We hear often that community colleges should focus only on the local community, that international programs are outside their purview. Such a view is myopic. A present case in point drawing national attention involves Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County, CA. The school is seeking to help two vocational schools get off the ground in Saudi Arabia, for a business profit to the community college. But the venture has received heavy criticism from some Board members, and a lawsuit from the faculty seeks to quash the deal.
One trustee protests, “I have a mission statement that I need to uphold and it certainly doesn’t talk about people in other countries and how they need education.” Such a common view is shortsighted in three major capacities: one, it denies a business venture that could bring a profit back to the school for financial aid to low-income students. Two, it counters the very worthwhile mission of the Fulbright Program, whose purpose is “to promote mutual understanding.” Three, it denies funding from abroad that would diminish the need of a commensurate amount of money in increased student tuition and increased local property taxes. In short, such augmented funds from abroad enable a direct benefit to the local college, students, and taxpayers.
The Lone Star College System, where I am a trustee, offers a wide dimension of international programs. We are running a vocational school in Jakarta, which is fully funded by interests in Indonesia , some of which was put into financial aid to our low-income students. We are also conducting safety training for oil-and-gas workers in Malta, which returns a profit for student aid.
Presently we are exploring the creation of Lone Star College—Ramallah, in the city of Ramallah, Palestine. The venture would require a profit, to be plowed into our community college in Texas—to defray expenses to students and taxpayers. The individual who would construct and maintain this campus building in Ramallah and pay all our faculty, staff, and administrative costs is Farouk Shami, who lives in The Woodlands. He wants to pay back to his native homeland for what it enabled him to become.
This fall, 2,800 international students from 99 countries enrolled at Lone Star College. Our college also offered this year student study abroad in Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Paris, Berlin, Auschwitz, Sweden, and Madrid. Elsewhere, our Faculty International Exploration program this year sent faculty members to India, Thailand and Indonesia, and the United Kingdom.
The college also sponsors an International Education Week, which features a week-long wide variety of international educational and cultural programs and events. We also sponsor each year an International Education Conference, focusing each year on a topic of international concern. And each year a number of our students participate in the National Model United Nations conference, which is a competitive model UN programs where students assume the role of diplomats and participate in debates on global issues.
All of these programs serve perfectly the purpose of the Fulbright Program, enacted by Congress. Does such a program actually “promote mutual understanding”? I can report, yes, based on personal experience. President Ronald Reagan appointed me, with U. S. Senate confirmation, as director of the Fulbright Program, from l981 to l986. I saw firsthand education tearing down walls of international discord.
In l982, I was asked by President Reagan to lead the American delegation on academic and cultural negotiations with high-level counterparts in the Peoples’ Republic of China. Before departing, I went to the White House to ensure that President Reagan wanted to increase exchanges with what was then called pejoratively “Red China”? Did he want official negotiations with communists? Yes, he clarified, but not with communist leaders, but rather with people to people exchanges in the trenches where it could make a difference.
It was working. While I was in Beijing, the Chinese government issued an edict forbidding the teaching of “Western decadence”—that is, any subject Western. The professors and teachers laughed off the edict. We saw that same lesson in l989 when a lone man stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. He knew there were alternatives to despotic communism. Education brought about mutual understanding and tore down barriers.
If community colleges do not want to participate in international programming, that of course is their business. But don’t imply that those of us who do are exceeding proper boundaries.