Columbia University Pres. Dismisses Concerns about Foreign Students

When I first saw the title of this piece by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, dismissing concerns about students from China as potential spies, what jumped out was the phrase foreign-born. Not “foreign students,” but “foreign-born students.” As I’ve written before, the wording is deliberate, apparently a PR move motivated by concern that the word foreign evokes negative feelings. I cited one document in which the phrase “foreign born” appears so often that the rhythm of the exposition is quite awkward.

So, my immediate reaction was that Bollinger had help from the industry PR people — who indeed may have actually written the piece — in composing the essay. My suspicions were then confirmed:

A more effective approach — advocated by many of my colleagues in higher education as well as the bipartisan Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property— is to expand the number of green cards awarded to foreign-born graduates of our great colleges and universities.

A “more effective approach” to the problem of campus spies is to give them green cards? What was Bollinger thinking? Actually, in the vast majority of reported cases of “foreign-born” Chinese committing industrial espionage — there are so many that once the WSJ compiled a list — the perpetrators have had green cards or were naturalized US citizens. And many, possibly most, of these first came to the US as foreign students.

Bollinger is technically correct in saying that most university research is publicly available. But that’s like saying the trailer of a movie is publicly available; if you want to actually know what’s in the movie, you have to go to a theater or pay for the video. In the case of research, being physically present and involved is everything.

The fact is, Columbia is making tons of money from foreign students, so much so that any attempts at retaining academic quality seem to have been lost.

As I have said, the vast majority of students from China are not in any way spies, and are simply here to get an education. But a small number of “bad apples” can do enormous damage. I wrote,

Though there are no clear solutions — the U.S. is not going to shut down the flow of Chinese students to the U.S., nor should it — the concerns raised by [Sen.] Rubio and [FBI Dir.] Wray cannot be dismissed. Use by [Rep. Judy] Chu and others of the magic incantation “racial profiling” is both inaccurate and counter to U.S. interests. Rubio and Wray need to hear about the concerns of [the Chinese American advocacy group] CAPAC, but the latter must first admit that there indeed is a problem.

Apart from the spying issue, there is the matter of quality. In my courses, both undergraduate and graduate, there are usually one or two Chinese foreign students among the very best in the class, but most have been either mediocre or near the bottom. Numerous articles, such as in the WSJ and LA Times, have reported disproportionately high numbers of cheating cases by students from China.

And the California State Legislative Analyst’s office found that the University of California has set lower standards for admission for foreign students, as most (at the undergraduate level) pay full tuition.

Clearly, we have a broken system. Again, I have no easy answers, but we could start by taking only the best.


6 thoughts on “Columbia University Pres. Dismisses Concerns about Foreign Students

  1. Shortly before DH retired he came home frustrated because he gave the entire class Incompletes due to their failure to successfully complete a group project. He was told that he could not do this for the foreign students and could not give them a F either since they would fall below the SCH for full time status; only the international students grades were changed. The rest of the students had to complete the work.

    He would come home exhausted after grades came out after days of being badgered by international students dissatisfied with their grades. They claimed their earned grade would cost them their scholarship or chance at graduate school. The women were the most persistent; I always feared that they would file a gender discrimination complaint.

    Then there was the cheating. The administration refused to dismiss them from school for even blatant offenses. Money talks.

    I agree. Admit the best, However, given the fraud in academic credentials and testing in some countries, how do you determine which ones are marginally qualified much less well qualified..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There is a lot of money at stake, so there are a lot of people who pretend to be ignorant.

    I have said for many years that “The number one national security threat we face is corruption in Washington, DC.”
    The whole H1-B fiasco is a classic example of this, along with OPT and student visas.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From :

    “Many tech giants rely on foreign talent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the computer and information technology field is projected to grow 12% from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. That amounts to 488,500 new jobs. What’s more, researchers from the University of California, Davis and Colgate University found that temporary workers on these visas actually end up creating more jobs for American-born workers. Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple (AAPL) co-founder Steve Jobs both argued that the U.S. needs to be able to increase its supply of tech workers to Silicon Valley.”

    Norm, you are at UC Davis. What study is this?


    • This is one of a plethora of papers by Giovanni Peri and his students on H-1B and related issues. If you would like my view of his research, plug “Peri” into the WordPress search engine for this site. Yo might start with


  4. Slightly off topic, but I work at an IT company here in Australia (we have many of the same H1B issues), owned by indian people. They are actively trying to get rid of the white australians and replace them with indians. Its openly talked about by management. They definitely prefer their countrymen and also they like the immobility of temporary indian visa workers (this is openly talked about too).


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