From the Daily: Stand by our international campus

Monday, April 3, 2017 - 4:13pm

At the end of March, Mark Schlissel, Lou Anna Simon and M. Roy Wilson, presidents of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, respectively, co-wrote an op-ed arguing the three universities better serve society because there are international students and faculty who study and work on their campuses. Though there is always more to be done, this op-ed sends a strong message of solidarity with our international community, which contributes to our campus not only through the economic contributions described in the op-ed, but also through contributions to diversity. It is Schlissel’s job to advocate for the best interests of the University community, especially in the midst of a federal administration that promotes nationalistic values. The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board commends Schlissel’s outspoken support for the international community.

Support for international students and faculty from university administrators across the state is urgently needed right now within a political landscape that encourages xenophobia. The University boasts a robust international student community, which accounts for about 15 percent of total student enrollment. Furthermore, 1,277 non-immigrant international employees and 533 international visiting scholars worked on our campus last fall, contributing immensely to the University experience. When many international students and faculty may feel unsafe or marginalized because of travel ban restrictions, it is important for these administrators to voice their support for them.  

The op-ed highlights the value international students and faculty bring to these universities through their contributions both to research institutions and to Michigan’s economy. The university presidents cite that international students at their universities are almost as likely as domestic students to continue to work in Michigan post-graduation, stimulating the state economy by providing skilled work. Moreover, attracting an international faculty roster brings about economic benefits not just in research funding for the University, but also in the state as a whole. One example of a person who has brought economic prosperity to the state offered by the op-ed is Engineering Prof. Kamal Sarabandi, an Iranian immigrant. Sarabandi currently holds 14 U.S. patents and has brought $60 million to the Ann Arbor area by co-founding his first company, EMAG Technologies Inc.

Though the op-ed highlights the economic advantages of an international campus, it neglects to account for more immeasurable, humanistic value a diverse student body and faculty bring to the University. In our globalized society, experience working in internationally diverse communities is integral, as students will more likely than not interact on a global scale throughout their careers. Most students do not have exposure to international communities until coming to the University; the University must foster an environment where students are encouraged to engage across national lines.

Furthermore, nation of origin — while of course not the only factor influencing diversity — plays an essential role in contributing to the diversity on campus. International students help bring diversity to leadership roles when they engage in organizations and classrooms across campus, bring stronger advocacy of certain marginalized communities and contribute new ideas from different worldviews. International diversity in classrooms encourages nuanced thought on difficult issues and offers students many unique perspectives to learn from those who may have different life experiences. One program that fosters these ideals at the University is the Global Scholars Program, which is a living-learning community that encourages the creation of globally-minded citizens. Without students from many countries, this kind of community learning would be impossible.

An internationally diverse campus community is valuable for the state economy as well as our University experience. The University and its administration should continue to support our international community. In times when our country’s stance on immigration and diversity is called into question, it is respectable to see that our school administrators still see the value in an internationally diverse campus.