Your Turn: Sending international students away is damaging, cruel
I am the director of Graduate Studies for the Philosophy Department at the University of Kansas, overseeing our masters and doctoral programs. One-third of our graduate students come from abroad. They represent eight countries across four continents. There’s no hyperbole in saying that our department wouldn’t be the same without them.
Students from across the world are drawn to study in the U.S. because of our high intellectual standards, our openness and the unmatched quality of American education. We are proud of that reputation and our small part in sustaining it here at KU. You should be, too. On Monday, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a policy to deport non-U.S. graduate students while courses are offered online during the pandemic. This policy is cruel, harming our international students unnecessarily — and it threatens our reputation, our educational standards and our values.
Foreign students contribute meaningfully to each facet of our work in the university — teaching, research and service. They bring a wealth of experience into the classroom, providing our undergraduates with new perspectives. Last year, a student described one of our international teaching assistants as the most patient and kind instructor she’d encountered at KU. As instructors, they’ve gone above and beyond, designing new courses in applied ethics and working with our faculty and KU Libraries to create open access textbooks and educational materials. They bring acclaim to our university by publishing their work in leading journals and winning prestigious awards for their research. When travel was possible, they represented KU at conferences from Beijing to Boston, from central Kansas to southern France. They have taken on leadership roles in various organizations around campus, promoting important issues and strengthening connections to the broader Lawrence community.
Our international students exemplify philosophy at its best — the opportunity it provides to connect with long-standing ideas, pursue our deepest questions and reflect on our values. Philosophy teaches us to engage in careful, difficult thought about complicated issues, encouraging respectful disagreement in service of the pursuit of truth. By joining us in the study of philosophy here at KU, international students hold us accountable to these aims in their most universal form. When their degrees are complete, they take these experiences with them and promote philosophy to future generations in their home countries.
International students are no strangers to hardship. Pursuing a degree in the U.S. already requires additional tests, paperwork, fees and restrictions. To force these students to return to their home countries now, as the premature cancellation of the online exemption for student visa holders would do, brings further harms. Many students will encounter restrictions on internet access and software that will make it impossible for them to continue their education. These challenges will inevitably impact students’ motivation — and this loss of morale will reverberate. Fewer international students will seek their education in the United States, our conversations and communities will narrow, our universities will fall behind. It will take a while for the consequences of this cruel policy to be felt in full, but we will all feel it. Please join me in speaking out against it.
— Sarah Robins is an associate professor of philosophy and director of Graduate Studies at the University of Kansas.