A Tragedy and an Appalling Coverup

Very unsettling story in the Kansas City Star. An international student from India at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, while apparently working illegally at a nearby fast-food restaurant owned by an Indian-American, was shot to death by a would-be robber. Unfortunately, the first instinct of the chancellor of the university, fearing the feds would bar the school from enrolling foreign students due to the discovery that one was working illegally, was to lie about the situation. The university released a statement that the slain student had merely been “helping a family friend” by working at the restaurant,  rather than for pay.

Needless to say, the chancellor, who is also ethnic Indian, overreacted. A university has no responsibility to monitor foreign students for possible illegal work off-campus. Yet his action shows how desperate he was to enroll large numbers of international students — the article mentions a large Indian student population in particular — as a “revenue enhancement” source. At public universities, foreign students are usually charged higher tuition, typically paid as full-freight levels with little or no financial aid provided. (This particular student did receive an $8,000 scholarship.)

Note that such considerations often mean a lower admissions bar for international students, as pointed out by a California State Legislative Analyst report a few years ago for UC. Some of the foreign students are absolutely superb, but many struggle with the curriculum and language, and seldom interact with the American students.

Advocates of international students like to say that those students contribute to local economies. This is typical PR sleight-of-hand; had more Americans been admitted instead of the foreigns, those Americans would be contributing to local economies.

And it is now commonplace, at UC and elsewhere, to offers special master’s programs, aimed specifically at obtaining foreign student revenue.

But there is a key element missing in the Star article — why did that student feel the need to work illegally in the first place? The article reports,

Koppu’s certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status shows that he came to Kansas City with $28,304 in personal funds and had also received an $8,000 scholarship from UMKC.

That just matched the $36,234 that UMKC estimates it would cost a grad student from overseas in Koppu’s field of study to attend school for nine months.

Which left him $70 for walking-around money.

Well, no. The computation of that $36,234 already allowed for walking-around money, not just for tuition, rent and food. The likely reason this student needed to work illegally is that that “$28,304 in personal funds” was partly fake. An uncle (who also may be fake) will formally commit to providing the student with $x of yearly support, but he and the student will have an understanding that the uncle will never have to actually shell out any money; the student will somehow find ways to come up with his/her own funds, often through illegal work at a local ethnic restaurant.

Sad story all around.

 

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15 thoughts on “A Tragedy and an Appalling Coverup

  1. What has become troubling is the favoritism of and discrimination by university employees towards each other, students, and prospective students and employees based on country of origin and religion. Even American citizens of many generations – especially of European origin – are victims of the current environment on campus. This is not part of legitimate affirmative action but of individual’s biases.

    I am also troubled by reports that scholarships are being given to foreign students when there are many worthy and needy citizens and legal residents wanting to attend the university. Prospective students in some countries are notorious for document fraud and will do ANYTHING to get to the US for school with the expectation of working after graduation – and before. Lying about funding by extended family is suspect.

    When one is anywhere now, there is a risk of being a victim of violence. Some locations have a greater risk. A restaurant hiring people without legal right to work in the US is more likely to be in a higher than average crime area and all entering it are at higher than average risk of harm.

    University administrators know what they are doing. Their jobs depend on filling the seats and the less than honorable ones will do anything even if it is not in the best interest of the university long term, community or students.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “as pointed out by a California State Legislative Analyst report a few years ago for UC.”

    Norm, do you have a link or other source for this report? I’d be interested in the methodology; could it be applied to other higher ed entitites?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very sad story. All too common, I believe, to engage in “trade wars” in the labor market. I recall having a key to an anechoic chamber in the Mech Engineering building at Clemson decades ago, to do a research project. (I was somewhat of a pioneer in the area of “undergraduate research” back in the day.) One day I was given a notice in the middle of a lab class — get to the building and retrieve all your equipment before it’s gone! The Mech Engineering Dept. had just imported a half-dozen foreign students in the middle of the semester, admitting them mid-stream into Graduate School, and needed office space for them. So the test chamber (and whatever is in it) must vanish ASAP.

    So somebody must have had some real incentive (wage-wise) to import foreign grad students in the middle of a semester, and they were willing to sacrifice anybody else’s research project(s) to accomodate them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “At public universities, foreign students are usually charged higher tuition, typically paid as full-freight levels with little or no financial aid provided. (This particular student did receive an $8,000 scholarship.)”

    Yes, but what about the RA and TA jobs that many grad students get? An RA or TA job is worth much more than an $8,000 scholarship. RA jobs usually involves work that the student is doing for the thesis or dissertation, so the RA job is not much of a burden plus it looks good on the resume. I heard that RA jobs are usually tied to research grants that universities receive from the federal government.

    It’s probably easier for a foreign student to get a MS degree (2 years plus a job as an RA or TA, and leapfrogging over Americans with only a BS degree) then a BS degree (4 or 5 years, grueling and boring courses not related to STEM, and no job). Many foreign undergraduate degrees are less than four years of schooling. Oxford and Cambridge have 3 year degrees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The push by universities to enroll foreign students is mainly at the undergraduate level, for the reason you give — a foreign grad student will typically work as a TA or RA, which in turn will typically pay his/her tuition. But that is the purpose of those special master’s programs, where the student likely won’t be a TA or RA (and maybe even is barred from it, I would guess)

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  5. Relying on foreign students for balancing a university’s budget is hazardous to a university’s health. At least one university with a large petroleum engineering department which depended on students funded by oil companies is in dire straits due to the drop in the price of oil. Many fewer students paying full tuition has a significant effect.

    The students were just not in PE but all over the university but concentrated in engineering. When 25% of the student body is international students, world affairs can have a significant effect on not only the finances health of the institution but also the culture on campus.

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  6. Dear Norm: While this story is tragic, it is only “the tip of the iceberg.” Both public and private institutions of higher education receive very substantial taxpayer-funded subsidies. The recent institutional avidity for foreign-origin students yields the pathological outcome that U.S. tax dollars are used for purposes that substantially ham the employment prospects of large numbers of American citizens. Likely as a consequence of special-interest lobbying, there is no annual cap on student visas. I cover this set of harms in greater detail in my heavily-footnoted article from 2012 available here: http://tinyurl.com/victimizer-University2 I’d appreciate you sharing your reaction to these larger themes.

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  7. Here’s the concluding paragraphs of my 2012 article.

    .Unrestricted research overhead has become a significant revenue stream for many universities offering doctoral degrees. This trend is shown in figures 12A and 12B in endnote 2. The overhead percentage is above 100 percent in many institutions, meaning that if a researcher requires $100,000 to perform research for a year, the researcher also must raise an additional $100,000 or more to cover institutional overhead. This implies that hiring inexpensive imported postdocs instead of recruiting American citizens can be very beneficial to the “bottom line” of the university, so such policies are strongly supported, particularly with lower-ranked academic institutions. This avidity for foreign workers is one of the reasons this author refers to high-skilled work visa programs as government-sanctioned foreign hiring preference programs.

    Former California Institute of Technology Vice-Provost David Goodstein summarizes the dire conditions documented above in his article, “Scientific Ph.D. Problems,” which was published almost two decades ago in the Spring 1993 issue of The American Scholar, pp. 215-220. These excerpts are reprinted with permission of the author, David Goodstein. I have emphasized two important passages.

    ….Enter the foreign graduate students. With the saturation of demand for Americans with doctorates around 1970, the best American students proved their superior abilities by reading the writing on the wall, and they began to choose other lines of work…..

    …. The American taxpayer (both state and federal) is supporting extremely expensive research universities whose main educational purpose is to train students from abroad. When these students finish their educations, they either stay here, taking relatively high- paying jobs that could have gone to Americans, or they go home, taking our knowledge and our technology with them.

    The American research universities are in a dither because Congress has discovered an interest in indirect cost payments on federal research grants and contracts, an issue so arcane it confuses the experts (I’m one of them). Congress and the public doesn’t seem to have noticed that, while largely ignoring our own students, we are putting our money and our best talent into training our economic competitors. Just wait until this one hits the fan.

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  8. One thing that is missing in these stories is that these newly-arrived immigrants are largely oblivious to the crime and racial animosity in many American cities. About 10 years ago, I remember driving to work and seeing one of our Indian DBAs, the newest in fact, walking down the street towards work. He was wearing a nice suit, black dress shoes and carrying a briefcase. He had the biggest grin on his face and I knew it was due to him thinking that he had hit the big time. Our office wasn’t in the worst place in town but the neighborhood was next to another that was pretty sketchy. I looked at him and the first thing I thought “Here’s the newest mark. The muggers are gonna target this guy.” I told him later that he should consider getting a car. Luckily he quit after 6 weeks and got a job in SF – although he may have been mugged there.

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  9. One news article wondered why a student would work in violation of his student visa when he would have access to OPT (Optional Practical Training) after graduating. I guess the student must need the money now.

    The OPT is a godsend/cash-cow for universities because it will increase international student enrollments. The OPT provides a guaranteed opportunity to work and pay off the cost of going to grad school. The odds of winning the H-1B lottery are less than 40%. The OPT removes the risk of being stuck with student debt especially if the student has a job waiting for him upon graduation.

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