In his address to the Yale community two weekends ago, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 reaffirmed the importance of Yale’s push for international pre-eminence. While many students may not yet grasp the importance of new initiatives like the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, the World Fellows program and need-blind financial aid to international students, these efforts represent crucial first steps toward the University’s stated goal of establishing itself as a global academic force.
In an increasingly interdependent world, the fate of American higher education will be decided by our universities’ ability to emerge as the world’s educational leaders. In Washington, D.C., legislators must keep this fact in mind as they resume discussion this week on proposals to better monitor the progress of foreign students studying in the United States.
The measures — advanced in two draft bills by Sens. Christopher Bond and Dianne Feinstein — have yet to reach a final form, but the eventual legislation will likely propose increased student tracking capabilities for the Immigration and Naturalization Services and a new database documenting the legal background, admissions information and attendance records of foreign students.
Assuming that the database does not unnecessarily infringe on students’ private records, elements of the bill will help secure America against future terrorist attacks. Establishing a central record of information — such as when someone applies for a visa, when someone departs his home country, and what legal problems someone has encountered in the United States — should enhance the government’s efficiency in and ability to track potentially suspicious students.
But in its current form, several major elements of the proposal will unnecessarily inhibit the country’s ability to make its colleges the most attractive to foreign students.
The plan’s most glaring defect centers on a $95 fee that Sens. Feinstein and Jon Kyl are demanding international students pay to help finance the database. While this fee may not be unaffordable for most of Yale’s international students, it will financially deter a substantial number of foreign applicants at other universities. It also represents a double standard that is offensive to all students.
Furthermore, requiring students to wait a minimum of 30 days for the I.N.S. to complete its background checks — another provision likely to be included in the final draft — will seriously restrict many students’ ability to attend classes on schedule.
With the steady rise of competing powers across the globe, America’s pre-eminence as a world educational leader will be actively challenged. While it is tempting for the nation to lapse into isolationism, it must now, more than ever, work to create opportunities for top foreign minds in our schools in order to maintain its position.
If the University is serious about fulfilling a global mission in its fourth century, it should ensure that American educational leaders fight to maintain a balance between preventing terrorism and allowing foreign students to receive an education in the United States.