Last month, a school official at the University of San Francisco’s resigned in protest over the school’s aggressive recruiting of Chinese students. Dayle Smith, a professor and associate dean of undergraduate studies at USF’s School of Management, believed that the university’s high numbers of Chinese enrollment – some of whom had limited English abilities – would affect the educational experience of all of the school’s business students.

“…[G]iven that so many of these students have weak English skills and are disproportionately from one country, we are going to be faced with some unique pedagogical and cultural challenges,” says University of San Francisco School of Management Dean Mike Webber, in a Sept. 8th letter announcing Smith’s resignation.

Nevertheless, the dean didn’t seem to think that the ‘considerable increase’ in foreign students this year was in of itself a cause for concern, suggesting that Smith’s resignation was an overreaction to the university’s aggressive recruiting tactics.

But wait.

Some of the new students’ language skills, however, were so poor that they were given headsets for English-to-Mandarin translation during orientation.

English-to-Mandarin translation headsets? “Unique pedagogical challenges” seems like a drastic understatement of the gap between the academic demands of a graduate program and the basic linguistic abilities needed to comprehend basic coursework.

On the matter of how the schools plans to address these issues, USF Provost Jennifer Turpin is quoted as saying that many of the new students with poor English skills are brought in on a ‘conditional’ basis and will be given extra help.

The fall-out at the school appears to come down to a difference of opinion over how far the school should go to accommodate Chinese students. Will USF’s individual schools address the language and learning needs of their new Chinese students, or will the university take responsibility for the incoming students through a central study center?

According to Dean Webber, Smith had felt that “there was a real failure on the part of the university to understand these unique challenges and how they will impact” the business school.

The most irresponsible comment in the SFGate article comes from Provost Turpin, who says, “We have all kinds of different views on campus… That’s why we love universities.” What this diversity in opinions has to do with maintaining the academic integrity of the school is anyone’s guess.

Stories like this will only become increasingly common as more Chinese students seek admission to American high schools and universities, and cash-strapped American schools admit more and more foreign students who are able to pay full tuition. The resignation of Smith from USF reveals an uncomfortable side to this marriage of convenience: that the diversification of a school’s student body can come at the expense of a school’s academic experience. The question that schools must consider – and consider carefully – is how to find the golden ratio of Chinese student enrollment. Finding the right numbers that each school can reasonably accommodate without stretching a school’s resources and diluting the academic experience for the students themselves will be one of the biggest challenges that schools can face in China admissions.

 

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