Can Universities Counter the Global Tide of Nationalism?

tags: far right, higher education, nationalism, academic freedom

Emily J. Levine, associate professor of education and history at Stanford University, is the author, most recently, of Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University.

The cosmopolitan values of higher education are in retreat before a rising wave of provincialism. International student enrollment at universities in the United States continues to decline, while branch campuses of American universities abroad are being reorganized or shut down. This trend has ominous implications — and not only for education and research.

Universities stand at the intersection of national interest and universal goals. While they play a role in nation-building, they also promote the pursuit of truth, which has historically benefited from the free exchange of ideas and the free movement of scholars and students across borders. In an era of dwindling global institutions, the university is the latest to experience a decline in power and influence. The open flow of ideas is now at risk. Can that be changed?

Universities rose to prominence in the 19th century by making themselves useful to nation-states, training members of the civil service and improving technology through basic research. Later, they became a forum for global collaboration, finding ways to balance their obligations to their home countries and their responsibilities to the international community. But in recent years, fears about the rise of China and suspicion of espionage have tipped the scale toward national priorities.

In 2020, President Trump issued an order banning Chinese graduate students and researchers in a number of scientific fields. President Biden’s administration has maintained the ban. This year, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) proposed a prohibition on funding from Chinese entities to U.S. universities and the end of the 10-year multiple-entry visa program for Chinese citizens.

American nationalists like Cotton rarely acknowledge that the Chinese are following a path laid by U.S. students. In the 19th century, nearly 10,000 Americans traveled to study at universities in Germany. When they returned, they established institutions modeled on the ones they found abroad. The Americans’ adaptations of the German universities were so effective that by 1900, the flow of traffic reversed. Germans attended the World’s Fairs in Chicago and St. Louis to learn about American developments in higher education, such as coeducation and applied mathematics. Research and innovation in the natural sciences and the humanities expanded as a result of this “competitive emulation.”

Read entire article at Los Angeles Times

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