Letter to the editor: Retreating from the global community

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Global engagement is a crucial 21st-century skill, but Lehigh just took a step backward.

The decision to phase out one of our university’s most diverse and international-oriented graduate programs, Comparative and International Education, is a loss to our campus as well as to regional, national and global communities.

On April 20, students in the CIE program received an “urgent” email announcing an emergency meeting with the dean of the College of Education, Gary Sasso. Three hours later, we were told our program was being “phased out” within three years, but current students would be able to complete the program.

Finances are one of the reasons for terminating the program. However, it’s not for lack of enrollment. In fact, our program currently has one of its largest and most diverse cohorts in its eight-year history. Many of the CIE students are on tuition remission, according to the dean. This means our tuition is covered by graduate assistantships, benefits of full-time staff members, or other methods that allow us to contribute to and participate in this program without incurring significant debt.

In other words, we work for the university for the tuition for our degrees, contributing our skills directly back to the university. The value of being able to practice professional expertise is exactly why we pursue further studies, complementing both the university and our program, as well.

Not only does the decision to eliminate the CIE program contrast with the college’s goal of expanding its reach in global education, but the reasoning for terminating the program illuminates a more problematic issue: Prioritizing education as a business rationale over recognizing and equally valuing the non-monetary contributions students make to both their campus and greater communities.

If the decision to end the CIE program is based primarily on financial reasoning, where do we draw the line between economic competitiveness and the pursuit of knowledge? If this decision is a financial one, does this mean certain disciplines might suffer the same fate if they don’t bring in a certain threshold of money? That smaller programs might be threatened for closure too?

Many of Lehigh’s UN Youth Representatives have been, and currently are, CIE students, which strengthens the valuable LU-UN partnership. Our department’s events, such as the “Standing Up For Refugees” dialogue, have brought timely awareness and resources to the local community. Thanks to that event, a local high school was inspired to start their own “No Lost Generation” refugee awareness chapter.

At the national and international levels, our students lead in conferences within our field, promoting local and global research alongside other reputable universities, including Stanford University and University of Pennsylvania. Our alumni continue to collaborate and work within education ministries, UNESCO, USAID, IREX, and numerous higher education institutes, to name a few, bringing the Lehigh name to the world.

Eliminating a program that brings these contributions and diversity to our college and university, especially during the current U.S. administration, is deeply troubling. By closing a program whose value and impact is clearly demonstrated in the College of Education as well as across the university and local community, this decision sends a chilling message: Small programs that do not measure up economically are not welcome on campus.

The college’s website proudly states that a global focus equips students to live as members of our international community, and that “success and personal happiness increasingly depend on the ability to appreciate and negotiate differences on a global scale.”

The CIE program is crucial to this mission, and more.

It has equipped us with skills to undertake research or work in the field across a wide variety of sectors. It has developed our abilities to think critically about social justice, poverty, racial segregation, socio-economic inequality, education development and gender equity in an international and comparative context. It is unfortunate the College of Education will be losing a large portion of this perspective and training.

At a time when the current U.S. political administration is leading an assault on the integrity of education as a social good, can the university in good conscience make a decision to value the bottom line over the indelible value of students and their contribution to the creation and dissemination of knowledge within our society?

Closing CIE shuts our doors to the world and will be a great loss for Lehigh.

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5 Comments

  1. Lehigh can’t be all things to all people & must continually look to focus it’s limited resources on its core strengths. CIE is clearly not part of this core & not carrying its load.

    The US needs to weed out losers just like Lehigh is doing or we will go the path of Puerto Rico or Greece.

    • Lehigh has a $1.2B endowment and has committed to a 10-year “Path to Prominence” where it will add over 1000 undergraduates and 500 graduate students, among many other additions. Simultaneously cutting a well-established, nationally recognized program for “financial reasons” seems counter-intuitive.

  2. Mike German on

    I think it would be worthwhile for the Brown & White to do more research into such a decision. Who specifically at Lehigh makes such a decision and where is the full report of the decision? I can’t imagine this decision was made by the College of Education or Dr. Sasso. In the official economic analysis, what threshold was crossed to deem the program “too costly”? Was it just a single bottom line analysis or were their considerations of non-monetary impacts? Were similar studies performed for other programs? How did they rank? If other programs are likely to be cut, how should current students prepare?

  3. Gerardo Calderon on

    The letter is written, now the student community has to be organized, gain strength, and then push tje administration to revert that decision.

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