While we wait for the hiring freeze to thaw…

The new laws are intended to put a stop to foreign influence in higher education, particularly from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela or Syria. / Via FIU Flickr

PantherNOW Editorial Board

As first reported by WLRN over winter break, FIU has put a freeze on hiring individuals from “countries of concern”. 

Stemming from new state laws and regulations, FIU’s pause is meant to work out any issues in hiring caused by those laws.

The new laws are intended to put a stop to foreign influence in higher education, particularly from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela or Syria.

As WLRN quite astutely pointed out, our university depends specifically on the background of academics outside of the U.S. – scholars from Cuba at our Cuban Research Institute for example, or “science programs that recruit primarily Chinese grad students.” 

While we understand the concern surrounding the outside influence of other countries, we feel that this is the wrong arena to bring those concerns to. 

Foreign influence on our elections? Certainly. Miami’s mayor possibly using his position to team up with Saudi Arabia for (again, possibly) illegal, personal gain? Absolutely. Former ambassadors to the U.S.? Sure. 

We’re not so naive as to think that the U.S. is the only country in the world that’s ever done anything wrong. It’s not totally wrong to be cautious as to the motives and actions of other nations.

However, higher education isn’t a one-way street. Hiring policies need to be thoughtful, considering that universities flourish because of diversity and higher education is often a safe haven for individuals – not just an institution to parasitically benefit from. 

Especially at an international university, cutting off researchers and professors simply because of their country of origin is a terrible idea. 

Caution should be the norm when we employ means such as the outright ban of people from entire countries because of possibly questionable affiliations. In the past, ill-assessed threat perceptions have eroded the country’s image – we need to make sure we don’t repeat history. 

The regulation outlines procedures for screening individuals, which is fine. However, the requirements are vague and extend to researchers both at the graduate and undergraduate level. 

The nebulous screening standards will only make universities nervous to hire applicants from outside of the U.S. With no clear requirements, it’s obvious that the state cares more about keeping outsiders out than protecting genuine security interests. 

With the myriad of new laws involving higher education in mind, it’s difficult to view the law and regulation without suspicion – not of the folks it tries to keep out, but of our representatives and their keen interest in having the final say in our education. 

Not only is it impractical, it reflects poorly on the university system, particularly at Florida International University. 

What kind of message does this send to our international students? That they need to walk on eggshells? That they should be ashamed of where they come from? That no matter what they do, they’ll be looked at as suspicious?

We can recognize that there are legitimate security interests from countries without rabidly discriminating against individuals from those countries

Since when have we forgotten that higher education has often been a refuge for people looking to escape repression in their homelands? Is our historical amnesia that bad?

We won’t wholly blame FIU for the pause – like the email to staff said, FIU isn’t the final approver of hires and the pause is “until we have a good handle on the process so it can be appropriately communicated to candidates and specifically referenced in our offer letters.”

The transparency is good. Taking a moment to determine the best course of action is wise. However, while we pause, FIU needs to think about how to ensure that the new laws and regulations don’t get in the way of supporting the rich international community we have.

Our representatives show their laziness and lack of ambition through these new laws and regulations. They may be satisfied with substituting thoughtfulness with laws that could easily be warped by xenophobia, but we most certainly are not.

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