As faculty and administrators involved in English language instruction, we strongly disagree with the opinion piece published on November 4, 2014, “Admitting international students for the wrong reasons,” which unfairly and inaccurately characterizes international students as “academically unqualified.”

Far from true. Miami’s international students are unquestionably academically qualified, both in terms of standards for admission and in terms of their performance as students at Miami. International students are admitted based on the same academic requirements as domestic students. Their English language proficiency test scores, required for admission, are generally the same as or higher than those required at other public institutions in the state or at our peer institutions. The international students are not, as a group, “failing or low-performing students.” Over the past three years the average GPA for international students has been comparable to that of domestic students. And international students are achieving a comparable level of success while researching, writing, and speaking in their non-native language, which to us is an additional marker of intellectual and academic prowess. They bring an incredible skill to the table—bilingualism, even multilingualism—that most other students do not possess.

As teachers we can certainly understand the frustrations faculty sometimes feel with students—domestic and international—who don’t bring to our classes the skills we expect them to have, or whose commitment to learning is questionable, or who behave in disrespectful ways. Yes, we have all had some of those students (text messaging during class, chatting at inappropriate times, forgetting to bring homework, etc.), but in our experience these problems are not particular to any one demographic—male or female, international or domestic, first years or seniors. To characterize any group of students as “unprepared” or “unqualified” is overgeneralized, unfair, and biased. To call any group of students or any individual student “dead weight” is simply wrong, and against all tenets of teaching. Here we must object vehemently to the disrespect the opinion writer is showing to students and to our mission as teachers.

We are uncomfortable with sweeping generalizations about any student groups because as teachers we recognize that every one of our students comes to us with varying strengths and assets and also with varying needs. Our job as teachers is to praise and reinforce their strengths, assess their needs and problems, and challenge them to become better. Some students might need more help with science, for others it may be designing digital projects, some struggle with math while others struggle with writing—and for others it may be developing fluency in written and spoken English.

Our international students come to us with strong academic backgrounds, but with varying levels of English proficiency. They are placed into the university system on the basis of that proficiency. Some enter the American Culture and English program (where they have an intensive semester of English language instruction, both oral and written), some go directly into the English-as-Second-Language (ESL) Composition program in the Department of English, others are not required to take any ESL courses. The function of these entry programs and courses is to help international students develop their English language skills, both speaking and writing, to the level where they can succeed as students at Miami. That they are succeeding at the same level as domestic students is true. However it is also true that some international students continue to struggle with their English language proficiencies and need ongoing assistance to become more comfortable in this second language, just as some domestic students struggle with various aspects of their academic study.

From a language standpoint, demanding that learners of English speak and listen and write and read exactly like their American counterparts is unrealistic. Developing and using these skills in a second language is never like acquiring them in a first language.  Certain abilities improve faster than others, and certain features that are assumed to be “basic” by native speakers who have been using a language from infancy are not so basic to someone who took their first steps into the language in middle school. Second language development is an ongoing, lifetime process.

The writer of the November 4th opinion piece claims to “welcome the diversity in the classroom,” but in fact the opposite point of view is dominant in that piece. What is implied throughout the letter is that students coming from non-US cultural backgrounds and who were raised primarily with languages other than English should be expected to participate in classes in exactly the same ways that students raised in the US who speak primarily (or only) in English do. In other words, they should be American students under different flags. This is not accepting diversity; this is requiring diversity to change to suit the dominant culture. Such a view rejects tangible, substantive diversity, which includes accepting ways of thinking and being that are different and productive. True welcoming of diversity means to engage it respectfully with a willingness to change one’s own views and practices. For instance, participating productively in a class might mean other things besides speaking out loud as frequently as possible. In some cultures, listening attentively and quietly is more valued, and is viewed from a rhetorical and ethical framework as a sign of respect. That is a cultural difference that native English speakers should perhaps learn from and adopt instead of deride.

Instead of seeing international students as a liability bringing down the academic quality of the institution, we see international students as potentially enhancing our academic quality and the overall value of the Miami experience. We say “potentially” only because we are not yet convinced that the University community at large has fully figured out how to engage this diversity and to learn from it. Faculty need better support, encouragement, and even training to learn how to adapt their teaching approaches for diverse populations. The University needs to recognize and support the ongoing needs of international students and to do a much better job of welcoming those students and encouraging them to become full participants in the life of the campus and the community. Collectively, we are not yet where we should be.

As the number of international students on campus continues to grow, the entire University is challenged, but we also see this as an opportunity to reach out, build connections across cultures, and together craft a vibrant university community where all students have full and equal opportunity to succeed. If the University is going to continue to increase international student enrollment at Miami, it needs to do a much better job of providing ongoing support for these students, not just at the matriculation point and in their first year, but through their entire four years here.

At Miami we are fortunate to have a diverse and academically well-qualified student body that includes international students. International students have a positive effect on our campus and our community, making Miami University a stronger, better place, both culturally and academically. We welcome them gladly and enthusiastically.


Sincerely,

Tony Cimasko, PhD

Lecturer in English

Coordinator, ESL Composition

LuMing Mao, PhD

Professor of English and

Asian/Asian American Studies

Chair, Department of English

Heidi McKee, PhD

Associate Professor of English

Director, Howe Writing Initiative, Farmer School of Business

Jason Palmeri, PhD

Associate Professor of English

Director of College Composition

James E. Porter, PhD

Professor of English and

Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies

Director, American Culture and English (ACE)

Kate Ronald, PhD

Professor of English

Director, Howe Center for Writing Excellence

We the following support this letter, submitted by our colleagues, in response to the opinion piece published on November 4, 2014:

Phill Alexander, Heanon Wilkins Fellow
Department of English/Professional Writing

Jason Barone, Adjunct Instructor (ACE Program) and Director of Communications
College of Arts and Science

Aaron Kashtan, Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English/Rhetoric and Composition

G Patterson (GPat), Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Affiliate in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies

Amir Hassan, Half-Time Instructor, Department of English/Rhetoric and Composition

Minsun Kim, Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English/ESL Composition

Mary Jean Corbett
Professor of English and Affiliate of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies

Timothy Lockridge, Assistant Professor
Department of English

Diana Royer
Professor of English and Affiliate of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Coordinator of English, Hamilton Campus

John M. Krafft, Associate Professor of English, Hamilton Campus

Erin E. Edwards, Assistant Professor
Department of English

Olga Filatova, Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English/ACE

Keith Tuma
Professor of English
& Editor, Miami University Press

Larysa Bobrova
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English/ACE

cris cheek, Associate Professor, English
Affiliate of IMS and CMS

Joseph Bates, Lecturer
Department of English

Linh Dich, Assistant Professor
Department of English/Rhetoric and Composition

Madelyn Detloff
Associate Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies

Theresa Kulbaga, Associate Professor of English
Affliate of WGS & AMS

Eun Chong Yang, Visiting Assistant Professor
American Culture and English (ACE)

Timothy Melley
Professor of English and Director of the Miami University Humanities Center

Tess Evans
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English
Professional Writing/Composition

Ling He, Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English/American Culture and English (ACE)

Jennifer Edwards
English Language Center, Middletown Campus

Lilian Mina
Visiting Assistant Professor
ESL Composition/Department of English

Scott Wagar
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English

Gabriele Bechtel
Lecturer, ESL Composition and Director of Professional Writing
Department of English

Elizabeth Stockton
Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of English, and Assistant Director of the Humanities Center

Jessica Downey, Lecturer
American Culture and English (ACE)

Irena Kola, Lecturer
American Culture and English (ACE)

John Mauk, Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English

Michele Simmons, Associate Professor
Department of English

Katie Trauth Taylor, Assistant Professor
Department of English

Cathy Wagner, Professor, Director of Creative Writing
Department of English

Charm Damon, Visiting Instructor
Department of English/American Culture and English (ACE)

John Tassoni, Professor
Department of English

Ilknur Eginli, Visiting Assistant Professor
American Culture and English (ACE)
Ryan D. Wright, Visiting Instructor
American Culture and English (ACE)/Department of English

Keely Mohon, Visiting Instructor
Department of English

Stefanie K. Dunning, Associate Professor
Department of English

Sidky Homayun, Professor
Department of Anthropology

Anita Mannur
Associate Professor of English and Asian / Asian-American Studies
Director of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies

Andrew Hebard
Associate Professor of English
Director of the Literature Program

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