 280 points, Blacks by 450 points in SAT (Total 1600).”

It will be interesting to see how Gong’s alternative university fares. Will Vincent Chin University attract Asian American students who dream of an Ivy League education but are turned away?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s Nonprofit Newswire.

University of Arkansas Adjusts to Transgender Students

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May 25, 2012; Source: Inside Higher Ed

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) is formulating policies that would allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity. Although UAFS recently made gender-neutral restrooms available on campus to accommodate transgender community members, it had to rethink its approach after Jennifer Braly, a junior, complained to the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which sent a letter to the university’s lawyers. While the college would not make the letter publicly available, DOJ spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa said UAFS was not directed to take any specific action.

R. Mark Horn, vice chancellor for university relations, said the institution is doing its best to meet the needs of transgender students and had considered gender-neutral restrooms the most viable solution. “We did what we thought was reasonable accommodation,” Horn said. “We were trying to be fair on both sides to students who are not transgendered (sic) as well as to this student.”

Braly explained that she had been using both women’s and gender-neutral restrooms and encountered no problems until she started lecturing about being transgender at the invitation of several psychology professors. Soon thereafter, at least one student complained about having to share facilities with trans people. UAFS administrators requested that Braly limit herself to gender-neutral restrooms but she countered that there were no such facilities in the buildings she frequented. The university then placed Braly in a single dorm room for the coming fall semester instead of with roommates, which finally spurred her to contact the Justice Department.

Shane Windemeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said that “it sounds like the campus has not done a good job taking responsibility for creating a welcoming, safe space for trans-identified students. It is unrealistic to ask anyone to go across campus in between classes to be able to use the restroom.”

“Frankly, this is new turf for us,” Horn said. “We welcome all students. The issue of accommodating transgender student needs has been a threshold that we had never had to go up to before. It’s been a learning curve for us, both in terms of the law and what gender identity disorder is in the first place.”

As more transgender students courageously come out in our campuses, colleges and universities need to establish policies that welcome and adequately meet the needs of all students.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, May 30, 2012.

NYC Event Raises $2 Million for LGBT Students

April 17, 2012; Source: Broadway World

The 2012 Point Honors New York gala this week raised $2 million to support higher education scholarships for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. Wells Fargo & Company committed $1.5 million to fund 10 Wells Fargo Point scholarships. NBC Universal also announced that it would provide $100,000 toward a four-year Point scholarship at the event, which also honored playwright Edward Albee and film company Focus Features.

The event benefited the Point Foundation, which partners with philanthropic individuals, corporations and foundations to supply financial support, mentorship, leadership training, and a network of contacts for LGBT undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students who are underprivileged and/or have been socially marginalized because of their gender orientation, expression or identity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that LGBT youth “are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience difficulties in their lives and school environments, such as violence.” This negatively impacts the education, health, and ultimately, the future of LGBT young people. Kudos to the Point Foundation and other similar organizations and their supporters for helping to alleviate the challenges unique to LGBT youth.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, April 20, 2012.

New Jersey Universities Inaugurate Immigrant Presidents

October 15, 2011; Source: NJ.comA. Gabriel Esteban, 49, became the 20th president of Seton Hall University.  The first non-clergy to hold the post since the 1980s, Esteban is also the first Filipino-American head of a major U.S. university.  Nariman Farvardin, 54 and a native of Iran, was chosen as the seventh president of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Esteban arrived in California in 1988 and earned his doctorate in administration from the University of California at Irvine.  He had been serving as Seton Hall’s interim president when the board made the position permanent in January.

Farvardin came to the U.S. during the Iranian revolution and earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He was serving as provost at the University of Maryland before taking over the reins of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Their stories are just two among the many immigrant tales of success born out of opportunity, hard work, and belief in the American Dream.

Farvardin, who barely spoke English when he first arrived, said, “I thank this magnificent and welcoming country for giving me a new home, for extending helping arms when I needed them, for allowing me to build a career in a way I could not have possibly built anywhere else in the world.”

Both men are examples of what good education can provide for immigrants and ultimately for the country. Esteban and Farvardin are responsible for steering the academic lives of thousands of students.

“In this country, maybe more so than anywhere else in the world, education has proven to be the great equalizer and allowed upward mobility,” Esteban said. “Education has become a symbol of hope.”

Education continues to be the path many see as the way to improving their fortunes and ensuring their children’s future, especially among those who give up so much to pursue the American Dream. Unfortunately, there are those who would deny deserving and hard-working immigrants the opportunity.

Perhaps the ascent of Esteban and Favardin will help remind all of us that immigrants do come to partake in America’s promise and also to help build a better future for all.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 17, 2011.

College Republicans Hold Racist Bake Sale

September 27, 2011; Source: CNN | Race continues to be an issue, even among Millennials, a generation that some say is “post-racial.” This was on full display Tuesday at the University of California–Berkeley, where the Berkeley College Republicans held a bake sale which has been characterized as racist.

The “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” offered baked goods priced by race. Pastries were sold to white men for $2, Asian men for $1.50, Latino men for $1, African American men for 75 cents and American Indians for 25 cents. All women got 25 cents off these prices.

The bake sale was in protest of SB 185, which, if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, would allow public state universities to consider race, gender, and nationality in the admissions process so as to foster campus diversity.

The Berkeley College Republicans acknowledged that the controversy was planned.

“We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point,” the president of the group, Shawn Lewis, wrote in response to the uproar. “It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender.”

Other college Republican groups have hosted similar events across the country which have also been met with indignation and protests. Some university officials, such as those at Bucknell University, the College of William and Mary, the University of California–Irvine, and Southern Methodist University, stopped these events. The University of California–Berkeley, however, did not prevent the incendiary bake sale.

Originally Posted in Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire,  September 30, 2011.

Maryland’s DREAM Act Deferred

Washington’s inability to reform the country’s immigration system has left state lawmakers little choice but to address constituents’ immigration concerns themselves. The National Council of State Legislatures reports that during the first half of this year, 1,592 immigration-related bills and resolutions were introduced in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. That’s 16 percent more than in the same period last year. Most of these initiatives dealt with law enforcement, identification/driver’s licenses and employment.

Nine states went farther, though, passing education laws, mainly related to in-state tuition eligibility and financial assistance for immigrant populations. In May, Maryland’s General Assembly approved its version of the DREAM Act, which Gov. Martin O’Malley promptly signed.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced a decade ago by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and has since been introduced regularly but has yet to pass Congress. The statute would allow undocumented immigrants under 35 who came to the US before age 16 and earned a high school degree or its equivalent to apply for legal permanent resident status after living here for at least five years. Then, if they complete at least two years of college or military service and abide by the laws, they can apply for permanent legal status after a six-year wait.

Maryland’s DREAM Act is narrower and offers no path to citizenship. It merely establishes in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented youth who went to a state high school for at least three years and can prove that their parents pay taxes. After a couple of years in community college, these young immigrants can transfer to a public university.

Maryland’s DREAM Act was to have become law on July 1. But opponents managed to gather over 100,000 signatures for a petition, almost double the number needed to halt its implementation. The law will now be put up to a vote in a referendum in November 2012.

Those who signed the petition contend that Maryland shouldn’t and can’t afford to subsidize the education of undocumented youth. The Act’s supporters accuse the petition’s authors of using misleading information to get people to sign up and argue that the state’s DREAM Act grants undocumented students only some of the rights enjoyed by other high school graduates.

An estimated 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from American high schools each year, a fraction from Maryland schools.

Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services, the research arm of the General Assembly, calculates the state’s DREAM Act will cost $778,000 in fiscal year 2014 and rise to $3.5 million in fiscal year 2016. This is relatively miniscule compared to the state’s total higher ed expenditures, around $5 billion annually from fiscal years 2009 through 2011.

During economic hard times like ours, it’s understandable why some are fighting any budgetary outlay for Maryland’s DREAM Act.  But, over time, investing in educating Maryland’s undocumented youth could pay off.

The state has already seen these kids through years of schooling, and affordable college helps ensure a productive and educated workforce for Maryland and the rest of the US. College-educated immigrants would get better paying jobs and pay more in state and local taxes, and their lifetime contributions would more than cover the cost of Maryland’s subsidies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with college degrees in 2009 had median weekly earnings of $1,137, almost twice the average of what those with only a high school diploma earned. The unemployment rate for college-educated workers was 4.6 percent, 10 points lower than the rate for less educated workers.

Denying these young people the opportunity for a bright future could disenfranchise and marginalize them. And since they came here as children, didn’t choose to be undocumented, and consider themselves Americans, they are highly unlikely to leave willingly, especially in light of the Obama administration’s new policy which suspends deportation of undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.

With tuition subsidy costs relatively low, and the life-long stakes high for the immigrants and the rest of society high, investing in immigrant youth through higher education can only be to everyone’s benefit.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, August 22, 2011.

Program for Foreign Doctors Gets the Axe

August 8, 2011; Source: Associated Press via TwinCities.com | Minnesota’s budget cuts have resulted in the demise of many programs and services across the state. One of the casualties is a $150,000 program at the University of Minnesota that helped foreign doctors get licensed in the United States.

Doctors who are educated abroad, regardless of their expertise and background, must undergo rigorous screening and training processes, pass licensing exams, and repeat their residency at a U.S. hospital. This can prove to be a formidable barrier for many medical professionals, some of whom give up medical careers to settle for whatever employment they can find.

This was Liban Farah’s story. A Somali doctor with 10 years’ experience, Farah ended up driving a cab to support his family until he and other Somali doctors convinced Minnesota state lawmakers to help them. Last year, the legislature granted the university the funds required to set up the program for foreign-trained doctors. Farah and two others were selected for the first and apparently last class.

Dr. Will Nicholson, a professor who taught the group, said Minnesota needs foreign doctors like Farah who are willing to treat underserved and immigrant communities. “Many of them could be qualified to do this job with just a little bit of extra training,” Nicholson told the Associated Press. Indeed, a 2010 study that included 6,100 doctors, including 1,500 international medical school graduates, found foreign-trained doctors to be just as good as those trained in the U.S.

Nicholson added that retraining foreign doctors is more cost-effective than sending new students through medical school. “By cutting our funding, they’ve saved a dime and lost a dollar,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be a lawmaker, but my guess is if they had the time to listen to what we did and look at the math, they probably would have done something different.”

As the country continues to struggle through this economic quagmire, it might be worth looking closely at and harnessing the talents and skills of immigrants. More than 1.3 million college-educated immigrants are unemployed or underemployed. One in five highly skilled immigrants are working in unskilled jobs and another 22 percent are in semi-skilled jobs, earning a living as carpenters, electricians, massage therapists and so on. Why not give them the opportunity to use their training and expertise—which after all we did not pay for—for our benefit?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 15, 2011.