Behind the steel spire atop St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast rises a modern structure of gleaming glass and steel. Ulster University is building a new campus right in the heart of Northern Ireland’s capital city. The university, once known only as an access-focused regional institution with a predominant emphasis on preprofessional degree programs, now boasts an excellent business school, a top-tier school of pharmacy and an eye-catching urban campus devoted to the arts.
Ulster University is emblematic of a resurgence of Northern Ireland: once mired in sectarian conflict, Belfast and its environs are now destinations for both tourists and foreign investors. Much of the rise of this country of 1.8 million is due to extraordinary investment from the European Union -- investment that could soon end. Northern Ireland, like England, Scotland and Wales, is a constituent country of the United Kingdom and will take part in a referendum on continued membership in the E.U. this Thursday, June 23.
Polls on the potential British exit, or Brexit, have shown both sides running neck and neck, and the stakes could not be higher for Ulster and other universities in the United Kingdom. In fact, the results could also have a significant impact on American colleges and universities, as well.
British membership in the European Union has been exceptionally lucrative for Ulster University. The university received around 9.4 million pounds ($13.4 million) last year in E.U. funding. More than 1,700 students and around 400 scholars from other E.U. member states attend, teach and research at the university in some capacity. Its location around 45 minutes from the Irish border and only two hours from Dublin makes it a common collaborator with major universities to the south. The university’s Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Center, which was funded by a £1.6 million grant from the E.U., has generated 25 patents and three spin-off companies that are now valued at over $100 million.
Ulster, however, isn’t the only university in the United Kingdom receiving benefits from Britain’s E.U. membership. Higher education institutions received 16 percent of total E.U. research funding totaling £687 million ($1 billion) in 2013-14. People from other E.U. nations make up 15 percent of the academic workforce and 5 percent of the student bodies at British universities. Given the sheer impact of European support for universities in the U.K., it should come as no surprise that Ulster Vice Chancellor Paddy Nixon joined 102 university leaders, including vice chancellors from Oxford and Cambridge and the president of the London School of Economics, in an open letter in the Sunday Times expressing support for the European Union.
This expression of political support is emblematic of a change in university behavior. While university leaders chose to stay relatively silent on the two other recent major electoral events -- the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the 2015 general election -- they emphatically support the campaign to remain in the E.U.
Other major players include former London Mayor Boris Johnson, former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and other right-wing members of the Conservative party. The majority of Parliament, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and leaders of most of the minor parties, all support continued membership in the European Union. Cameron and Osborne represent the moderate wing of the Conservative party -- constantly at odds with Gove, Johnson and the party’s right wing.
Brexit was a major political issue in the last general election, and leave campaigners argue that far-right Conservative gains in Parliament were a popular mandate for Brexit. Moderate Conservatives worked hard to renegotiate Britain’s responsibilities within the E.U. and believe that remaining in the European Union will be good for the United Kingdom. It should come as no surprise that both sides disagree on the impact Brexit would have on British universities.
The leave campaign argues that the European Union funds only 3 percent of all U.K. R&D spending and that money saved from not having to pay fees associated with E.U. membership could allow the U.K. government to expand domestic financial support for research. Furthermore, universities in nations outside of the E.U. are still able to apply for research funding; leave campaigners suggest that wouldn’t change.
Leave supporters also believe that, when it comes to U.K. universities’ ability to attract talented European faculty, a U.K. immigration policy absent of E.U. agreements on free movement of people could be devised in such a way that it would privilege scholars from other European countries traveling to Britain. Outside of the E.U., universities could raise fees on E.U. students, an action currently prohibited by E.U. laws that state universities in a given country must treat students from that country and other students from E.U. member states equally. There are also not enough spaces at universities to meet current demand. Leave campaigners argue that filling admissions spaces with domestic students could offset any drop in the E.U. student population.
University leaders and the remain campaign don’t agree. They note that a rise in E.U. student fees coupled with presumably more stringent immigration controls would result in an extremely decreased E.U. student population, as polls of E.U. students show that 80 percent would be less likely to pursue education in the U.K. E.U. students are some of the highest achieving in the U.K. system and are more likely than their British counterparts to pursue graduate degrees in the U.K. Brexit would raise fees on these students, limiting access to U.K. universities and potentially reducing overall institutional quality. It would also limit domestic student interaction with students from other countries. U.K. universities would become increasingly insular and homogenous in their student bodies as American competitors seek greater and greater diversity in their student populations.
Leaving the E.U., remain supporters argue, would also mean closing access to the Erasmus exchange program that allows students from E.U. member states to study in another member country as part of their academic program, further closing U.K. student engagement with their European counterparts. Students may also face adverse outcomes upon graduation should Brexit hurt Britain’s economy and job market. Leaders also fear that highly talented European academics seeking faculty or postdoc positions in the U.K. may seek positions elsewhere as uncertainty regarding their immigration and employment status over the next few years would grow exponentially in the days after a vote to leave. While long-term immigration reform might have some benefits, Brexit would decimate universities’ ability to recruit new faculty in the short term. Lastly, the remain campaign is quick to point out that, while U.K. contributions make up 11 percent of the total E.U. research budget, U.K. institutions receive more than 16 percent of total research grant funding.
What’s often overlooked in the debate between the leave and remain campaigns, however, is that if Britons vote to leave, there will be implications for American universities and students, as well. American universities might be the beneficiaries of Brexit when it comes to faculty recruitment. While emigrating to the United States might be difficult for European scholars when compared to an E.U.-member United Kingdom, stricter immigration controls in the U.K. may make the United States a more desirable location.
Furthermore, around 50,000 Americans study in the United Kingdom each year. A common language and history make the U.K. a top destination for American students, and neither will change with Brexit. The same could be said, however, for Ireland, an E.U. member with no plans on leaving any time soon. Google and other major American tech companies have built their European headquarters in Dublin, and if Brexit happens, many believe American companies with a major presence in London could move their operations across the Irish Sea to Dublin and into other major continental financial centers like Frankfurt and Luxembourg. Students who would have gone to the U.K. to study and intern in finance for a semester or two might soon find themselves more attracted to Ireland.
While American universities may be able to get their pick of scholars in the exodus of European faculty from British institutions that would follow Brexit, and American students may not recognize a tremendous difference between studying abroad in Dublin as compared to Edinburgh or London, the greatest influence Brexit could have on American universities is indirect, but hugely impactful. Most economist agree that a vote to leave would cause a British recession, at least in the short term, with some even saying the vote could trigger a global recession. David Cameron even warned that voting for Brexit would be like putting a bomb under the U.K. economy. For those American universities that are not in a position to compete for top European faculty or send students abroad, global volatility in the markets could cause significant damage to meager endowments and hurt fund-raising.
The cost of Brexit, therefore, is too high. Elite American universities would receive meager benefits, but the rest of the American higher education landscape could feel the effects of a recession too soon after emerging from the financial crisis of 2008. British universities will lose a major source of research funding, faculty and high-quality students. British students will feel the pinch of higher tuition and fees during a period of economic downturn. Brexit has the potential to significantly slow the growth of higher education at home and abroad and offers few benefits to postsecondary institutions on both sides of the Atlantic.
Along the banks of the River Foyle at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic lies Derry. The walled city is home to a branch campus of Ulster University, and on June 9, the campus hosted two former prime ministers to talk about the potential ramifications of Brexit. Tony Blair and John Major both warned against leaving the European Union, saying it would effectively close off access to the border with the Republic. What neither gentleman noted, however, is that voting to leave the European Union would also effectively cut off access to research funding, high-quality international students and stellar faculty. University students, faculty and staff overwhelmingly support the remain campaign. One can only hope that they turn out to vote in two days’ time. Their universities are counting on them.
Christopher R. Marsicano is a Ph.D. candidate in leadership and policy studies with a focus in higher education policy at Vanderbilt University.
More than 300 academics have signed an open letter condemning the conduct of Thomas Pogge, a professor of philosophy at Yale University who has been accused of sexually harassing some of his female students. Pogge denies the charges, but several recent reports have added to concern about his alleged conduct. The open letter acknowledges that not all matters related to the accusations have been resolved. But it says enough information is public for professors to take a stand.
"The academic community must make its own decision about how to respond in light of what has been made public," the letter says. "We write, then, to express our belief that the information now in the public domain -- including that provided by Pogge himself in the aforementioned email correspondence -- suffices to demonstrate that Pogge has engaged in behavior that violates the norms of appropriate professional conduct. Nothing is more important to our philosophical community than the trust he has betrayed. Based on the information that has been made public, we strongly condemn his harmful actions toward women, most notably women of color, and the entire academic community."
A trailer has been released for the film Denial, due out this fall, about Deborah Lipstadt's legal battle with the Holocaust denier David Irving. The film depicts Lipstadt's response when Irving sued her in a British court over parts of her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. By suing for libel in Britain, Irving made Lipstadt's defense much more difficult, as British law is far more friendly to libel plaintiffs than is American law. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. In the film, she is portrayed by Rachel Weisz, who is to the left of Lipstadt in the photo above right.
Two months after he found out he was to receive an award for his brain injury research, Bennet Omalu got a phone call: the award was off.
Omalu was first told about the Beyond Health Award, one of the Boston University School of Public Health’s highest honors, in April, according to The Boston Globe. The change came soon after Omalu was quoted in a Globe story about a conflict of interest between World Wrestling Entertainment and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which is affiliated with Boston University. World Wrestling Entertainment has donated money to the foundation, and some criticized the foundation for focusing less on professional wrestlers.
“What I find very surprising is the timing of this, right after the [Globe] article,” Omalu told the Globe. “It feels like a vendetta against me.”
Omalu, the doctor depicted in the recent Will Smith movie Concussion, discovered the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It’s a disease often found in professional athletes, and Omalu’s struggle to force the National Football League to recognize the disease has become well-known.
When Omalu asked for a written statement about why he would no longer receive the award, Sandro Galea, dean of the School of Public Health, sent an apology letter. At the 40th anniversary gala, he wrote, the school will be honoring people with “closer connections to our School of Public Health.”
“Dean Galea is giving the keynote address at the Carter Center’s November meeting and spoke at their annual meeting a few years ago,” Boston University spokesman Colin Riley told the Globe. “The decisions on the invitees are the dean’s.”
In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday morning -- when a large number of Latinx lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other club patrons were murdered in one of the largest shootings in United States history -- some people in higher education are probably feeling themselves targeted and traumatized. I’m reaching out to anyone who may feel that way to say that I am thinking of you and that you are valued by some of us. I imagine the violence itself and the aftermath of responses and nonresponses from colleagues, friends and the news media can be overwhelming for people who are already treated as less than in our society. You do matter. In fact, we desperately need you -- even when we don’t do a good job showing it.
I also am writing because I believe what has been happening is incredibly relevant to the work that we do in higher education in general and as faculty members in student affairs in particular. I have been taking stock of my own response, or nonresponse, to the shooting and trying to make sense of it in light of my identities as a cisgender, white, agnostic woman from a middle-upper-class background. My privilege allows me to not engage in the conversation, not participate in community events necessary to show solidarity with targeted individuals and not think about terrorism being directed at me on a daily basis. I can simply go about my life, teaching, hanging out with my family and finishing those projects that I need to get done for my own benefit. I acknowledged the shooting to my partner and a friend I know who identifies as queer, but otherwise I have not been present in solidarity or action.
Some of you who are reading this may be wondering what you can do in the world generally and in academe more specifically in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando. Based on my experiences and knowledge of the literature, here are some things that have started to come to mind for me.
Engage in the conversation, especially with people who haven’t brought it up yet and probably won’t in the future.
Listen, listen, listen to what people who have been targeted might be trying to tell you about their experiences.
Continue to do your own work to understand issues of oppression -- especially those related to your privilege areas. (The most highly skilled people practice this every day.)
Show up in solidarity (attend or help plan events hosted by others) but don’t expect praise for it. Then, keep showing up.
Start a conversation with students by framing curriculum in a way that they must ask critical questions about how people in positions of power make decisions with or without including people who have been or are often excluded.
Pay attention to when the conversations start to be about dominant-group perceptions, stereotypes (e.g., Islamophobia, heterosexism, cisgenderism) and feelings (e.g., “I didn’t mean it that way, and I’m really trying, so why are you mad at me?”). Shift it back to challenging the norms: Why was this group targeted? What are the consequences of stereotypes? Where do our norms come from, and how do they harm everyone? How can I question and resist norms that privilege a few people at a cost to many?
Give resources -- time, money, people -- to establishing programs, policies, procedures and other methods of dealing with issues of inequity. That could include, but not be limited to, hiring faculty members who have experience or expertise about equity issues; tackling social-justice topics in courses; creating mechanisms for faculty, staff and students to report instances of bias that they experience; and developing means for handling instances of bias that occur.
Seek out good sources of advice on the issues. The University of Michigan, for instance, has some great resources for educators about being inclusive and having difficult dialogues.
I plan to use some of the continuing discussion taking place on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page to help my students understand how incidents like these have a traumatic impact on our higher education community. If you look on social media, you can see some mostly LGBTQ people expressing frustration and anger that the student affairs FB group and professional community have been silent or dismissive in the wake of the Orlando attack.
The central question raised in the Facebook group is whether or not student affairs professionals should be expected to be supportive of people who are minoritized in society. Should we as a whole be knowledgeable about the issues minoritized people are confronting and responsible for supporting minoritized students and others? How can we go about addressing that essential question in our field?
And how can we work with others throughout higher education to grapple with it? What kinds of things can -- and should -- we in higher education do to confront violence and inequity and support people traumatized by continuing oppression? I hope we can work to find more answers and make changes in higher education to better live our expressed values of equity and inclusion.
Stephanie Bondi is a faculty member in the student affairs program at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Her scholarship focuses on power and oppression, teaching and learning, and student affairs preparation.