Friday, October 28, 2011

US ethnocentrism and academe continued...Time for you to learn Chinese!

The irony of the current American university system probably becomes evident to anyone that cares to carefully observe the current trends within these universities.

It was not that long back that University leaders and faculty members felt very comfortable talking openly about Chinese GRE scores, TOEFL scores etc., using these rationale to turn down competent students from China with stellar scores. It was not that long back that references to the English capabilities of the Chinese was somehow considered to be PC in a climate where most forms of talk are otherwise monitored by the PC-Police. It was not that long back that it was OK for faculty to discuss in meetings openly about the English capabilities of a student from China or Korea. The ability to speak English was used as the marker to strip students from elsewhere of their dignity. The pressures from undergraduate students and their parents was used as an excuse to carry out this act of stripping, with the logic that the instructors ought to at the very minimum be able to communicate with their key consumers, the students, in a language that is understandable to the students. This excuse was then used to reject strong graduate students applications, never raising the point that our undergraduates perhaps needed to have global communication competencies that at the very minimum expected them to have the capabilities to make concerted efforts to understand others who differed from them in "accent" and not use the foreign accent of their instructor as an easy excuse for their poor performance. The power of US ethnocentrism was (and is) articulated in the widely circulated notion that "If you are in the US, you have to be able to speak US style English."

Those times however have apparently changed. In an economic climate where most of US is owned literally by China, appealing to students from China is a mechanism for many US universities to survive. The survival of our universities is based upon our capability now to cater to a Chinese clientele because our States apparently don't have the money to support us. Where legislators have consistently voted to minimize the support for public Universities, catering to Chinese students has become a mechanism for survival. So the logical question (flowing from the earlier logic of English competency) for US universities with increasing large percentages (even what's likely to soon be majority) of undergraduate Chinese students in US classrooms is this: Are you now going to expect your faculty and graduate instructors to at the very least be conversant in Chinese in order for them to be present in the classroom? Are you now going to require a standardized Chinese proficiency exam put together by a Chinese institution for entry into graduate school and into the professoriate? The re-circulation of the typically circulated ethnocentric US logic ought to read something like this "If you are teaching to students from China, you better be able to speak Chinese at the very minimum." The gold standard for admission of teaching assistants into graduate programs ought to shift to measuring at the very least spoken Chinese proficiencies.

The discussion however in most public universities and in fora such as the Chronicle of Higher Education has taken a different direction and tone. The logic has apparently shifted to answering the question: "Are we offering the right English training for these incoming students?"

The arrogance of US Ethnocentrism lies in its ability to re-craft and re-fashion the hegemony of US-Ethnocentric standards in ways that privilege US-Ethnocentric ways of doing things, even when the economic base of US-centric hegemony seems to be fast dwindling. Although the appropriate logic that flows from earlier logics used by US universities ought to be that our Professors and Graduate Teaching Assistants need to at the bare minimum qualify the Chinese spoken exam, the logic is now being re-crafted to state that our undergraduate students need to have the English proficiency. If we carry on the market logic of needing to appeal to our students as stakeholders, it follows from the market logic which we have used over the years that University leaders and faculty start paying much-needed attention to the Chinese speaking capabilities of their instructors, and start mandating Chinese proficiency/cultural competency tests as minimum requirements for graduate teaching assistants. It also makes sense then that with the increasing number of Chinese undergraduates in our classrooms, we start increasing the number of Chinese graduate instructors who would have the competency to teach these students.

It perhaps makes even further sense that we start offering our courses in Chinese, particularly so with our Communication courses. This poses a fascinating challenge because it also means that for subjects such as Communication, we start paying attention to what Chinese communication research says about effective communication, which might fundamentally differ from what we teach as effective communication based on our US etnocentric understandings of effective communication. Oh wait, where do we even begin because all these years we have been telling the world about effective communication skills, presentation skills, persuasion skills etc. from our narrow ethnocentric vantage points, thinking that our US way ought to be the universal gold standard?

These questions are questions we are going to need to at the very least start asking if our classrooms are increasingly going to change demographicallly. What new skillsets do we need so as to not be redundant?

As far as I am concerned, I am making sure to register for Chinese 101 so that I don't become redundant.

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