CFR Academic

Academic Program


CFR Academic provides a forum for the educational community to interact with CFR experts and join the debate on foreign policy. Activities include the Academic Webinar series for students; Higher Education Webinar series; College and University Educators Workshops; briefings for students; exhibitions and events at conferences across the country; livestreaming of CFR meetings; and sharing the vast array of CFR resources and products for teaching and learning about international relations and the role of the United States in the world.

Academic Webinars for Students

Reserved for college and university educators and students, the CFR Academic Webinar series, formerly the Academic Conference Call series now in Zoom webinar format, provides the opportunity to participate in an interactive conversation with CFR fellows, Foreign Affairs authors, or other experts. Webinars take place every other week during the fall and spring semesters, and are dedicated to a wide range of international affairs and U.S. foreign policy topics. Suggested background readings are distributed prior to each webinar, and video recordings and transcripts are posted to after the fact.

View the Fall 2021 Academic Webinar schedule. To receive sign up or ask questions about the series, please email [email protected]. You may also subscribe to the CFR Academic podcast via iTunes.

Past Academic Webinars


Thomas Graham, distinguished fellow at CFR, leads a conversation on constraining Putin’s Russia. FASKIANOS: Welcome to today’s session of the CFR Fall 2021 Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s meeting is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We are delighted to have Thomas Graham with us to talk about Putin’s Russia. Mr. Graham is a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior advisor at Kissinger Associates, where he focuses on Russian and Eurasian affairs. He is cofounder of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies program at Yale University, and is also a research fellow at the MacMillan Center at Yale. He previously served as special assistant to President George W. Bush and senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007, and director for Russian affairs from 2002 to 2004. His résumé is very distinguished. I will just also say that he is a U.S. diplomat who served two tours of duty in Moscow, where he worked on political affairs. So, Mr. Graham, thanks very much for being with us today. I thought you could get us started by talking about the primary interests at stake in U.S.-Russia relations. GRAHAM: Great. Thank you very much, Irina, for that introduction, and it’s a real pleasure to be with all of you here today. I want to start with three broad points that will frame the rest of our discussion. The first is that the problem that the United States faces is not simply with Putin; it is with Russia more generally speaking. The last seven years of very difficult, challenging adversarial relationship is really not an aberration in the history of the relationship between our two countries. In fact, from the moment the United States emerged as a major power on the global stage at the very end of the nineteenth century, we have had a rivalry with Russia. And the issues that divide us today are the ones that divided us 125, 150 years ago: We have opposing worldviews. We have different geopolitical interests. And clearly, we have different systems of values that inform our domestic political systems. This rivalry has intensified, ebbed and flowed during the twentieth century. But the effort we made at partnership after the breakup of the Soviet Union up until 2014, marked by the eruption of the crisis in Ukraine, is really the aberration in the history of relations between our two countries and one that was founded very much on the fact that Russia endured a period of strategic weakness. So the issue we have to deal with Russia and how we’re going to deal with Russia well into the future, even after Putin departs—which he will, obviously, at some point, if only for biological reasons. The second point that I would make is that Russia is not going to go away. We hear a lot in the public debate in the United States about Russian decline, about the population/demographic problems it has, about its stagnating economy, and so forth. None of this is necessarily untrue, but I think it tends to exaggerate the problems that Russia faces. It ignores the problems that all other major countries face—including China, the United States, and many major European countries—but it also overlooks the very great strengths that Russia has had for decades that are going to make it a player and an important player on the global stage, nuclear weapons to begin with. We should never forget that Russia remains the only country that can destroy the United States as a functioning society in thirty minutes. Russia has the largest natural endowment of any country in the world, a country that can pretend to self-sufficiency and, in fact, is better placed than most other countries to deal with a breakdown in globalization in the decades to come if that, indeed, happens. It has a veto on the U.N. Security Council, which makes it an important player on issues of importance to the United States, and it has a talented population that has fostered a scientific community that, for example, is capable of taking advances in technology and developing the military applications from them. Just look at the strength that Russia exhibits in cyberspace, for example—again, a major challenge for the United States. So Russia is going to continue to be a challenge. One other thing that I should have mentioned here is that the Russian state throughout history and Putin’s Russia today has demonstrated a keen ability to mobilize the resources of their own society for state purposes. So even if in relative terms they may be weaker and weakening vis-à-vis China and the United States, in some ways that political will, that ability to mobilize, allows Russia to play a much larger role than mere indicators of its economic size and population size would suggest. Now, Russia clashes with the United States across a whole range of issues, and as I said that is going to continue for some time. And this brings me to my third point: How we should think about American foreign policy, what our guidelines should be in dealing with Russia. And here there are three, I think, key elements to this. First, the United States needs to preserve strategic stability. We need to have that nuclear balance between us (sic) and the United States. This is an existential question. And as I already mentioned, Russia does have a tremendous nuclear capability. Second, the United States should seek to manage its competition with Russia responsibly. We want to avoid or reduce the risk of a direct military conflict that could escalate to the nuclear level. This is—also, I think, recognizes that the United States is not going to be able to compel Russia to capitulate on issues that are of interest to us, nor are we going to be able to radically change the way they think about their own national interests. So it’s a competitive relationship and we need to manage that responsibly. And finally, given the complex world that we live in today—the very real transnational challenges we face: climate change, pandemic diseases, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—the United States should seek, to the extent possible, ways to cooperate with Russia in dealing with these issues. We should recognize that Russia is not necessarily the only player nor necessarily the most important player in dealing with these challenges, but it does have a role to play along with other major powers in handling these transnational issues. So those, I think, are three sort of broad points that help set the stage for our discussion. Now let me turn sort of very briefly to the questions about U.S. policy. How do we deal with this Russia? What are sort of—the way we should think about American foreign policy? And here the point I would make is that we should think of the policy in terms of what I would call the three Ds: defense, deterrence, and dialogue. Now, defense and deterrence in many ways go together. If you have a very good defense, if you demonstrate an ability and willingness to defend your interests effectively and deliberately, then you tend to deter another power. They have less reason to want to attack you. But if deterrence fails, you very much need to be able to defend yourself—to disrupt Russian operations in cyberspace, for example, or disrupt military operations by the Russians that you find problematic in some way. So defense and deterrence go together, and we need to think about that. Now, you build these elements on a number of other things that we’re all familiar with. A strong military—strong, capable military—is, obviously, an element of both defense and deterrence, and something that we have managed quite well in the past and I imagine will manage quite well going into the future. Cyber defenses are also an important element of constraining Russia on the global stage. Now, here the United States really has much room for improvement. We built our internet, our cyberspace largely for the accessibility, the ability to pass information from one entity to another, and we spent much less attention to the security of that system. As cyberspace has become more important to our socioeconomic and political lives, we really need to devote much more attention to cybersecurity, hardening our commuter—computer networks, for example, making sure we have strong passwords and so forth, something that I think we now recognize but we need to put a much greater effort into doing that. Third area of defense and deterrence is strong alliances. When we’re thinking about Russia, this is clearly the transatlantic community, NATO, our relations with our other European partners. And here, we need to develop the types of military/defense cooperation that we need to demonstrate quite clearly that the United States, along with the rest of the NATO allies, is ready and prepared to meet its Article 5 guarantees to collective security should the Russians do something that is untoward in our neighborhood. And then, finally, and I think of increasing importance, is the question of national unity. National unity, national resilience, has really become a key element in defense and deterrence at this point. We need to demonstrate to the Russians that we have sufficient national unity to clearly identify what our interests are and pursue them on the international stage. One of Putin’s close colleagues several years ago said that what Putin is doing is messing with the Americans’ minds, and certainly we’ve seen that over the past several years. Putin hasn’t sowed the discord in the United States, but he certainly has tried to exploit it for Russian purposes. And this is something that he’s going to concentrate on in the future, in part because he recognizes the dangers of military confrontation with the United States. So great-power competition, from the Kremlin’s standpoint, is going to move very, very quickly from the kinetic realm to the cyber realm, and we need to be able to deal with that. So building national unity at home, overcoming our polarization, is really perhaps one of the key steps in constraining Russia on the global stage. And then, finally, some very brief words about dialogue. We tend to downplay this in our national discussion. Many believe that diplomatic relations are—should not be branded as a reward for bad behavior. But I think if you look at this objectively, you’ll see that diplomatic relations are very important as a way of defending and advancing our national concerns. It’s a way that we can convey clearly to the Russians what our expectations are, what our goals are, what our redlines are, and the responses that we’re capable of taking if Russia crosses them. At the same time, we can learn from the Russians what their goals are, what their motivations are, what their redlines are, and we can factor that into our own policy. This is a major element of managing the competition between our two countries responsibly. You’ll see that we have begun to engage in negotiations and diplomacy with the Russians much more under President Biden than we did under President Trump. We’ve already launched strategic stability talks with the aim of coming up with a new concept of strategic stability that’s adequate to the strategic environment of the present day and the near future. We’ve engaged in cybersecurity talks, which my understanding is have, in fact, had some success over the past several weeks. Where we, I think, have lagged is in the discussion of regional issues—Europe, Ukraine, the Middle East, for example. These are areas where there is still potential for conflict, and the United States and Russia ought to be sitting down and talking about these issues on a regular basis. So three Ds—defense, deterrence, and diplomacy or dialogue—are the ways that we should be thinking about our relationship with Russia. And obviously, we’ll need to adjust each of these three elements to the specific issue at hand, whether it be in Europe, whether it be in the nuclear realm, cyberspace, and so forth. Now, with that as a way—by way of introduction, I am very pleased to entertain your questions. FASKIANOS: Tom, thanks very much for that terrific overview and analysis. We’re going to go to all of you now for your questions. You can either raise your hand by clicking on the icon, and I will call on you, and you can tell us what institution you are with; or you can type your question in the Q&A box, although if you want to ask it you can raise your hand. We encourage that. And if you’re typing your question, please let us know what college or university you’re with. So I’m going to take the first raised-hand question from Babak Salimitari. And unmute yourself. Q: Can you guys hear me? GRAHAM: Yes. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: Hello. I’m a third-year UCI student, economics. I have a question. I’m going to sound a bit like Sean Hannity here, so please forgive me, but I have a question about that Nord Stream 2 pipeline that you constantly hear on the news, and it just doesn’t make that much sense for me of why this pipeline was allowed to be completed into the heart of Europe considering Russia’s strength with natural gases and the leverage that they have over Europe with that pipeline. Why was that allowed to be completed? GRAHAM: Well, I think from the standpoint of the Biden administration this was a matter of what we call alliance management. Germany is clearly a key ally for the United States in Europe, and the Germans were very committed to the completion of that pipeline, starting with Chancellor Angela Merkel down through I think both the leading political parties and the German business community. So I think they made the decision for that. But let me step back because I’d like to challenge a lot of the assumptions about the Nord Stream 2 project here in the United States, which I think misconceive it, misframe the question, and tend to exaggerate the dangers that is poses. The first point that I would make is that Europe now and in the future will have and need Russian gas. It’s taken a substantial amount in the past—in the past decades, and even as it moves forward towards a green revolution it will continue to take considerable amounts of Russian gas. It can’t do without that gas. So the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, contrary to what you hear in the United States or at the U.S. Congress, I don’t think poses an additional threat to Europe’s energy security, no larger than the threat that was posed before that pipeline was completed. The Europeans, I think are aware of the problems that that poses, and they’ve taken steps over the past several years to integrate the gas—the gas distribution network in Europe, to build facilities to import liquified natural gas, all as a way of eroding the leverage that Gazprom might have had over energy markets in Europe. And that has been quite successful over the past—over the past several years. Now, I think, you know, the other issue that comes up in the discussion in the United States is Ukraine, because Nord Stream 2 clearly provides Russia with a way to import the gas into Europe and bypass Ukraine at the—at the same time. And Ukraine is going to suffer a significant loss in budgetary revenue because of the decline in transit fees that it gets from the transportation of Russian gas across its territory. You know, that is a problem, but there are ways of dealing with that: by helping Ukraine fill the budgetary gap, by helping Ukraine transition away from a reliance on gas to other forms of energy, of helping Ukraine develop the green-energy resources that will make it a much more important partner in the European energy equation than it is now. And then finally, you know, it strikes me as somewhat wrongheaded for Ukraine to put itself in a position where it is reliant on a country that is clearly a belligerent for a significant part of its federal revenue. So we need to think hard with the Ukrainians about how they deal with this issue, how they wean themselves off Russian transit fees, and then I think we have a situation where we can help Ukraine, we can manage the energy-security situation in Europe, we can reduce any leverage that Russia might have, and that Nord Stream 2 really doesn’t pose a significant risk to the United States or our European allies over the long run. FASKIANOS: Thank you. We’re going to take the next question from the written queue from Kenneth Mayers, who’s at St Francis—sorry, that just popped away; oh, sorry—St. Francis College. Thinking beyond this triangular framework, what pathways and possibilities can be envisioned for a more positive dimension of working together in mutually, even globally, beneficial ways? GRAHAM: What triangular relationship are we talking about? FASKIANOS: His—thinking beyond this triangular framework and— GRAHAM: Oh, OK. So I think it’s defense, deterrence, and diplomacy is the— FASKIANOS: Correct. GRAHAM: OK. Can you repeat the final part of the question, then? FASKIANOS: What pathways and possibilities can be envisioned for a more positive dimension of working together in mutually beneficial ways? GRAHAM: Well, there are a number of areas in which we can work together beneficially. If you think about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for example, the United States and Russia over the past two decades have played a major role in both securing weapons that were located in Russia, but also in securing highly-enriched uranium that was in Soviet-designed reactors throughout the former Soviet space. We have taken a lead together in setting down rules and procedures that reduce the risk of nuclear material—fissile material getting into the hands of terrorist organizations. And we have played a role together in trying to constrain the Iranian nuclear program. Russia played an instrumental role in the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that we signed in 2015 that the Trump administration walked away with, but they will continue to play a role in constraining Iranians’ nuclear ambitions going forward. And we’ve also worked in a cooperative fashion in dealing with the North Korean nuclear program. So there are areas in nonproliferation where the two countries can work together. On climate change, I mean, I think the big challenge for the United States is actually persuading Russia that climate change is a significant threat to their own security. They’re slowly beginning to change that view, but as they come around to recognizing that they have to deal with climate change there are a number of areas where the two countries can cooperate. One of the things that climate is doing is melting the permafrost. That is destabilizing the foundation of much of Russia’s energy infrastructure in areas where gas and oil are extracted for export abroad. The United States has dome technologies that the Russians might find of interest in stabilizing that infrastructure. They suffer from problems of Siberian fires—peat-bog fires, forest fires—an area that, obviously, is of concern to the United States as well. And there may be room for cooperation there, two. And then, finally, you know, the United States and Russia have two of the leading scientific communities in the entire world. We ought to be working together on ways that we can help mitigate the consequences of climate change going forward. So I see an array of areas where the two countries could cooperate, but that will depend on good diplomacy in Washington and a receptivity on the part of the Russians which we haven’t seen quite yet. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go next to Jeffrey Ko. You can unmute yourself. Thank you. Q: Hi. So I’m Jeffrey Ko. I’m an international relations master’s student at Carnegie Mellon. And my question has to deal with these private military forces, and especially the Wagner Group. And so I would like to know, you know, how does this play into our security strategy regarding Russia in countries that have seen proxy warfare? And how does this—how difficult will it be to engage with Russia either diplomatically or militarily on the use of these gray-zone tactics, and specifically utilizing the Wagner Group as an informal branch of Russia’s military? GRAHAM: Well, look, I mean, I do think that we need, one, to sit down and have a discussion with Russia about the use of these private military forces, particularly the Wagner firm, which has played a significant role in a number of conflicts across the globe in the Middle East, Africa, and in Latin America. But we also ought to help the countries that are of interest to us deal with the problems that the Wagner Group causes. You know, the United States had to deal with the Wagner Group in Syria during the Syrian civil war. You know, despite the fact that we had a deconfliction exercise with the Russians at that point, tried to prevent military conflicts between our two militaries operating in close proximity, when the Wagner forces violated those strictures and actually began to attack a U.S. facility, we had no hesitation about using the force that we had to basically obliterate that enemy. And the Wagner Group suffered casualties numbering in the hundreds, one to two hundred. I think the Russians got the message about that, that you don’t—you don’t mess with the United States military, certainly not while using a private military company like Wagner. You know, in places like Libya, where Wagner is quite active, I think the United States needs a major diplomatic effort to try to defuse the Libyan crisis. And part of the solution to that would be negotiating an agreement that calls for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces and certainly private military groups from Libyan territory, and lean on the Russians to carry that through. In any event, you know, this is not going to be an easy issue to resolve. I think we deal with this by—country by country, and we focus our attention on those countries where our national interests are greatest. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Jill Dougherty, who’s at Georgetown University. The Putin administration appears to be hardening its control of Russia’s society with the purpose of keeping Putin in power at least until 2036. Most recent example is the Duma elections that just took place. Will this crackdown domestically affect or damage U.S.-Russia relations? GRAHAM: Thank you, Jill. Always a good question and always a difficult question to answer. You know, I think the issue here is the extent to which the Biden administration wants to make the domestic political situation in Russia a key item on its agenda with Russia over the next—over the next few years. You know, my impression from the conversations I’ve had with people in the administration—in and around the administration is that President Biden is not going to focus on this. You know, his focus really is going to be China, and what he wants to do is maintain something of a status quo in the relationship with Russia. You will notice that the second round of sanctions that the United States levied with regard to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, something that was mandated by U.S. law, were actually quite mild—much less extreme, much less punitive than the legislation allowed—I think a signal that the Biden administration was not going to let domestic political issues in Russia overwhelm the agenda that the United States has, which is going to be focused on strategic stability, cyber issues, and so forth. So my immediate reaction is that the Duma election is really not going to have a dramatic impact on the state of the relationship between our two countries. We accept the fact that Russia is an authoritarian system. It is becoming more authoritarian. We will continue to try to find ways to support those elements of civil society we can, but always being careful not to do it in ways that causes the Russian government to crack down even harder on those individuals. This is a very sort of difficult needle to thread for the United States, but I think that’s the way we’ll go and you won’t see this as a major impediment to the improvement of relations—which, as we all know, are at a very low level at this point in any event. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. Let’s go next to Sujay Utkarsh. Q: Hi, yeah. Can you hear me? GRAHAM: Yes. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: Awesome. So, regarding the issue about cyber warfare, I was wondering if you can go into more detail about what advantages the Russians have in cyberspace and what the United States can do to compete with those advantages. GRAHAM: A good question and a difficult question for people outside the government to answer, since we’re not privy to all the information about Russian cyber capabilities nor are we privy to the information about American cyber capabilities. Both countries cloak those programs in a great deal of secrecy. You know, it seemed to me that one of the advantages that perhaps Russia has is that it’s a much more closed society than the United States. Now, I’m thinking simply in terms of the way societies can be disrupted through cyberspace. We’re a much more open society. It’s easier to access our internet. We are—just as I mentioned before, we are a polarized society right now. That allows Russia many avenues into our domestic political system in order to exacerbate the tensions between various elements in our society. The United States can’t reply in the same way in dealing with Russia. You know, second, Russia, in building its own internet, its own cyberspace, has paid much more attention to security than the United States has. So, you know, I would presume that its computer systems are somewhat harder to penetrate than American systems are at this point, although another factor to take into account here is that much of the initial effort in building up cyberspace—the Web, the computer networks—in Russia was built with American technology. You know, the Googles, the Intels, and others played an instrumental role in providing those types of—that type of equipment to the Russians. So I wouldn’t exaggerate how much stronger they are there. And then, finally, I think what is probably one of the strengths, if you want to call it that, is that Russia is probably a little more risk-prone in using its cyber tools than the United States is at this point, in part because we think as a society we’re more vulnerable. And that does give Russia a slight advantage. That said, this shouldn’t be a problem that’s beyond the capability of the United States to manage if we put our minds to it. We have done a lot more over the past several years. We are getting better at this. And I think we’ll continue to improve in time and with the appropriate programs, the appropriate education of American society. FASKIANOS: Thank you. The next question is a written one from Kim-Leigh Tursi, a third-year undergraduate at Temple University. Where do you see Russia in relation to the rise of China, and how does that affect how the U.S. might approach foreign policy toward Russia? GRAHAM: Well, you know, that’s an important question, obviously one that a lot of people have focused on recently. You know, Russia and China have developed a very close working strategic relationship over the—over the past several years, but I think we should note that the Russian effort to rebuild its relations with China go back to the late Soviet period to overcome the disadvantages that then the Soviet Union felt they had because of the poor relationship with China and the ability of the United States to exploit that relationship to Moscow’s detriment. So relations have been improving for the past twenty-five, thirty years; obviously, a dramatic acceleration in that improvement after 2014 and the breakdown in relations between Russia and the West. Now, there are a number of reasons for this alignment at this point. One, the two countries do share at a very general level a basic view of for—a basic dislike of what they see as American ambitions to dominate the global—the global security and economic environment. They don’t like what they consider to be American hegemonic goals. Second, the economies seem to be complementary at this point. Russia does have a wealth of natural resources that the Chinese need to fuel their robust economic growth. You have similar domestic political systems. And all of this, I think, is reinforced by what appears to be a very good personal relationship between President Putin and President Xi Jinping. These two leaders have met dozens of times over the past five to seven years and have maintained, I think, very robust contact even during the—during the pandemic. So there are very good strategic reasons why these two countries enjoy good relations. They are going to step those up in the near term. The Russians are continuing to provide the Chinese with significant sophisticated military equipment. They’ve also undertaken to help the Chinese build an early warning system for ballistic missiles, and when that’s completed it will make China only the third country in the world to have such a system along with Russia and the United States. Now, I would argue that this strategic alignment does pose something of a challenge to the United States. If you look at American foreign policy or American foreign policy tradition, one of the principles that has guided the United States since the end of the nineteenth century, certainly throughout the twentieth century, was that we needed to prevent the—any hostile country or coalition of hostile countries from dominating areas of great strategic importance, principally Europe, East Asia, and more recently the Middle East. A Russian-Chinese strategic alignment certainly increases the chances of China dominating East Asia. Depending on how close that relationship grows, it also could have significant impact on Europe and the way Europe relates to this Russian-Chinese bloc, and therefore to the United States as a whole. So we should have an interest in trying to sort of attenuate the relationship between the two countries. At a minimum, we shouldn’t be pursuing a set of policies that would push Russia closer to China. Second, I think we ought to try to normalize our diplomatic relationship with the Russians. Not that we’re necessarily going to agree on a—on a range of issues at this point, but we need to give the Russians a sense that they have other strategic options than China going forward—something that would, I think, enhance their bargaining position with the Chinese going forward and would complicate China’s own strategic calculus, which would be to our advantage. I think we also should play on Russia’s concerns about strategic autonomy, this idea that Russia needs to be an independent great power on the global stage, that it doesn’t want to be the junior partner or overly dependent on any one country as a way, again, of attenuating the tie with China. The one thing that I don’t think we can do is drive a wedge between those two countries, in part because of the strategic reasons that I’ve mentioned already that bring these two countries together. And any very crude, I think, effort to do that will actually be counterproductive. Both Beijing and Moscow will see through that, quite clearly, and that will only lead to a closing of the ranks between those two countries, which as I said is a strategic challenge for the United States going forward. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Holli Semetko, who’s at Emory University. Polarization is something we must overcome, as you said, but those of us working on social media have some evidence to suggest that social media has fostered political polarization in the U.S. Yuri Milner, a Russian Israeli entrepreneur, invested in an early round of Facebook funding with help from VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank, as well as his investment in Jared Kushner’s real estate firm. What is the level of FDI from Russia in the U.S. and do you see it as a threat to national security? GRAHAM: Well, look, I mean, the actual level of Russian FDI in the United States is quite small. You know, you have some few, I think, good examples of it—the one that you’ve mentioned with Yuri Milner, for example. There was some investment in a steel factory some years ago. But by and large, there hasn’t been a significant amount of Russian foreign direct investment in the United States. I think our growing concerns about Russia have made us even more leery of allowing Russian investment, particularly in sectors that we consider critical to American national security. So I’m not deeply concerned about that going forward. I think we probably face a much greater challenge from the Chinese in that regard. Of course, you’ve seen efforts by the United States to deal more harshly or look more closely at Chinese investment in the United States over the past several years. Let me just make one sort of final point on social media since it’s come up. You know, Russia is a problem. We need to pay attention to Russia in that space. But again, I don’t think that we should exaggerate Russia’s influence, nor should we focus simply on Russia as the problem in this area. There is a major problem with disinformation in social media in the United States, much of that propagated by sources within the United States, but there are a host of other countries that also will try to affect U.S. public opinion through their intrusions into American social media. You know, given our concerns about First Amendment rights, freedom of speech and so forth, you know, I think we have problems in sort of really clamping down on this. But what we need to do, certainly, is better educate the American public about how to deal with the information that crosses their electronic devices day in and day out. Americans need to be aware of how they can be manipulated, and they need to understand and know where they can go to find reliable information. Again, given the political polarization in our country today, this is a very real challenge and difficult one. But I think if we think long term about this problem, the key really is educating the American public. An educated American public is going to be the best defense against foreign countries, other hostile forces trying to use social media to undermine our national unity and exacerbate the politics of our country. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Eoin Wilson-Manion, who’s raised his hand. Q: Hello. Can you hear me now? GRAHAM: Yes. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: Awesome. Well, thank you. I just wanted to ask if you could touch a little bit more on Russia’s presence in Syria and what that means for U.S. interests in Syria and I guess the larger Middle East. I’m Eoin from Carnegie Mellon University. Thanks very much. GRAHAM: Well, you know, the Russians entered Syria in 2015 militarily largely to save Assad from what they thought was imminent overthrow by what they considered a radical Islamic force, a group of terrorists that they thought would challenge Russian interests not only in Syria but would fuel extremist forces inside Russia itself, particularly in the North Caucasus but farther afield than that—even into Moscow, into areas that were Muslim-dominated inside Russia itself. So they had very good national security reasons for going in. Those ran—I mean, the Russian presence in Syria clearly has run counter to what the United States was trying to do at that point since we clearly aligned against Assad in favor of what we considered moderate reformist forces that were seeking a more sort of democratic future for Syria as part of this broader Arab Spring at that time. So there was a clear conflict at that point. You know, subsequently and in parallel with its continued presence in Syria, the Russians have extended their diplomatic—their diplomatic effort to other countries in the region. Russia enjoys a fairly robust diplomatic relationship with Israel, for example, that has been grounded in counterterrorism cooperation, for example. They have a sort of strange relationship, largely positive, with Turkey that they have pursued over the past several years. We know of the ties that they’ve had in Tehran, in Iran for some time. They have reached out to the Saudis and the Saudis have bought some military equipment from them. We see them in Egypt and Libya, for example. So they’re a growing presence, a growing diplomatic presence in the Middle East, and this does pose some problems for the United States. From the middle of the 1970s onward, one of the basic thrusts of American foreign policy was to limit the role the Russians played in the Middle East. We sidelined them in the negotiations between the Arabs and the Israelis in the 1970s and in the 1980s. We limited their diplomatic contacts to countries that we considered critical partners and allies in that part of the world. Now I think the geopolitical situation has changed. Our own interest in the Middle East has diminished over time, in part because of the fracking revolution here in the United States. Gas and oil, we’ve got close to being independent in that area. We’re not as dependent on the Middle East as we once were for energy sources. And also, as, you know, the Biden administration has been clear, we do want to pivot away from the Middle East and Europe to focus more of our energies on what we see as the rising and continuing strategic challenge posed by China. So I think that means that going forward the United States is going to have to deal with Russia in a different fashion in the Middle East than in the past. We’re going to have to recognize them as a continuing presence. We’re not going to be able to push them out, in part because we’re not prepared to devote the resources to it. We have countries that are still important to us—Saudi Arabia, Israel for example—that do want a Russian presence in the Middle East. And so what we ought to do, it seems to me, is to begin that discussion about how we’re going to manage the rivalry in the Middle East. Now, it’s not all simply competition. There are areas for cooperation. We can cooperate in dealing with Iran, for example, the Iran nuclear dossier, as we have had in the past. Neither country has an interest in Iran developing nuclear weapons. Second, I think the two countries also would like to see a Middle East that’s not dominated by a single regional power. So despite the fact that the Russians have worked together quite closely with the Iranians in Syria, they don’t share Iranian ambitions elsewhere in the Middle East. And if you look at the diplomatic ties that the Russians have nurtured over the past with Turkey, with Israel, Saudi Arabia for example, none of these are friends of Iran, to put it mildly. So we can talk, I think, to the Russians of how our—you know, we can conduct ourselves so as to foster the development of a regional equilibrium in the Middle East that tends to stabilize that region, makes it less of a threat to either country, less of a threat to America’s European allies, and use this as a basis for, again, sort of not escalating the tension in the region but moderating it in some ways that works to the long-term advantage of the United States. FASKIANOS: Next question from Michael Strmiska, who’s a professor at Orange County Community College in New York state. Do you see any hope of persuading Russia to abandon its occupation of Crimea in the near term? Or do you think this is like the occupation of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia after World War II, where a very long timespan was needed before any liberation was realistically possible? GRAHAM: Well, I guess my answer to those two questions would be yes and no, or no and yes. On Crimea, you know, I see no sort of near-term scenario that would lead to the Russians agreeing to the return of Crimea to Ukraine. Quite the contrary, Russia has taken steps since 2014 they continue at this point to further integrate Crimea into the Russian Federation politically, economically, socially, and so forth. The Russians have also built up their military presence in Crimea as a way of enhancing their domination or their influence in the greater Black Sea region. So I see no set of circumstances that would change that, certainly not in the—in the near term. And I think, you know, the Ukrainian effort to focus attention on Crimea is not going to, in fact, gain a great deal of traction with Europe nor with the United States going forward, though we will maintain the principled position of not recognizing Russia’s incorporation or annexation of Crimea. You know, I don’t think that the Crimean and Baltic situations are necessarily analogous. You know, in the Baltic states there was a significant indigenous element, governments in exile, that supported the independence of those countries. There was a fulcrum that the United States or a lever that the United States could use over time to continue pressure on the Soviets that eventually led to the independence of those countries as the Soviet Union broke down and ultimately collapsed at the end of the 1980s into 1991. I don’t see any significant indigenous element in Crimea nor a movement of inhabitants of Crimea outside Crimea that wants Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. I think we need to remember that a significant part of the population in Ukraine is Russian military, retired Russian military, that feels quite comfortable in—within the Russian Federation at this point. So if I were being quite frank about this, although I think the United States should maintain its principled position and not recognize annexation of Crimea, I don’t see anything over the long term, barring the collapse of Russia itself, that will change that situation and see Ukraine (sic; Crimea) reincorporated into the Ukrainian state. FASKIANOS: So there are a couple questions in the chat about Russia’s economy: What is their economy like today? And what are the effects of the sanctions? And from Steve Shinkel at the Naval War College: How do you assess the tie between Russia’s economy and being able to continue to modernize its military and ensure a stable economy? And will economic factors and Russia’s demographic challenges be a future constraining factor? So if you could— GRAHAM: Yeah. No, no, just take the economy. Obviously, a big issue, and it will be a constraining factor. I mean, the Russian economy is stagnating and it has for some—for some time. They enjoyed—the Russian economy enjoyed a very rapid period of growth during President Putin’s first presidential—two presidential terms in the 2000s, but since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 Russia has run into very difficult economic times. In fact, it’s never really recovered from that crisis. If you look at the past ten years, barely any growth in the Russian economy at all. If you look at the impact that that has had on Russians themselves, there’s basically been no growth in real disposable income; rather, a decline over the past six or seven years. I think the Russians recognize that. The question is whether they can come up with a set of policies that actually will reverse that and that lead to a more robustly growing economy. Now, what the Kremlin has tried to do is not so much reform the economy—which I think is necessary if they’re going to enjoy robust economic growth—as much as professionalize the economy; that is—that is, bring in a younger sort of cadre who are well educated, many of them educated in the West, who understand how modern economies function and can keep the economy stable at least at the macro level. And this is one of the reasons that Western sanctions have not had nearly the impact on Russian behavior that many had hoped for or anticipated back in 2014 when we began to turn repeatedly to this tool in response to Russian activities and operations against Ukraine. You know, it has had some impact. I think the IMF would say that it’s probably taken a percentage point off—or, not a percentage point, but a tenth of a percentage point off of Russia’s GDP growth over the past several years. That certainly hasn’t been enough to change Russian behavior. But it hasn’t been more, in fact, because the governors of the—of the central bank have dealt quite adeptly with that, and maintain said Russian macroeconomic stability and some sort of foundation for the economy to grow going forward. I imagine that’s going to continue into the—into the future as well. So it is a constraining factor. Then I would end with what I—with a point that I made in my introduction. Russia does have a tremendous ability to mobilize its resources for state purposes, to extract what it needs from society at large to modernize the military, to maintain certainly Russia’s defenses and also some capability to project power abroad. So I wouldn’t write them off because of that. I think it’s going—still going to be a serious power, but not nearly as great a challenge to the United States as if it, in fact, solved its demographic problems, its economic problems, and had a robustly growing economy, greater resources that it could devote to a whole range of things that would improve its standing on the global stage vis-à-vis the United States and vis-à-vis China. FASKIANOS: Well, with that we are at the end of our time. And I apologize to everybody. We had over twenty written questions still pending and raised hands. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to all of you, but we do try to end on time. So, Thomas Graham, thank you very much for sharing your insights and analysis with us today. We appreciate it. And to all of you for your terrific questions and comments, we appreciate it. Our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, October 6, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And we will focus on the Indo-Pacific with Dhruva Jaishankar, who is the executive director of the Observer Research Foundation America and nonresident fellow at the Lowy Institute. And in the meantime, I encourage you to follow CFR at @CFR_Academic and visit,, and for new research and analysis on global issues. So, Tom, thank you very much. GRAHAM: Thank you. Good luck to all of you. (END)


Travis L. Adkins, deputy assistant administrator for Africa at USAID and lecturer of African and security studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service and in the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University, and Brenda Gayle Plummer, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, led a conversation on race in America and international relations. FASKIANOS: Welcome to the first session of the CFR Fall 2021 Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today’s meeting is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We’re delighted to have Travis Adkins and Brenda Gayle Plummer with us to discuss race in America and international relations. Travis Adkins is deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau of Africa at USAID, and lecturer of African and security studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, and in the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University. As an international development leader, he has two decades of experience working in governance, civil society, and refugee and migration affairs in over fifty nations throughout Africa and the Middle East. Mr. Adkins was a CFR international affairs fellow and is a CFR member. Dr. Brenda Gayle Plummer is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research includes race and gender, international relations, and civil rights. Dr. Plummer has taught Afro-American history throughout her twenty years of experience in higher education. Previously she taught at Fisk University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Minnesota. And from 2001 to 2005, Dr. Plummer served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of State. So, thank you both for being with us today. We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Travis, I thought we could begin with you to talk about the ways in which you’ve seen race relations in America influence U.S. foreign policy. ADKINS: Sure. Thank you so much, Irina. And welcome to everyone. Thank you for joining. The first thing I would say is that America’s long history of violence, exclusion, and barbarism towards Black people and indigenous people and Asian communities and immigrant communities in the United States have worked to give the lie to the notion of who we say we are in terms of freedom, in terms of democracy, in terms of the respect for human rights. And these are the core messages that we seek to project in our foreign policy. And we’ve not been able to resolve those contradictions because we have refused to face this history, right? And we can’t countenance a historical narrative in which we are not the heroes, not the good guys, not on the right side of history. And the challenge that we’ve had is that we’ve seen that play out in so many ugly ways domestically. But it also has resonance and relevance in our foreign policy, because what it ends up doing is essentially producing a foreign policy of platitudes and contradictory posturing on the issues of human rights, on the issues of racial justice, on the issues of democratic governance when the world can see not only this history but this present reality of racial discrimination, of police brutality, of efforts to suppress the political participation of specific groups of people inside of America. They can see children in cages at the Southern border. They can see anti-Asian hate taking place in our nation, and they can hear those messages resounding, sometimes from our White House, sometimes from our Senate, sometimes from our Congress and other halls of power throughout the United States. And that works against the message of who we say we are, which is really who we want to be. But the thing that we, I think, lose out on is pretending that where we want to be is actually where we are. And I think back a couple weeks ago Secretary Blinken came out saying to diplomats in the State Department that it was okay for them to admit America’s flaws and failings in their diplomatic engagements with other countries. But I would—I do applaud that. But I also think that saying that we would admit it to the rest of the world—the rest of the world already knows. And who we would have to need to focus on admitting it to is ourselves, because we have not faced this national shame of ours as it relates to the historical and the present reality of White supremacy, of racialized violence and hatred and exclusion in our immigration policy, in our education policy, in our law and customs and cultural mores that have helped to produce ongoing violence and hatred of this nature in which our history is steeped. I think the other part of that is that we lose the opportunity to then share that message with the rest of the world. And so, what I like to say is that our real history is better than the story that we tell. So instead of us framing ourselves and our foreign policy as a nation who fell from the heavens to the top of a mountain, it’s a more powerful story to say that we climbed up out of a valley and are still climbing up out of a valley of trying to create and produce and cultivate a multiracial, multiethnic democracy with respect for all, and that that is and has been a struggle. And I think that that message is much more powerful. And what it does is it creates healing for us at home, but it also begins to take away this kind of Achilles’ heel that many of our adversaries have used historically—the Soviet Union, now Russia, China, Iran—this notion that democracy and freedom and the moral posturing of America is all for naught if you just look at what they do at home. Who are they to preach to you about these things when they themselves have the same challenges? And so I think that we would strengthen ourselves if we could look at this in that way. And I would just close by saying that we often speak of the civil rights movement and the movement for decolonization in the world, and specifically in Africa where I mostly work, speak of them in the past tense. But I would argue that both of them are movements and histories that are continuously unfolding, that are not resolved, and that haven’t brought themselves to peaceful kinds of conclusions. And this is why when George Floyd is killed on camera, choked for nine minutes and loses his life, that you see reverberations all over the world, people pushing back because they are suffering from the same in their countries, and they are following after anti-Asian hate protestors and advocates, Black Lives Matter advocates and protestors, people who are saying to the world this is unacceptable. And so even in that way, you see the linked fates that people share. And so I think that the more we begin to face who we are at home, the more we begin to heal these wounds and relate better in the foreign policy arena, because I think that it is a long held fallacy that these things are separate, right? A nation’s foreign policy is only an extension of its beliefs, its policies and its aspirations and its desires from home going out into the world. So I will stop there. And thank you for the question. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. Dr. Plummer, over to you. PLUMMER: Well, your question is a very good one. It is also a very book-length question. I’ll try to address that. First of all, I would like to say that I find Mr. Adkins’ statement quite eloquent and can’t think of anything I disagree with in what he has said. There are a couple of things that we might consider as well. I think there are several issues embedded in this question of the relationship between race relations in the United States and it’s policies toward other countries. One of them is, I think there’s a difference between what policymakers intend and how American policy is perceived. There is also the question of precisely who is making and carrying out U.S. foreign policy. Now there was a time when that question I think could be very readily answered. But we’re now in an age where we have enhanced roles for the military and the intelligence community. We have private contractors executing American objectives overseas. And this really places a different spin on things, somewhat different from what we observe when we look at this only through a strictly historical lens. I think we also need to spend some time thinking about the precise relationship between race and racism and what we might call colonial, more of imperialist practices. You might look, for example, at what is the relationship between the essentially colonial status of places like Puerto Rico and the Marianas and the—how those particular people from those places are perceived and treated within both the insular context and the domestic context. Clearly, everybody on the planet is shaped to a large degree by the culture and the society that they live in, that they grew up in, right? And so it is probably no mystery from the standpoint of attitudes that certain kinds of people domestically may translate into similar views of people overseas. But I think one of the things we might want to think about is how our institutions, as well as prejudices, influence what takes place. People like to talk, for example, about the similarities between the evacuation of Saigon and the evacuation of Kabul and wonder what is it called when you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results? We might want to think about what is it, institutionally, which creates these kinds of repetitions, creates situations in which diplomats are forced to apologize and explain continually about race and other conflictual issues in American society. We might also think about what you perhaps could call a racialization process. Do we create categories of pariahs in response to national emergencies? Do we create immigrants from countries south of the United States as enemies because we don’t have a comprehensive and logical way of dealing with immigration? Do we create enemies out of Muslims because of our roles in the Middle East and, you know, the activities and actions of other states? There’s some historical presence for this—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, for example. So it seems to me that in addressing I think, you know, some of this very rich question, there are a number of ways and facets that we might want to look at and discuss more fully. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you very much. And now we’re going to go to all of you for questions and comments. So you can either ask your question by raising your hand, click on the raised hand icon and I will call on you, or else you can write your question in the Q&A box. And if you choose to write your question—although we’d prefer to hear your voice—please include your affiliation. And when I call on you, please let us know who you are and your institution. So the first question, the first raised hand I see is from Stanley Gacek. Q: Yes, thank you very much. Thank you very much, Professor Plummer and Mr. Adkins, for a very, very compelling presentation. My name is Stanley Gacek. I’m the senior advisor for global strategies at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, representing 1.3 million working women and men in the United States and Canada in the retail, wholesale, food production, healthcare, and services industries. Practically all of our members are on the frontlines of the pandemic. I also served as deputy director and interim director of the ILO mission in Brazil in 2011 to 2016. And my question is this. I wonder if the speakers would also acknowledge that an issue for the United States in terms of its credibility with regard to racial justice, human rights, and of course labor rights, is a rather paltry record of the United States in terms of ratifying international instruments and adhering to international fora with regard to all of these issues. One example which comes to mind in my area is ILO Convention 111 against discrimination in employment and profession, which could—actually has gone through a certain due diligence process in former administrations and was agreed to by business and labor in the United States but still the United States has failed to ratify. I just wondered if you might comment more generally about how that affects our credibility in terms of advocating for racial justice, human rights, and labor rights throughout the world. Thank you very much. FASKIANOS: Who can address that, would like to address that? PLUMMER: Well, I have very little immediate knowledge of this, and I have to say that labor issues and labor rights have been kind of a missing element in terms of being heavily publicized and addressed. I think it has something to do with the fact that over the course of the decades the United States has been less responsive to the United Nations, to international organizations in general. But in terms of the specifics, you know, precisely what has fallen by the wayside, I, you know, personally don’t have, you know, knowledge about that. ADKINS: And I would just say more generally, not to speak specifically in terms of labor, where I’m also not an expert, but there is, of course, a long history of the U.S. seeking to avoid these kinds of issues in the international arena writ large as Dr. Plummer was just referring to. I just finished a book by Carol Anderson called Eyes Off the Prize, which is a whole study of this and the ways in which the U.S. government worked through the United Nations to prevent the internationalization of the civil rights movement which many—Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others—sought to frame it in the context of human rights and raise it into an international specter, and that was something that the U.S. government did not want to happen. And of course, we know that part of the genius of the civil rights movement writ large was this tactic of civil disobedience, not just to push against a law that we didn’t like to see in effect but actually to create a scene that would create international media attention which would show to the world what these various communities were suffering inside of America, to try to create pressure outside of our borders for the cause of freedom and justice and democracy. And so there is that long history there which you’ve touched on with your question. Thank you for that. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome. Q: Good afternoon and thank you for your presentation. I just wonder about U.S. foreign policy, how it lines up with the domestic politics, you know, in terms of race relations, because if one was to believe U.S. propaganda, you know, this country is doing good in the world, it’s the country to emulate. But you know, the events of—well, I guess the George Floyd case brought into graphic relief what most astute observers of the U.S. know, that race relations of the U.S. do not line up very well with the constitutional aspirations of the U.S. So what’s going to change now, you know? And then there’s also this pandemic and the way which race and class is showing us about the real serious inequalities in the U.S. So what’s going to change in terms of lessons learned? And then moving forward, is also multilateralism going to come back into U.S. foreign policy in some way? That’s it. PLUMMER: I think—I’m getting kind of an echo here. I don’t know if other people are. I don’t think anyone is—you know, who is thinking about this seriously doubts that the United States is in a crisis at the moment—a crisis of legitimacy not only abroad but also domestically. We have a situation in which an ostensibly developed country has large pockets, geographic pockets where there are, you know, 30, 40, 50 percent poverty rates. We have people who are essentially mired in superstition, you know, with regard to, you know, matters of health and science. And you know, I don’t think anyone is, you know—is, you know—who is, you know, thinking about this with any degree of gravity is not concerned about the situation. Once again, I think we’re talking here about institutions, about how we can avoid this sort of repetitive and cyclical behavior. But one thing I want to say about George Floyd is that this is a phenomenon that is not only unique to the United States. One of the reasons why George Floyd became an international cause célèbre is because people in other countries also were experiencing racism. There—other countries had issues with regard to immigration. And so really looking at a situation in which I think is—you know, transcends the domestic, but it also transcends, you know, simply looking at the United States as, you know, the sort of target of criticism. FASKIANOS: Do you want to add anything, Travis, or do you want to—should we go to the next question? ADKINS: Go on to the next question. Thank you. FASKIANOS: OK, thank you. Let’s go to Shaarik Zafar with Georgetown, and our prior questioner was with Brooklyn—teachers at Brooklyn College. Q: Hey, there. This is Shaarik Zafar. I was formerly the special counsel for post-9/11 national origin discrimination in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division—sorry, that’s a mouthful—and then most recently during the Obama years I was a special representative to Muslim communities. So this—I first applaud the presentation. These issues are very near and dear to me. I think it’s clear, you know, we have to own up and acknowledge our shortcomings. And I think, you know, I was really sad to hear that we actually worked against highlighting what I think is really an example of American exceptionalism, which is our civil rights movement and our civil rights community. When I was at State during the Obama years, we had a very modest program where we brought together U.S. civil rights leaders and connected them with European civil rights leaders. And the idea wasn’t that we had it all figured out but rather that, you know, in some respects the United States has made some advances when it comes to civil rights organizing and civil society development in that respect—and perhaps more so than other countries. I was just thinking, I would love to get the panelists’ thoughts on ways that we can continue to collaborate and—you know, on a civil society level between civil rights organizations in the United States and abroad and the way the U.S. government should actually support that—even if it means highlighting our shortcomings—but as a way to, you know, invest in these types of linkages and partnerships to not only highlight our shortcomings but look for ways that we could, you know, actually come to solutions that need to be, I think, fostered globally. Thanks so much. ADKINS: You know, the first thing I would say, Shaarik—thanks for your question—I thought it was interesting, this idea of framing the civil rights movement as a kind of example of American exceptionalism. And I think there’s a way in which I would relate to that in the sense that folks did, at least nominally or notionally, have certain kinds of freedom of speech, certain kinds of rights to assembly. But even those were challenged, of course, when we see the violence and the assassinations and all of the machinations of the government against those who were leaders or participants in that movement. And so in that sense, perhaps I would agree. I might push back, though, in terms of American exceptionalism as it relates to civil rights, because these people were actually advocating against the U.S. government, who actually did not want them to have the rights that they were promised under the Constitution. Of course, many of us would not be free or able to speak up without the 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments. And so there’s a sense in which we celebrate them, but there’s also a sense in which they are actually indictments of the original Constitution which did not consider any of those things to be necessary elements of our society. In terms of civil society and where the U.S. government is engaged, I think that, you know, sometimes when we deal with these problems that are foreign policy related, you know, sometimes the answer is at home. Sometimes the answer is not, you know, a white paper from some high-level think tank. It’s not something that starts ten thousand miles away from where we are, because I don’t think that we would have the kind of standing and credibility that we would need to say that we believe in and support and give voice and our backing to civil society movements abroad if we don’t do the same thing at home. And so everything that we want to do somewhere else, we ought to ask ourselves the question of whether or not we’ve thought about doing it at home. And I don’t mean to suggest—because certainly no nation is perfect, and every nation has its flaws. But certainly, we would be called to the mat for the ways in which we are either acknowledging or refusing to acknowledge that we have, you know, these same—these same challenges. And so I think there still remains a lot of work to be done there in terms of how we engage on this. And you have seen the State Department come out and be more outspoken. You’ve seen the Biden administration putting these issues more out front. You have now seen the Black Lives Matter flag flying over U.S. embassies in different parts of the world. And some people might view that as co-optation of a movement that is actually advocating against the government for those rights and those respects and that safety and security that people believe that they are not receiving. And others might see it as a way to say, look, our nation is embracing civil society and civic protests in our nation as an example that the countries in which those embassies are in should be more open to doing the same kinds of things. And so it’s a great question. I think it remains to be seen how we move forward on that—on that score. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Molly Cole. Q: Hi. My name is Molly Cole. I am a grad student of global affairs at New York University. I was just curious sort of what y’all thought about what the consequences of foreign policy on punishment systems and institutions as it pertains to race relations in the United States would be, also in tandem with sort of this strive for global inclusivity and equity and just sort of, I guess, hitting those two ideas against each other. ADKINS: Can you clarify the ideals for us, Molly? So one sounded like it was about maybe mass incarceration or the death penalty or things of that nature? You’re talking about punitive systems of justice? And then the other seemed to be more about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the foreign policy space? But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I just want to make sure I understand the question. Q: You hit the nail on the head. ADKINS: OK. Do you want to go ahead, Dr. Plummer? PLUMMER: Oh. Well, again, a great question but, you know, one of, you know, it’s—could write a book to answer. (Laughs.) Well, if you’re talking about the sort of international regime of incarceration—is that what you were referring to? Q: Yes, essentially. So when we’re—when we’re considering, you know, these punitive systems, I’m thinking in terms of, you know, the death penalty, mass incarceration, private prisons, sort of this culmination of us trying to come up with these ideals, but doing it sort of on our own, while also combatting, you know, what the nation is calling for, what the globe is calling for. PLUMMER: Yeah. I think this sort of pertains to what I had mentioned earlier about just, you know, who is making and carrying out U.S. foreign policy, or domestic policy for that matter. There’s a whole question of the state and, you know, what parts of the state are involved in this whole question of incarceration and are involved in the whole question of the death penalty. One of the things that we are aware of is that prisons have—some of the prisons are actually not being operated by civil authorities. They’re operated by private entities. We saw this again in—you know, particularly in Afghanistan, where a lot of functions which normally, you know, are carried out by civil authorities are carried out by private authorities. And so this really puts a whole different perspective on the question or the relationship of citizens to the state and, you know, to any other particular group of citizens to the state. So I think that, you know, one of the problem areas then is to tease out what in fact are the obligations and privileges of government, and how do they differ from and how are they distinguished from the private sector. Q: Thank you. ADKINS: And I would just add quickly on this notion of hypocrisy and saying one thing and doing another, there was an interesting anecdote around this when President Obama visited Senegal. And he was delivering a fairly tough message about the treatment of members of the LGBT+ community in Senegal. And President Macky Sall got up essentially after President Obama and was essentially saying that, you know, we kind of appreciate this tough love lecture, but I would remind you, you know, that Senegal doesn’t have the death penalty, right? And so on one hand we’re actually saying something that has a grounding. Of course, people of all human stripes can have dignity, and have respect and be protected. But he is then hitting back and saying, hey, wait a minute, you kill people who break laws in your own country. And we don’t have the death penalty. So who should actually be the arbiter of how is the correct way – or, what is the correct way to be? On the second part of your question, quickly, Molly, especially as it relates to the kind of diversity, equity, and inclusion piece, this is why also there has been a big push to look in our State Department, to look at USAID, to look at the face that America presents to the world. And all too often that face has been male, that face has been White. And that gives a certain perception of America, but it also means that we lose the tremendous treasure and talent of people who have language skills, who come from communities in which their own perspective on the world actually is a talent that they have. Specifically, because many of those communities—whether they’ve immigrated or come to America by different means—are also from groups who’ve been marginalized, who’ve been oppressed, who have a certain frame and a lens with which to engage with other nations in the world, either in terms of partnership, either in terms of deterrence. And so we lose out in many ways because we haven’t done a great job in that—in that matter. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take a written question from Morton Holbrook, who’s at Kentucky Wesleyan College. His question is: How should the United States respond to international criticism to the U.S.’s racial discrimination? And how will that affect the relationship between the U.S. and the international community? PLUMMER: Well, the United States, I think, has—(laughs)—no choice but to acknowledge this. Historically this has been a problem that when pressed on this issue in the past the response was always, well, you know, we know this is a problem and we’re working on it. And the most egregious examples of racism are the responsibility of people who are either at the margins of society or who represent some sort of relic past that is rapidly disappearing, right? That was the message about the South, right? OK, the South is, you know, rapidly developing and so soon these vestiges of violent racism will be over. Well, again, the reason why that doesn’t work anymore—(laughs)—is because we’re always projecting this future, right, that—you know, it’s always being projected further and further into the future. And we’re never there yet. And it seems to me, again, that this is a problem of institutions. This is a problem of the embeddedness of racism in American life, and a refusal on the part of so many Americans to acknowledge that racism is real, and that it exists. And you know, I think we see many examples of this. I’m thinking of one instance where a George Floyd commemorative mural was painted on a sidewalk and some folks came along with some paint and painted over it, because they said it wasn’t a racism corner, you know, while engaged in a racist act. So, you know, there really needs to be, I think, on a very fundamental level, some education—(laughs)—you know, in this country on the issue of race and racism. The question is, you know, who is—who will be leaders, right? Who will undertake this kind of mission? ADKINS: One thing I would say, quickly, on that, Irina, just an anecdote as well that also relates to really in some ways the last question about who our representatives are and what perspective they bring. Several years ago, I was on a trip—a congressional delegation to Egypt. And I was with several members of the CBC. And we met with President Sisi. And they were giving him a fairly rough go of it over his treatment of protesters who were protesting at that time in Tahrir Square, many of whom had been killed, maimed, abused, jailed. And he listened to them kind of haranguing him. And at the end of that speech that they were giving to him he said basically: I understand your points. And I hear your perspective. But he said, can I ask you a question? They said, sure, Mr. President. We welcome you to ask questions. And he said, what about Ferguson? And the day that he said that Ferguson was on fire with surplus military equipment in the streets of America, with, you know, tear gas and armed military-appearing soldiers in the streets of America who were seen, at least optically, to be doing the same thing, right? Not as many people were killed, certainly, but the point is you have this same problem. However, if that had been a different delegation, he might have scored a point in their verbal jousting. But President Sisi had the misfortune of saying this to two-dozen 70-plus-year-old Black people. And no one in America would know better than they what that is like. And so what they ended up replying to him by saying, exactly. No one knows this better than we do. And this is exactly why we’re telling you that you shouldn’t do it. Not because our country doesn’t have that history, but because we do have that history and it has damaged us, and it will damage you. Which takes on a completely different tone in our foreign relations than if it was simply a lecture, and that we were placing ourselves above the nations of the world rather than among them. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go to Ashantee Smith. Q: Hello. Can you guys hear me? ADKINS: We can. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: OK, perfect. Hi. My name is Ashantee Smith. I am a grad student at Winston-Salem State University. In regards to some of the responses that you guys gave earlier, it gave me a question. And I wanted to know how you guys were putting the correlation between racism and immigration. PLUMMER: Well, yeah. The United States has a history of racialized responses to immigrants, including historically to White immigrants. Back in the day the Irish, for example, were considered to be, you know, something less than White. We know, however, that society—American society has since, you know, incorporated Europeans into the category of Whiteness, and not done so for immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, who remain racialized, who are perceived as being, in some respects by some people, unassimilable. We also have a phenomenon of the racialization of Muslims, the creation of outcast groups that are subjected to, you know, extremes of surveillance or exclusion or discrimination. So immigration is very much embedded in this, is a question of an original vision of the United States, you know, and you can see this in the writings of many of the founding fathers, as essentially a White country in which others, you know, are in varying degrees of second-class citizens or not citizens at all. So this is, I think, an example of something that we have inherited historically that continues to, you know, be an issue for us in the present. Yeah. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Pearl Robinson. Q: Hello. I am just so thrilled to see the two panelists here. I want—I actually raised my hand when you were talking about the labor rights issue. And I’m at Tufts University. And I’m currently working on an intellectual biography about Ralph Bunche. And I actually ran over here from the U.N. archives where I was actually reading about these issues. (Laughs.) And I wanted to just say that the discussion we’re having now, it’s sort of disjointed because we’re dealing with lots of erasures, things that are overlooked, and they are not enough Carol Andersons and Brenda Gayle Plummer professors out there putting these things in press. But even more importantly, they are not sufficiently in our curriculum. So people who study international relations and people who do international relations don’t know most of these things. So my quick point I just wanted to say was during World War II when Ralph Bunche was working for the OSS military intelligence, his archives are full of it, he went and he was interviewing our allies at their missions and embassies in the U.S.—the French, the British—asking them: What are your labor relations policies in your colonial territories? And this was considered important military information for the United States, as we were going to be—as Africa was an important field of operation. When you get to actually setting up the U.N., I was struck in a way I hadn’t, because I hadn’t read archives this way. (Laughs.) But I’m looking at conversations between Bunche and Hammarskjöld, and they’re restructuring the organization of the United States—of the United Nations. And there are two big issues that are determining their response to the restructuring—the Cold War as well as decolonization. And I actually think that those two issues remain—they’re structuring that conversation we’re having right now. And they—we say the Cold War is over, but I love this phrase, of the racialization of the current enemies or people we think of as enemies. So I actually do think that this is a really good program we’re having where we’re trying to have the conversation. But the dis-junctures, and the silences, and the difficulties of responding I think speak volumes. The last thing I will say, very quickly, that incident about the discussion with President Sisi that Mr. Adkins—that needs to be canned. That needs to be somehow made available as an example that can be replicated and expanded and broadened for people to use in teaching. ADKINS: Well, I always listen when my teacher is talking to me, Dr. Robinson. Thank you for sharing that. And I’m working on it, I promise you. (Laughter.) FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to—we have lots of questions and raised hands, and we’re not going to get to all of you. So I apologize right now. (Laughs.) We’ll do the best we can. Jill Humphries. Q: Hello. My name is Jill Humphries. And I’m an adjunct assistant professor in the Africa Studies Program at the University of Toledo, and have been doing Africa-based work, I’m proud to say, for about thirty-three years, starting at the age twenty-two, and have used Dr. Plummer’s work in my dissertation. And hello, fellow ICAPer (sp). So my question is this: There’s an assumption that I believe we’re operating in. And that is race and racism is somehow aberrant to the founding of this country, right? So we know that Saidiya Hartman and Frank Wilderson, the Afropessimist, make the argument that it is clearly key that it is fundamental to the development of our institutions. And so my question is this: You know, the—in the domestic scene the sort of abolitions clearly state that unless we fundamentally transform our norms and values, which impact, of course, our institutions, then we will continue to have the exact outcomes that are expected. The killing of George Floyd and the continuing, I think, need to kill Black bodies is essential to this country. And so my question is, in the context of foreign relations, international relations, are we also looking at the way in which, number one, it is not aberrant that racism is a constituent element in the development of our foreign policy and our institutions? And that unless we fundamentally first state it, acknowledge it, and then perhaps explore the way in which we dismantle, right—dismantle those norms and values that then impact these institutions, that we’re going to continue to have the same outcomes, right? So for example, when Samantha Powers visited Ethiopia, if you’ve been following that whole narrative, there was a major backlash by the Ethiopian diaspora—major. My colleagues and friends, like, I’ve had intense conversations, right, around that. Same thing about the belief about Susan, former—Susan Rice’s role, right, in continuing to influence our foreign policy, particularly towards the Horn of Africa. So my question is: What does that look like, both theoretically, conceptually? But more importantly for me, because I’m a practitioner on the ground, what does that look like in practice? And that’s where I think Professor Adkins, working for USAID, could really kind of talk about. Thank you. ADKINS: Thank you. Yeah, you know, I think it goes back to Dr. Robinson’s question a moment ago. And that is the first the acknowledgement and the calling out and the putting into relief and contrast the context in which we’re operating, especially when we think about not even USAID specifically, but the industry of development—aid and development assistance kind of writ large. Because essentially what we have is a historical continuum that starts with the colonial masters and the colonial subjects. And then that because what is called, or framed, as the first world and the third world, right? And then that becomes the developing world and the developed world. Then that becomes the global north and the global south. All of which suggests that one is above, and one is below. That one is a kind of earthly heaven, the other kind of earthly hell. That one possessed the knowledge and enlightenment to lead people into civilization, and the other needs redemption, needs to be saved, needs to be taught the way to govern themselves, right? That this kind of Western notion of remaking yourself in the world, that your language, that your system of government, that your way of thinking and religious and belief and economics should be the predominant one in the world. And so I think, to me, what you’re saying suggests the ways in which we should question that. And this is where you start to hear conversations about decolonizing aid, about questioning how we presume to be leaders in the world in various aspects, of which we may not actually be producing sound results ourselves. And thinking again about this notion of placing ourselves among nations rather than above nations in the ways in which we relate and engage. And I think that it’s one of the reasons that we continue to have challenges in the realm of development assistance, in the realm of our diplomacy and foreign policy. Because, again, there is a pushback against that kind of thinking, which is rooted in a deep history that contains much violence and many types of economic and diplomatic pressures to create and sustain the set of power relations which keeps one group of people in one condition and one in another. And so it’s a huge question. And how to bring that kind of lofty thinking down to the granular level I think is something that we will have to continue to work on every day. I certainly don’t have the answer, but I’m certainly answering—asking, I should say—the questions. PLUMMER: I think I might also think about how is in charge. And this is—you know, it goes back to something we talked about before, when U.S. foreign policy is no longer exclusively rooted in the State Department? So in terms of, you know, who represents the United States abroad and in what ways, and how is that representation perceived, we’re really looking at, you know, a lot of different actors. And we’re also looking at, you know, changes in the way that the U.S. government itself is perceiving its role, both at home and abroad. And one of the questions was previously asked about the system of incarceration speaks to that, because we have to ask ourselves what are—what are—what are the proper roles and responsibilities and burdens of the state, the government and, you know, what is leased out—(laughs)—in some ways, for profit to private concerns? So I think that, you know, some of this is about, you know, a sense of mission that I don’t see out there, that I think will in some respects have to be restored and reinvented. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Erez Manela. Q: Thank you very much for this really terrific and important panel. My name is Erez Manela. I teach the history of U.S. foreign relations at Harvard. And my question actually—I don’t know if Irina planned this—but it follows on directly from the previous question. Because I kept on wondering during this panel what—I mean, the focus that we’ve had here, the topic that’s been defined, is the way in which domestic race relations, domestic racism, have shaped U.S. foreign policy. But of course, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped—as the previous questioner noted—has been shaped directly by racism and perceptions of racial hierarchy for—well, since the very beginning. And Professor Adkins spoke very eloquently about it. And of course, Professor Plummer has written eloquently about that, including in her books on Haiti and international relations. But I guess I’m wondering if you could speak more about the specifics about the history that needs to be recognized in that realm, and then—and this is maybe self-interested—whether you have any recommendations, in the way that you recommended Carol Anderson’s really terrific book—for reading that we can read ourselves or give our students to read, that would really drive that point home, the influence of racism, race perceptions, race hierarchies themselves on—directly on the conduct of U.S. foreign relations historically. PLUMMER: Well, Professor Manela, I appreciate your own work on Wilson. And you know, that in some respects—that would be a book that I’d recommend. (Laughs.) Might also think about Mary Dudziak’s work on Cold War civil rights, and her law review article, Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative, which, you know, directly addresses these questions. Again, what I would like to see is some work that will—perhaps not necessarily a historical perspective—but will address this whole question of the sort of growing, I don’t know what you’d call it, multiplicity or multivariant character of American policymaking, you know, as we—as we go forward, you know, past the Cold War era. There’s an interesting item by a man named Andrew Friedman, who wrote a book called Covert Capital. I think the subtitle is something like Landscapes of Power, in which we discussed the rise of Northern Virginia as what he sees as the true capital of, you know, parts of the U.S. government, in being a center for the military and for intelligence community. And their shaping of that environment at home, as well as their influence in shaping U.S. policy abroad. So, you know, there’s a lot of room for work on these—on these issues. ADKINS: And I would also just follow up—and thank you for the question—and add another book that I just finished. Daniel Immerwahr, from Northwestern University, How to Hide an Empire, which deals in many ways with U.S. foreign policy and the way in which it is explicitly racialized and ways in which that goes understudied in our—in our policy circles, and certainly in the world of education. FASKIANOS: I’m going to try to squeeze in one last question. And I apologize again for not getting to everybody’s question. We’ll go to Garvey Goulbourne as our final question. Q: Yes. Hi. Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: We can. Q: Yeah. My name’s Garvey Goulbourne. I’m a student at the University of Virginia, actually studying abroad this semester in Rabat, Morocco. And my question to you both is: What mechanisms do we have to orient the narratives that our foreign policy leaders are brought up with? Thinking particularly of American exceptionalism and how we kind of place ourselves on a pedestal, whether they be foreign affairs schools or various institutions at different levels of American education, what tools do we have to address the foundations of American perspectives of themselves and our nation in relation to the rest of the world, particularly the global south? FASKIANOS: Who wants to go first? An easy question, of course, to close with. PLUMMER: Go ahead, Mr. Adkins. ADKINS: Sure, sure. Thank you for your question, Garvey. And congratulations on the move out to Morocco. Great to see you there. I think the first thing I would say, of course, is our tools, as far as I am concerned, relate certainly to education. And it’s one of the reasons that I am in the classroom. But I know what that fight is like, because even education is taken over by these notions of White supremacy, by these notions of singular historical narratives. And this is why there’s been such a push against the 1619 Project of the New York Times, why there is this kind of silly season around the misunderstood origins and contexts of critical race theory. There is this battle over who gets to tell the story of what America is, because it is more than—but it is more than one thing, obviously, to a multiplicity of people. And so I am kind of remiss—or, not remiss. There’s no way for me to elucidate for you now a series of tools that will resolve these problems, because these are challenges that people have been wrestling with before our mothers’ mothers were born. And so we only are continuing that fight from where we sit. And certainly, in the classrooms that I am in, whether they are in prisons or on campuses, we are always digging into the origin of these themes. And the main frame through which I teach is not just for students to understand this history for their health, but for them to understand this history as a lens through which to view the current world and all of the events and challenges that we find ourselves facing, to see if we can come up with new ways to address them. PLUMMER: Well, one of the things that Mr. Goulbourne could do, since he is in Morocco, is to make use of his own insights in his conversations with Moroccans. So, you know, there is still a role, you know, for individual actors to play some part in attempting to make some changes. FASKIANOS: Well, with that we unfortunately have to close this conversation. It was very rich. Thank you, Travis Adkins and Brenda Gayle Plummer or sharing your insights and analysis with us. We really appreciate it. To all of you, for your questions and comments. Again, I’m sorry we couldn’t get to all of you. You can follow Travis Adkins @travisladkins, and that’s on Twitter. And our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday September 29, at 1:00 p.m. (ET) with Thomas Graham, who is a fellow at CFR. And we’ll talk about Putin’s Russia. So in the meantime, I encourage you to follow us at @CFR_Academic, visit,, and for new research and analysis on global issues. So thank you all again and we look forward to continuing the conversation. ADKINS: Take care, everyone. Thank you. (END)
College and University Educators Workshop
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Reserved for college and university leaders, administrators, and professors, the CFR Higher Education Webinar series offers timely conversations on global issues affecting higher education, featuring CFR fellows and thought leaders. Webinars convene monthly to explore strategic challenges and share best practices for meeting them. Video recordings and transcripts are posted to after the fact. 

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Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University and founding director of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, and Clyde Wilson Pickett, vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh, discuss pandemic-related inequities in higher education.   FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And we welcome you and are happy to have you with us today. Our meeting is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. So we’re delighted to have Sara Goldrick-Rab and Clyde Wilson Pickett with us today to talk about pandemic-related inequities in higher education. We’ve shared their bios with you, so I’ll just give a few highlights. Dr. Goldrick-Rab is professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University and founding director of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in Philadelphia. She’s also the chief strategy office for emergency aid at Edquity, a student financial success and emergency aid company, and founder of Believe in Students, a nonprofit focused on distributing emergency aid. She’s known for her innovative research on food and housing insecurity in higher education and for her work on making public higher education free. Dr. Pickett is vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh. In his role, he provides leadership for university-wide comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Previously Dr. Pickett served as chief diversity officer for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. And prior to that, he held positions with several other colleges and universities, including the Community College of Allegheny County, Ohio Northern University, Morehead State University, and the University of Kentucky. So thank you both for joining us today. You know, we really want to have a—dig into this conversation, the primary ways the pandemic has contributed to inequities in higher education that were already there, but we’ve seen the gap widen. So, Dr. Goldrick-Rab, it would be great if you could begin by talking about the financial challenges, including non-tuition related challenges, related expenses that you’ve seen pre-pandemic and now with the pandemic. And then we’ll go to Dr. Pickett. GOLDRICK-RAB: Great. Yes. Well, thank you so much for having me. And it’s great to be here virtually with you all today. It’s a real honor. And I’m delighted to be here with Clyde and looking forward to this conversation. This topic of what students go through in order to pay for college is something that I spent about twenty years studying. And a lot of what we have learned over that time is that the challenges are a lot more complicated and a lot more substantial than simple numbers, like the net price of college or the amount of financial aid, would have you believe. So even prior to the pandemic, we saw that students were, for example, having trouble because what the college said it would cost to go there is inclusive of living expenses. And what a college estimates for living expenses is often off. So for example, right, if a student is living at home with their family, the assumption might be that the family is not charging rent. But a lot of students were, in fact, paying rent while living with their families. So one key thing that was challenging was information and, you know, just a good sense of what one had to budget for. A second really big challenge is that the financial aid system was really set up to support a fraction of college students, not to support the majority. And as result, there’s a lot of paperwork required. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through in order to be able to get and keep financial aid. And, frankly, there’s only a limited amount of money. And so the financial aid, even before the pandemic, was leaving students way short, especially when it came to grants. And that’s one of the main reasons that we saw the big increase in loans. The other thing is that the financial aid system is heavily bureaucratic. It moves very slowly. And so when a student has an unexpected expense or a shortfall—you know, a car breaks down—it is very hard to get that money quickly using standard financial aid. Another big challenge, it has to do with what happened to people’s families, right? So the status of American families over the last twenty years, and the extent to which they can’t actually make ends meet, the extent to which they can’t survive an unexpected expense themselves, means that a lot of college students come from settings where there isn’t anybody there to actually be able to help them in that way. They can provide love, and they can provide support, and they can talk to them and be supportive of, you know, what they’re doing. But the idea that every student coming to college has two parents with good incomes who are able to step up and help, that’s been an outdated assumption for a very long time. And of course, that also maps onto significant changes in the racial composition of higher education, into the gender composition, right, the class composition of higher education, and so on. Another big issue has to do with working. And working during college is actually the backbone of financial aid packages. Students are mostly assumed that they’re going to need to work, and they do need to work. And 70 percent of students were working before the pandemic, and the vast majority of students were trying to find work but couldn’t find it. So that was really hard in a labor market where the minimum wage didn’t, you know, pay particularly well and where, let’s be honest, employers really want flexibility and they’re not particularly impressed with students’ needs to attend class, for example, at given times of the day. So that, on top of state disinvestment for higher education, which has led a lot of institutions to shift the burden for paying for college onto students, was what thinks looked like before the pandemic. And then the pandemic struck. And we already had gaps in the system. We already had big financial holes for many, many students. And it did a lot of things. It made it harder for institutions that needed to offer students a lot more financial aid or a lot more emergency aid but didn’t have the support available, that don’t have big endowments. When the federal government stepped up, that was good. But somebody actually has to give out the money. And there wasn’t a lot of money to provide for that additional staffing and infrastructure to actually get money to students quickly. That’s a lot of work. So one of the results is that we find that an average time it takes to get a student emergency aid is about fourteen days. Which is way out of line when you consider that what happens to people in an emergency is they need money fast. Another thing that happened, of course, is that jobs for students have become a lot harder to find, although it’s also been complicated by the fact that employers report they can’t find people to work there. But the kinds of jobs that students are comfortable being in—meaning they feel safe, that work with their work schedules, and that pay a decent wage—are still really hard for many of them to find. Another challenge, of course, is that many of these students have family responsibilities. So more than one in four students in the United States has a child of their own. So the things that have happened to our workforce as schools closed and parents had to take care of kids happened to our students too. And to the extent that families became sick or, you know, there was a need for caretaking, students had to do that as well. So in all of the ways that affect regular people in American life—in terms of their financial instability, the volatility, the unexpected expenses—things were hard before and things are even harder now. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. Dr. Pickett, I’d like to go over to you now to talk about the challenges that you’ve seen, obviously with the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and strategies that you could offer as we look ahead. PICKETT: Absolutely. Well, certainly I want to take the opportunity to extend my thanks for allowing me to be with you, and to be with our colleagues, and of course to share time with Sara. It’s an honor and a privilege. Certainly, one of the things that we need to prioritize is that the current crisis has magnified inequities that have been with us for a long time. And as Sara notes, a number of these things have been present. And so as we think about the impact of this pandemic, they’ve exposed future, or I should say, current and more pronounced vulnerabilities that already existed. And they impact our populations beyond what we realize. So we put specific attention, as we should, on our students. But to be mindful that these vulnerabilities and specifically the impact of inequity impacts our colleagues. Certainly, that’s true for our staff of different designations, particularly those who are economically fragile and who are on the frontlines, as well as our colleagues who are faculty. And to think about how we can’t allow this crisis to be an excuse for how we prioritize equity and how we move a strategic agenda forward. So I wanted to be intentional about leading with that. It’s an opportunity for us to affirm our commitment and our responsibility to addressing inequities broadly speaking across the institutions that make up higher education. In terms of prioritizing specific areas, I think that inequity has been most pronounced in terms of the areas of student support, more specifically thinking about holistic student support and how we’re advancing and thinking collectively about the academic support as well as the broader considerations for how we support our students, the academic priorities of institutions and how we position them front and center. As we think about the responsibility to provide support for faculty who have to pivot to online exchange and instruction, how do we provide intentional support to meet the needs of different learners and to prioritize that beyond just a compliance lens, and to think about how accessibility and digital accessibility had to be front in consideration—a front and center consideration, I should say—for the work that we do. A part of this work, as we think about broad inequities, also is about the work in terms of thinking about the human capital of our institutions. I mentioned just briefly the disproportionate impact that we’ve—for frontline staff and individuals of different designation who are advancing work, but also to think about what it means in terms of being the caretaker of a loved one or significant other or child who has a health challenge or has been impacted by the pandemic. And more specifically to think about the childcare considerations that are placed on our colleagues and, as Sara pointed out, certainly our students as well. This broad conversation that I think is important for us to think about in terms of the broad DEI agenda and the long-term ramifications are for us to think about funding considerations as well as the academic priorities for the future. We’ve seen a number of conversations manifest around the country about learning loss and the impact long term in terms of access of higher education, and to mindful of what that means for vulnerable and populations that have been traditionally underrepresented, underserved, and locked out of higher education. So we need to be mindful of that specific impact. It is a necessity that we prioritize inclusion in terms of how we move this work forward. We know loud and clear that the pandemic has further illuminated issues of discrimination, bias, and xenophobia. We’ve seen that with the uptick in anti-Asian violence around the country, more pronounced incidents of growth in White supremacist groups around the country. And to think about how institutions can take a more proactive approach in creating inclusive spaces on campuses and online, as instruction has pivoted in different ways, and for us to prioritize that. Campuses must be intentional about thinking about the holistic needs our students, the basic needs our students, and to prioritize mental health support and technology, as all of those areas have been escalated for consideration. Certainly, to be mindful of balancing safety as a front and center consideration for how we prioritize inclusion is part of our work. And to think about how we prioritize funding allocation for different opportunities to impact populations has to be a consideration as we think about the strategic equity agenda. So I offer those considerations as we begin our discussion and, of course, look forward to delving into more of them, as well as the questions that might come from our colleagues. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you very much. Let’s go to all of you now for your questions. You can either raise your hand or you can type your question in the Q&A box and I’ll read it. If you do so there, though, please state your institutional affiliation so that we know where you are, gives us the context for the conversation. So I’m going to first go to a good colleague, Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome. Over to you. Q: OK. Yeah. Good afternoon. I’m Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome. And I’m a professor of political science at Brooklyn College. One of the concerns that I have is the mental health effects on students, and actually all of us—(laughs)—but really on the students, especially students who do not—who are not traditional students. You know, and so they don’t have as many resources available to them. So I was wondering what your insights are on this issue and what could be done institutionally and collectively to address this issue. PICKETT: I’ll weigh in just quickly here, and Sara, of course, look forward to your comments as well. As a queued up at the beginning, I think this is a front and center consideration as we think about the strategic equity agenda. Loud and clear we’ve heard directly from students that mental health is an area of priority. Before we were in the pandemic the request for additional support and for campuses all around the country was a front and center consideration, how we put particular attention and, more importantly, how we resourced mental health support was an area of rising consideration. And for colleagues who work directly in student affairs and student support, we know that this has always been there. But as we continue to navigate this pandemic, it continues to be an even greater area of consideration as we think about the impact, particularly on communities that have been most impacted, and particularly thinking about Black and brown communities, and other economically fragile communities, in terms of the need for additional mental health support, and in areas and certain situations where those communities don’t necessarily always connect with mental health support. So that’s another consideration. I think campuses that are most proactive, and higher education institutions that are most proactive are putting in specific resources to continue to build out support for mental health support. And for institutions that are less well-prepared for that, I think having alliances with broader institutions and to think about how we can leverage collective support is the answer for how we get at this. I want to be clear. I think we have a responsibility certainly to meet the needs of our students. But I don’t want us to miss the opportunity in terms of what we’re hearing loud and clear from our colleagues who are faculty and staff at institutions. Burnout is something in terms of climate surveys and assessments that our colleagues are communicating with us loud and clear. And so we have to be mindful that we have to take care of the individuals that take care of our students. So that’s another part or a level of this that I think we have to keep at a front consideration. So absolutely I appreciate the question and note that we have to put additional resources and think about strategic collaboration across institution types to move this work forward, but to also think about what that means for our staff and faulty in support as well. GOLDRICK-RAB: I agree. I would say that we have to keep in mind that many institutions don’t have any dollars to spare, and that clearly this is going to require federal support. And I think that even as we’re sitting here right now there is discussion of a package. You know, the reconciliation is going on. And one piece of that package is $9 billion for student supports. And I think the question about the prioritization of those funds and where institutions plan to spend those funds, if they are to come—if they were to become reality, is a critical part of the conversation. You know, the mental health needs of students across the United States were greatest at the nation’s community colleges before the pandemic. And those are the places that had the least level of supports in place. And it wasn’t from lack of recognition of the problem; it was from lack of money. And so we have to acknowledge that we already had profound inequities, we already had mental health crises. The Healthy Minds Study has been documenting these things for years. And, yes, the current situation’s making it worse. I do want to point out, though, that there are two dimensions to this current situation. One is the pandemic and the effects of the social isolation. The second is the effect of this virus. The Hope Center recently released, to my knowledge, the only study out there on the effect of the virus on college students. And our analyses across about a hundred thousand students across the nation show that it seems that having been infected with this virus is associated with increased anxiety, depression, and food insecurity. And I’m concerned, frankly, that a number of our institutions are not doing anything to allow students to disclose if they have been affected, so that we could direct more support to them. Now, I understand we can’t require it—and, you know, there’s a big distinction. But these students are at real risk of potentially long COVID effects, and so are staff and faculty. And I think that it is not only urgent that we adjust these challenges, but that we also do the triage that, unfortunately, we have to do because we have limited resources, and perhaps focus them on the populations that have been infected at the highest rates. Which, of course, include Black and brown and indigenous students, and also include student parents, and also include student athletes at very, very high rates. And I think that we’d better attend to it, or we’re going to see a lot of ongoing problems. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Sara, I would like to get the link for that survey, and we can circulate it to the group. And any other resources that both of you would like us to share we will follow up with an email. So I’m going to go next to Lucy Dunderdale Cate. And please unmute yourself. Q: Hi. My name is Lucy Dunderdale Cate. I’m with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I wanted to get your thoughts on just how for leadership, you know, for chancellors, for presidents, how should they be communicating to students that are dealing with these issues? And particularly thinking about it—you know, students, but faculty and staff as well, and particularly being sensitive to that kind of toxic positivity that so often is easy for leaders to do. At the same time, wanting to still be encouraging and to be, you know, we can do this together feeling, but not being toxically positive. Would just love to get your thoughts on that. GOLDRICK-RAB: So my team is very taken with the research on empathy and care. And I think that a lot of folks often think that that is, you know, kind of glossing over, or maybe just too touchy-feely. But it’s a very effective approach. And what it really means is starting by understanding your students as humans before you think about them as students. Just like we want our doctors to think about as humans before they think about us as patients. It changes the conversation. And what that means is that if you have important information to share with the students that you start with an open acknowledgement that this is a really tough time, right? That we don’t gloss over that or skip past that. That we do give them many, many, many openings to be able to speak to somebody—whether that’s a peer-to-peer, right, whether that’s speak to a professional, whatever that is. And that we continue to not just—it’s important, frankly, that we don’t just cheerlead and push people, I think as you might be alluding to, towards, you know, just keep going, just stay in, everything is fine, but openly acknowledge that everybody right now is really slogging through it and that coping is incredibly difficult. And I think that the one other piece is that, in my view, this starts with leadership. This really is not effective and cannot happen if the president doesn’t embrace it, because it really trickles down from there, frankly. And it has to be in multiple places. So this should be reflected in a statement that’s on every syllabus, right? It should show up on the management system, it should show up in correspondence. You know, anything that the institution can do to remind students that they get it. Cutting red tape right now, right? Removing more bureaucracy, relieving and getting out of any kinds of requirements that are not necessary—all of those things are human-centered things. PICKETT: I appreciate everything that Sara offered. And I double down on that in terms of thinking about the senior administrative approach to this. Certainly, there exists consultative means to engage students, and I think we utilize those. Having had the opportunity to work on different kinds of campuses, I do think it’s mindful for us to be attentive of the populations that don’t easily have ready access to senior administration. Having had the opportunity to serve at a community college, quite often we know that there is a more guided path to get directly to student input and feedback. But I think it’s critical to use the necessary means to get directly to students. I think the intentionality that Sara points out in terms of having empathetic messages communicated in different mediums is critical. Whether we’re using social media, whether we’re doing that on our syllabi, whether we’re doing that specifically as it relates to the messages that we put out to the campus community, I think there has to be consistency in the chorus that speaks to the empathy of the now and how we’re working to navigate this together. The toxic positivity that you referenced I think is prevalent at a number of institutions. And for us to be mindful of what that means—one of the ways that we were able to execute that here at the University of Pittsburgh was a townhall series that we put in place for all stakeholders called This is Not Normal, to just identify collectively as a community that what we’re experiencing is absolutely abnormal, and to talk about what that experience was, and to think about collectively how we could move as a community to respond to the needs and to have ongoing triage and collective concern and outreach by all constituents. And I think to do that, and to be attentive to those populations that are most removed from senior administration, is something that we have to do. So utilizing our colleagues at all levels, specifically looking at peer mentoring models that offer opportunity to have communication with students, and to think about starting those messages during the orientation process is a front and center consideration to move that agenda forward. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Pearl Robinson. Q: So, Pearl Robinson. I do African politics, international relations, African studies at Tufts University. This being the Council on Foreign Relations, I want to bring up the issue of study abroad. And certainly, last year Tufts both undergraduate and graduate study abroad international relations is very important. The university decided it had to bring home students from all of our study abroad programs except Oxford, which was deemed safe. And we were told how everybody was living with families. And of course, at the end of—they had to eventually bring those people home again. So now we’re talking about our study abroad programs. Will we have one in Ghana? I had counseled two students who are going to be studying Africa at either at SOAS or LSE. Maybe we have to shut down Africa because it’s too dangerous. I actually want to know, are there are universities that are thinking about the implications of creating—or, not having study abroad opportunities for students in non-European places, and ways in which you might be able to do things? Like, I participated in a couple of very exciting webinars with African universities where there’s some kind of interaction. So I just want to know, has anybody been thinking about that? And does the Council maybe have that on its agenda? Have you been doing it secretly and I didn’t know about it? FASKIANOS: We can look at it for a future topic, Pearl. Do either of you want to? GOLDRICK-RAB: I don’t have any expertise in this space, except to say that I spoke to folks at AIEA yesterday and, you know, they’re very concerned about students’ health and wellbeing. PICKETT: And the same on my end. I wouldn’t have anything in terms of expertise to offer but would say from an administrative standpoint it’s intentional for us to be mindful of the different opportunities that we engage with, and to use an equity lens with regard to how we’re monitoring those experiences. I know loud and clear as we think about race and ethnicity being a front and consideration as part of this pandemic and our response to be mindful of the ramifications and the impact on different communities. So leadership should put that front and center in consideration, but in terms of specific things that I’ve seen directly, nothing that I could offer. But I do—should I find information I’ll definitely pass it along to Irina. FASKIANOS: And just to follow on a bit, granted from a different angle, what about the pandemic-related inequities facing international studies? What is the—you know, on your campus, the international studies, and have they been able to come this year? And maybe that would be an opportunity to create some international experiences on campus. PICKETT: Absolutely. I think different institutions obviously are in different places with regard to that. We’ve had a number of students who have been able to return to campus. But to mindful that there has been a significant impact, particularly as they think about housing and what the experience is like in the community. And as we think about, particularly depending on where individuals come from, how they self-identify, and the rising tide of what I would classify as racism and xenophobia potentially impacting those students is a consideration that we have to put front and center. GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I would say that, you know, again, we had big problems before the pandemic with folks not being able to really afford to be here the way they had hoped to be able to really afford to be here. We had students—international students at food pantries well before the pandemic. You know, certainly the number who can’t be here at all right now is one issue, but I also want to note that one good thing is that the federal government’s Higher Education Relief Funds, the HEERF III dollars in particular, which came out this year, which provided emergency aid to students, does not require students to be United States citizens in order to get those funds. It doesn’t even require them to fill out a FAFSA either. So institutions, all of them that receive Title IV, have a substantial amount of emergency aid dollars right now which they could choose to leverage to support international students. Furthermore, their institutional allocations of those same dollars can also be used for those purposes. And so in this case, again, everyone is a human. And we do not have to choose to treat people differently based on that status as an international student. I don’t know how widespread that understanding is. It’s very clear, frankly, in the federal FAQs. But that’s stuff the lawyers read. And I’m concerned that people who advocate for these students might not be aware of this. Or maybe they’re not being heard in terms of where the dollars are going to be put. PICKETT: I’d double down on what Sara offers in terms of us thinking about the institutional ethos for support for those students and that student population. How we prioritize that agenda and how we amplify the voices of advocates, particularly for our international students, is a front and center consideration that was present, again, before—you’re noticing a trend here—was present before the pandemic. But nonetheless, one that we have to continue to prioritize as a consideration. And as those dollars are available, institutions being willing to make the appropriate allocations and supplement them where necessary to continue to support different students populations, including our international students. FASKIANOS: Thank you. While we wait for a few more questions to queue up, how about the digital inequity? I know, Sara, you said before we got started that you were teaching all online. So the digital inequity has been a big concern, and we’ve really seen that, as well as, you know, people not wanting to turn on their cameras because, you know, they are sharing spaces, and might not want to show their homes, and all of that. So can you talk a little bit about how—what you’re thinking on that. GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I mean, it’s a huge issue. So, I mean, the first thing is, again, I keep saying before the pandemic. But, you know, I spent twelve years living in Wisconsin. We had tons of college students all over the state who did not have broadband access, OK? So, you know, and it was a time when, frankly, the state was cutting—well, it’s continued to cut state support—but it was cutting back the ability of in-person campuses to even be there and telling people to go online. And there really wasn’t real ability to do that. So this, again, is a longstanding problem. We have the same challenge here in Pennsylvania, especially in rural communities. I am teaching online right now. And I want to say that, you know, part of the reason is because there’s a whole population of students that want online instruction. These are people who would have to commute quite a long ways to get to school. These are people who have children and are juggling that. These are people who have health challenges and/or other disabilities, right? So there is an appetite for online instruction. One of the biggest challenges, of course, is not only do they have the technology for online instruction, but also who has access to teachers who are comfortable, and well-trained, and good at online instruction? And unfortunately, because we have not made those investments—and, frankly, I think we should view those as infrastructure investments—we did not resource the people who need to do the teaching so they can be prepared. Then we have some of the most vulnerable students getting taught by teachers with the least time and ability to able to kind of pivot like this. We do also have a workforce, frankly, of a lot of folks in wealthier parts of higher education where professors don’t think of themselves as teachers. They think of themselves as researchers, and so on. And so getting them to invest the time to learn to teach online is also a challenge. That said, it can be done well. And, frankly, a student doesn’t need to turn on their camera to be engaged in a course. And to me, the fact that we keep having that conversation—which is, you know, far from just your question, everybody’s asking that question—tells me that we have people who are not taught about how to do engagement with students who can’t turn on their cameras. I open up multiple channels for students to be able to interact with me while I’m teaching. They message, OK? They can hit on Slack. I run multiple things. But it requires that I know how to do that and that I am suited to that task. So the last part is this: I mean, here in Philadelphia it’s hard to believe, you know, that people would really have trouble getting on the internet. But they really do because they can’t afford their internet bills. And so I have multiple students right now who are telling me that they’re accessing everything using their phone, not on their laptops. Their phone is their laptop essentially. And they don’t have wireless, so they have very spotty service. So they didn’t even know that our university offers hotspots now. And so one big part is informational, connecting them to that. PICKETT: I think it’s critical, appended to the comments that Sara makes, to be attentive of different populations. Certainly, it’s pronounced—it was pronounced at the beginning of the pandemic that there were a number of issues with access to broadband internet in different communities. Obviously having spent time in the state of Minnesota and thinking about the native and indigenous population and the opportunities where there was limited broadband access there, as well as hardware limitations, those are considerations that I think a number of communities have pronounced as areas of consideration. And that’s true, I think, for different areas. Certainly, that’s true in western Pennsylvania. And as Sara points out, we have a number of students of different backgrounds and of varying means economically that choose to access their courses via cellphone. So to think about the different kinds of instruction and how we’re supporting our colleagues to observe equitable practices in a virtual environment, and to think about how we have to systematize that and appropriately educate our colleagues deliver that kind of instruction is a consideration. I think the other areas of consideration, particularly as we’re thinking about digital accessibility or the conversations about general academic support in different models of delivery—so whether we’re thinking about asynchronous delivery of instruction or the different modalities of learning, to be mindful that different student populations respond to different ways and different things. And to put that as part of our consideration for the academic agenda is a consideration that I think we need to be mindful of. FASKIANOS: And just, if we could hearken back to your experience at the Community College of Allegheny, Clyde, just to talk about the disparities at community college. I know, Sara, you touched upon it, about the mental health crisis that existed before the pandemic and is, you know, they couldn’t address it because of lack of resources. But it would be interesting to hear your perspective, Clyde, from what you’ve experienced. PICKETT: Absolutely. Having had the opportunity to work directly at the Community College of Allegheny County, as well as the State System of Higher Education in Minnesota, and to serve thirty-seven community and technical colleges, it’s critical for us to put an equity lens in terms of thinking about the access to hardware and to digital resources for all of our student populations. We know that those inequities existed before that. But in a more pronounced way when we pivoted and made the jump to remote instruction, for a number of institutions and individuals there was the need to provide access to hardware as well as to digital networks for students. And those gaps existed before and exist now. I think as we think about availability of resources, that is an area of consideration. The other thing as we think about this is modality of learning, and how different populations respond to different kinds of learning. And so that’s another consideration as we think about the strategic equity agenda and how we work proactively to meet the needs of different learners to make available appropriate support, whether it’s online models for tutoring or expanded academic support for advisors—a consideration particularly at our community and technical colleges that I think is a necessity. The other consideration, and Sara talked about this in terms of the equity lens and experience, to equip our educators with utilizing appropriate training and education to not bias how they engage with learners depending on how they interface with the use of technology. To shut one’s camera off should not at all impact how an individual engages with what’s expected of them in the classroom and certain situations. So to be mindful and to communicate equitable approaches to that exchange I think is a consideration. FASKIANOS: Are there any places that you would suggest for people who would want to sort of dig in on how to better do that? I think, Sara, you mentioned Digital Pedagogy Lab as a resource. GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I would really highly recommend Digital Pedagogy Lab. That’s my absolute favorite resource out there. And they do institutes, and they do trainings, and so on. And I really do recommend taking a look. FASKIANOS: Great. In the work that you’ve been doing, Sara, you know, we’ve seen a lot of reports about the impact of the pandemic on women, and how many women have left the workforce because the childcare issues, and whatnot. So have you done any studies on women leaving college? And you said—I believe you said one in four have a child. So how does that fall out? GOLDRICK-RAB: Well, so I will tell you, the interesting thing about higher ed is that even though women have a substantial number of challenges, they are less likely than men to drop out. And that’s been true for a long time. There are many books written about why men are less likely to attend college, why they’re more likely to drop out of college, and so on and so forth. Even though, frankly, you know, a woman—like, the disproportionate number, for example, of people with children in higher education are single moms. There are single dads, for the record. There are married dads. All of the different things are there as well. I would not say that we have done studies, therefore, of them dropping out during this time. But we have done studies of their basic needs and their basic need security during this time. And what I can tell you is that students with children are more likely to not have their basic needs met, to have struggles with food, and housing, and so on and so forth. We don’t see really pronounced gender differences, except that I would say that gender nonconforming students, actually, are much more likely to face these challenges and to find that they’re really struggling financially. Some of the reason for that, we suspect, has to do with the way that financial aid is allocated. Those students are less likely to be able to access parental resources that make it look like the family has money, even though the student is not getting any of that support. But parenting while in college is already really difficult. And it’s especially hard in the pandemic. Students report not being able to concentrate, right? They report juggling all kinds of additional challenges. And I will say, the schools reopening right now is far from an easy thing. So you know, in many districts across the country, including here in Philadelphia, the schools are intermittently open. We have had, you know, a given class where there’s a COVID infection, and then suddenly the class is shut down. The school’s open, but the student can’t go because their class is closed for the week—they’re quarantining. This is wreaking havoc for students. I have more students than ever who are saying they don’t know what one week is going to be like to the next. And, frankly, the same thing is true for us parents who are staff and faculty. I am ready at the drop of a hat right now to run down and pick my kids up, because we—you know, we had—we’ve had COVID infections, we had a flood thanks to a hurricane and a tornado. I mean, there’s—you know, so—(laughs)—it is—it is a remarkable time to try to keep anything education going right now. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I want to just ask people, we’re coming to the end of our time. So if you have other questions—I have a whole list of questions. So I can—I can keep going on. (Laughs.) But I don’t want to filibuster here, so please raise your hands. Clyde, can you talk a little bit more about as you think about DEI leadership, how DEI leaders can encourage their institutions to think more strategically about how they take care of Black and brown population, and deal with these pandemic-related inequities? PICKETT: Absolutely. I think part of this is for us to think intentionally about how we monitor, check in, and think about the engagement of those populations on our campuses. Loud and clear as we manage and examine enrollment trends at the institutions, I think we need to be mindful of what the presence of our population is for Black and brown communities as part of our institutions, and to be attentive of that. We’re reminded that in the midst of this pandemic was the continued push for racial equity and racial equity in this country. And so a number of institutions, at the same time dealing with the challenge associated with the pandemic, also made renewed commitments to attract and retain more diverse populations across the academy. We saw a number of institutions that made commitments to attract more faculty of color, to be attentive of what it means to support scholars of color, particularly those who are Black and brown. And so thinking about what that means in terms of DEI strategy work is to be mindful of the different populations, and to assess those experiences as they have come to our institution. So we’re having a lot of conversations across the academy to think about not only the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic of racism and how it continues to impact our colleagues across the institution, more specifically our students. And so as we think about this DEI strategy, to be mindful of how we examine the experiences of our students and to think about the examination of sense of belonging as they come to our institutions, as well as how they’re assessing the experiences for holistic support. So giving the opportunity for our colleagues who are DEI strategists to have access to the data in terms of thinking about those student experiences, and how we can influence and shape policy as a consideration for the work that we do. One of the things that I will point to as a consideration, that we’ve had some success in a previous role from a systems standpoint, was to use an equity-based lens approach to reviewing all of our policies, when I was at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. And that resource and tool is available online. And we did that to provide real time opportunity for us to think about the policy implications for different populations. And there were a number of things that we unearthed as part of that experience, whether it was a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities with our financial (holes ?), or to think about other considerations, those are kinds of—the kinds of tools that we can utilize to further move an agenda forward. So I would say that those are things that we have to use as a resource to move our agenda forward. FASKIANOS: Have you seen there to be a decline in enrollment as well? PICKETT: Obviously it depends on the institution type. So we know that community and technical colleges have suffered enrollment challenges as part of the pandemic. The University of Pittsburgh, we’re at record enrollment for Black and brown communities here at the university. So I think the institution type, the resources associated with the institution, also obviously impact how and the ways institutions are able to move agenda. So to be mindful of that is a consideration that I think we have to examine. As we think about federal support for higher education—and I know Sara referenced this earlier—that’s a consideration. As we think about the institutions who are the haves versus those been most fragile. It requires us to think about how we make specific allocation federally to influence and support those institutions. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. So if you were advising the Biden administration, the secretary of education, what would be the top two things that you would suggest the Biden administration to do in hiring? GOLDRICK-RAB: I am advising the Biden administration secretary of education. (Laughs.) FASKIANOS: There you go. GOLDRICK-RAB: So do you want to know what we’re advising them? (Laughs.) FASKIANOS: I do, actually. (Laughs.) GOLDRICK-RAB: I will say, for anybody who’s interested, actually I testified before Congress yesterday in front of the U.S. House of Representatives around some of the work that they need to be doing. And I really urge folks in higher ed to take a look because the conversation was about hunger and food insecurity, and the committee was the Committee on Rules. And I worry a lot that our higher ed folks are not watching that committee or the committees outside of the education committees. But I believe that Jim McGovern is actually going to play a leading role in what’s going to happen for our students and their basic needs in that space. So it’s at And you can see the hearing from yesterday. I think one of the most exciting things that is about to happen is that a man named James Kvaal is finally going to take his seat and get to do his job as undersecretary of education. You know, our secretary of education is a K-12 expert. And I’ve been really glad to see him bring on some great folks like Eloy Oakley Ortiz from the California Community Colleges as an advisor. But James Kvaal is a higher ed expert. And the undersecretary of education’s role is absolutely critical. And one of the things that he is intending to do, and that we need him to do, is to put somebody in charge of making sure that we change rules and regulations and administrative minutia to help secure students’ basic needs now. So this is the time to make sure that our students get access to SNAP, right? To make sure that we connect them to the child tax credit. There are so many things that are available to students beyond standard financial aid. And right now, the Department of Ed doesn’t tell them about any of those things. So that is absolutely imperative. And I also will say that with regard to the reconciliation bill and what the House is doing right now in terms of markup, free community college is in there and it needs to be. And it needs to happen. And it needs to pass. And the time is now. And I think that we will never regret that move. I believe that just as we expanded access to K-12 education starting with elementary school and then moving through high school, we should absolutely go for free community college. It will not be the last thing that we do, but I think it’s essential. You know, I don’t know how much folks remember the last recession, but I was doing a lot of research during that time. And I’ll tell you that all the growth in the enrollment, all the returning growth to higher ed came, right, from students going to community colleges, and came from largely part-time folks. And so we’re going to see people returning because they need higher education. And we need to make sure that those institutions are able to help them succeed. A lot of people think going to community college is not the best move. You know, they don’t have the best outcomes. And I have one really clear answer for you: You get what you pay for. If you give them the resources and you give the students the resources so that they go to institutions and they actually can focus on learning and not worrying about if they have to eat, they will graduate and they will do well. PICKETT: I, of course, double down on that support for thinking about how we make community college accessible to all. Obviously, a long-standing advocate for community and technical colleges. It’s something that is a priority for me. And we know statistically the largest populations of Black and brown students who ultimately complete a four-year degree start at community and technical colleges. So that has to be a priority. And I think in terms of funding and making that a priority, it is a consideration absolutely that we have to keep front and center. The other thing that I would offer is for us to think continually about how we support intentional holistic support. Whether it’s mental health support, how we address housing insecurity and food insecurity for consideration for our college students has to be a consideration as well, and to be mindful of what that means long-term. It’s an investment in our future of the country. And so I think we have to be mindful that while there is an investment now, long-term it will yield considerable benefits for us as a nation, and for us to not only provide access, but holistic support during that process ultimately will put us in a much better place and lead us down a greater path holistically in terms of where we want to be in the future for this country. FASKIANOS: Thank you. And I’m going to go now to Elsa Dias, who has her hand raised. Q: Yes. I am. Thank you. I am a—I am faculty at a community college in Colorado—at Pikes Peak Community College. And I’m—so to support some of what is being said currently here. But I don’t think that students are getting what they’re paying for at community colleges. I think that they’re getting much more than what they are getting at community colleges. So that statement is sort of—I don’t know that I appreciate the statement, because I think that students at community colleges we are working with consistently cut budgets, more so than four schools. And we have much more difficulty in raising tuition. It’s not the same thing as in—as in four-year schools. We deal with populations that are in higher need than four-year schools. And we have to meet very different criteria than four-year schools. Our standards in terms of meeting what the students need and what—we are heavily legislated upon, right? So there is these state legislations that sort of affect us very differently than they do four-year schools. So I do believe that students are getting much more than what they are given, and what they get at community colleges. And some of the things that we see today, during this pandemic at community colleges, are I think the stigma to go to community colleges is certainly—continues to be around. And we continue to not participate in many of the voices that we should be included in at the table. But I also think that it’s important to realize that our administrators are faced with much higher challenges than administrators at four-year schools, and so in the faculty. And the lack of investment in faculty at four-year schools does not even come close to the lack of investments that we suffer at community colleges. We have to do a lot more with a lot less. Thank you. GOLDRICK-RAB: So if I may respond, I think maybe, Elsa, I wasn’t entirely heard for what I was saying. What I was saying was that you are doing a tremendous amount with very little. And the point is when you say what you get what you pay for, right, is if we want to have 100 percent graduation rates at community colleges, the way we do at Harvard, then we should be resourcing the schools, including the faculty, the student support services, et cetera. What we do in higher education is that we give the schools that educate the most vulnerable the least amount of money on a per-student basis. So for example, if you take a look—I served on the national taskforce around the adequate funding for the nation’s community colleges. That was all about showing that if you were going to fund community college adequately to actually address the needs of students, and to do so where they would much—have much higher rates of graduation and success in the completion of their programs, you would be spending approximately four to five to six times what you’re currently spending. I outline all of this in a very extensive—I have about a fifty-page report called “The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Community Colleges,” which came out in 2010, which actually delineates the underspending on community college faculty, on community college staff, and so on and so forth. I think, given the severe economic disparities between these institutions, their students, and the four-year colleges, it’s a miracle that in many ways we get anything, right? That students are able to graduate, because we spend so very, very little. So as a quick last example, in the state of New Jersey taxpayer support goes to Princeton University at fifty times the rate of taxpayer support going to New Jersey Community Colleges. Fifty times. So we should expect, right, that if we increased the support to students at those community colleges there is a strong relationship between the inputs of the finances and the outputs that they produce. I think it’s worthy of a greater investment. So I think we’re actually agreeing. FASKIANOS: Clyde, anything you would like to add? PICKETT: Well, just that loud and clear I hear the comments and what Elsa brings in. I appreciate the clarity from Sara there. Having had the opportunity to be an administrator at a community college and a developmental studies adjunct faculty member at a community college, I know loud and clear that we’re working proactively to meet the needs of our learners in a way that supports them where they are. And we do transformational work. To be clear, that that transformational work should be embraced, welcomed, and supported by four-year institutions. So those of us who are working and serving on the four-year institution side of the house to actually normalize and champion access to community and technical colleges, and to do so in such a way that embraces and makes smooth pipelines and opportunities for our learners who transfer—who complete their education, and to make sure there are appropriate matriculation agreements for programs of study for our students who ultimately complete their four-year education at institutions like the University of Pittsburgh, but start at community and technical colleges. FASKIANOS: Thank you. We are almost out of time, so I wanted to give you each a few minutes to just touch upon anything we didn’t touch upon or cover or leave us with some final thoughts. So, Sara, why don’t we start with you and then we’ll go to Clyde. GOLDRICK-RAB: Clyde was about to go. Please go, Clyde. FASKIANOS: Clyde was about to go. All right, Clyde. PICKETT: No, I appreciate the opportunity. Once again, thank you for allowing me to spend time with you, allowing me to be with you in community. And this is just an opportunity for us to reaffirm where we are in terms of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And more specifically, to acknowledge that the areas of vulnerability that we’ve identified, the inequity, have been longstanding with regard to the academy. It’s an opportunity for us to flip the mirror and have a very long pause, intentional look at how we can make remedy, how we can make change, and how we can affirm and, for some of us, reaffirm our commitment and responsibility to address the inequity that has been present, but has been further exacerbated as part of this pandemic. So now is the time for us to close equity gaps. Now is the time for us to take action. And I look forward to standing with colleagues all around the country to do so. GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I would just say that, you know, the challenges are really big right now, but there’s also a lot of room for structural change. And I think we need to speak up for it and advocate for it, and not just lament it, right? You know, each of us in this country has a representative, or a couple of them, or a bunch of them, right? And they need to hear about what’s happening to higher education. It’s really, really important. One aspect of the hearing yesterday that was absolutely fascinating occurred when there was an exchange between Representative Cole, who came from Oklahoma, and the panel. And what he said was—he sat back in his chair. And he said: I’ve got to tell you, I’ve learned something today. I did not know that college students could go hungry. I did not know that this was happening. He said, we have to do something about this. Folks, tell them about what’s going on, because they do not know—many of them do not know. I’m not saying that they’ll all act, but many, many of our public leaders are very, very distanced from the realities that we’re facing, whether we’re staff, whether we’re administrators, whether we’re faculty. They are not getting it. And I think that it is so important that we communicate as much as we can because they have some big work to do right now, and some big opportunities to create change. FASKIANOS: Thank you, both. This was a really great conversation. We appreciate your insights in sharing your experience with us. And we will put together all the resources that were mentioned here and send them out to all of you to read and digest. You can follow both of our speakers on Twitter, @saragoldrickrab and @cwpick. So please go there. Again, I want to thank Dr. Goldrick-Rab and Dr. Pickett for being with us today. Next week we have a dedicated webinar series for students. And so our first one will be next week of the semester on September 15, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern time, and it’s a great opportunity for students to actually ask their questions. This series is devoted to administrators and professors, but that one is for the students. And we hope you will share with your students and with your colleagues too on campus. So our next Education Webinar for the higher ed community will be on Thursday, October 21, at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time with Brian Mateo to talk about civic engagement in higher education. So I hope you’ll join us next week and in October of the next one. So with that I encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter. Visit and for more information and resources on international affairs. And again, thank you both. We really appreciate it. (END)


Adam Julian, director of international student and scholar services at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and 2021 chair of the international student and scholar regulatory practice committee at NAFSA, discusses visa challenges for foreign students and international student enrollment with the return to in-person learning this fall.    IRINA FASKIANOS: Good afternoon and welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at the Council on Foreign Relations. Today's discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We're delighted to have Adam Julian with us to talk about visa challenges for foreign students and fall international student enrollment. We've shared his bio with you, but I'll just give you a few highlights. Mr. Julian is the director of international student and scholar services at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the 2021 to 2022 chair of the International Student and Scholar Regulatory Practice Committee at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. From 2015 to 2020, he was the director of international student and scholar services and outreach at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. Adam, thanks very much for being with us today. Obviously, we are coming off this pandemic. I thought we could start by looking at the primary visa challenges foreign students are facing now and what this means for international student enrollment, as schools return to in-person learning this fall. ADAM JULIAN: Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Irina. And I appreciate the invitation and all the work that the Council on Foreign Relations does in this sphere. And it's an honor to be here today. So I wanted to start today with just discussing a few points. And a lot of this I know is information that will not be new to anyone, but hopefully it will spur some good conversation and some good dialogue amongst the group. And so today, I'll touch largely on some visa challenges for foreign students who want to study in the U.S., not necessarily only in the moment, sort of in the COVID sense, but also just in general some of the challenges for foreign students. Also, I want to touch a little bit about my experience, as the chair of the International Student and Scholar Regulatory Practice Committee with NAFSA, and how liaising with federal agencies and our partner agencies, how that's really changed, in particular under the Biden administration, in the last couple of years. And then finally I want to talk a little bit about some international enrollment challenges and tensions for the fall semester, really things in the moment. And so, what I want to say about visa challenges for foreign students, and really, of all of the English-speaking destination countries for higher education, so think the UK, think Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, the U.S. visa, I would argue, is more expensive and difficult to obtain and comes with fewer benefits in terms of post-graduation work opportunities, in terms of paths to citizenship or permanent residency, than any of its competitors. But despite this, I think the U.S. is still largely seen as one of the best systems of higher education in the world, and U.S. education is still highly sought after by international students. So, when I say it's challenging and difficult for students to obtain a visa, when you think about it just in terms of cost alone, right, if you take into consideration the SEVIS fee, which is the immigration database the Department of Homeland Security and others use, the application fee for the visa itself. That alone is $510. And that's not to mention the cost of travel to a different city. Most of the time, U.S. consulates, depending on the country, as you all know, are either in the capital city or regional city, an applicant may have to provide or may have to travel and stay overnight, take time away from work, all these different things just simply for the opportunity to apply for an interview. This gets especially complicated in other geopolitical complications, think of the case of an Iranian student who has no U.S. Embassy in their home country to apply to and has to go to a third-party country, typically Yerevan or Ankara third-party consulate and it adds an additional cost. So, there's that piece, which is the cost of the visa itself, within even simply to receive an invitation letter or what's known as a Form I-20, from an institution of higher education or any type of institution authorized to issue those in the United States, students have to provide proof of financial solvency for twelve calendar months, just to be eligible to receive this. So, in addition to the cost of the actual application process and applying itself, this system of having to establish twelve months or greater of financial solvency, really, I would argue, creates some real inequity in who is able to access higher education in the U.S., and it's largely only available to the wealthy, since mobility to the U.S., is really, for the most part, only accessible to those who happen to have the means. So, once you've applied for the visa, and you show up to the embassy, you've gone through all these steps, then the way the U.S. immigration law and regulations are structured, is the burden of proof to overcome this idea of immigrant intent, or the idea that you the applicant, are intending to immigrate to the United States and the consular officers are trained to make that assumption, the burden of overcoming that is on the applicant. And most of the times, those of you who I'm sure have been to many U.S. embassies abroad, they're perhaps not the most welcoming and friendly places. Oftentimes, these interviews take place under very stressful conditions, they must be in person in a language that is not an applicant's native language, the majority of the time. And so, if the goal is for the applicant to overcome nonimmigrant intent, to prove to the consular officer that they do plan to return to their home country, they have to establish what's known as home country ties. If you're a 17-year-old or 18-year-old student who's going to study in the United States and is applying for a visa, how do you own property? How do you articulate what your plan for the future is, when you may not even know what you're going to study in the U.S.? Another, I think, aspect of this that makes it very difficult, particularly on the visa acquisition side, it’s really just, frankly speaking, it's more difficult to get a visa from “sample” state university than from Harvard, or an Ivy or a university that has international name recognition, right? So having to overcome that bias that may be there from a consular officer is also a significant challenge. So, in summary, for the visa acquisition process, and some of the challenges in general, it really is, it's the most arduous process for any, in my opinion, for any student visa, with the least beneficial results—no path to citizenship, really strict regulations, really strict vetting, very limited work opportunities for students in the U.S. So I want to turn now to my role at NAFSA and the International Student and Scholar Regulatory Practice Committee and how things have been different under the Biden administration. And as Irina mentioned, I've been a member of ISSRP in some capacity since 2016. I've been chairing the group since 2020. And the difference between the last six months versus the previous five years is truly night and day, I sort of like to describe it as this administration is really less deliberately obstinate, or we've gone back to having a partner and not an adversary. Life is more predictable, more steady for people who have jobs such as mine working with international students and scholars and doing a lot of regulatory work. And I'll give you a few examples just of how that's changed in the first couple of months of this administration. A lot of people on the call may know that the Department of Homeland Security issued some temporary relief or some extra guidance or exceptions for international students during the COVID pandemic. And that has been a process that's been continuing to be updated and extended, sort of piecemeal and it's been a very much a piece of concern for administrators and in higher education for the students and scholars that impact it, but within several months, the new administration issued guidance all the way through the entire academic year. And I think a lot of us really view that as a statement of solidarity and support that we're in this together and we're not going to continue to create a situation that's in flux and unstable and unreliable and subject to change rapidly. The administration also did away with the Trump administration's plan to create an OPT Compliance Enforcement Unit. Under ICE—this was one of the last few months of the Trump administration—there was an announcement that the Department of Homeland Security and ICE were going to create an OPT, Optional Practical Training, form of work authorization for international students, they were going to create an enforcement unit. That was cancelled within the first several weeks of the administration. Other things, the idea of making some significant changes that are less student friendly to OPT, Optional Practical Training, to duration of status, or the length of which a student or scholar can remain in the U.S., we're always on the regulatory horizon, or the agenda, of the past administration. And those things are no longer on the chopping block, so to speak. And so really, it's been a different sense of having a partner, having an adversary in our direct liaison work, we just completed our annual conference at NAFSA. And my group is responsible for facilitating the sessions where we invite government representatives to come and discuss trends and topics and questions around international students and scholars and regulations. The past four years, just frankly speaking, organizing these events were very challenging because there was a fear among our agency partners, I think, what they may say, or what they may be not allowed to say, don't want to be seen as saying something on the record. This was a fundamentally different experience, this year, more collegial, more positive in nature. For the first time in many, many years, we were able to have some liaison with Citizenship and Immigration Services. And just in general, this has really helped the, I would say, perception, and overall sense of optimism among international educators and international students and scholars who are looking to come and study in the U.S. So, finally, where are things right now, with international enrollment? What are the tensions? I think anybody's guess is as good as mine. I think right now, the biggest challenge that a lot of us are dealing with is simply the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consular operations, it's very, very difficult, if not impossible, to get an appointment, to get a visa. Many posts simply aren't operating. That's often case-by-case, country-by-country, post-by-post specific depending on the public health situation. Those that are operating are experiencing significant backlogs. Speaking for a little bit about the experiences of students at UMBC, we had a lot of students who had originally intended to arrive in August of 2020, but because of the pandemic, had deferred until January, and had deferred again until August. And so that's created a significant backlog. And the U.S. Department of State has very graciously, I think, announced their intention to really prioritize student and scholar mobility. But, we can only do so much with the resources that we have. I think other challenges that we're facing, aside from just lack of visa availability or just navigating travel restrictions, at the top, I mentioned the case of an Iranian student who may have to travel to Armenia or to Azerbaijan to apply for a U.S. student visa, how does that student or scholar navigate the travel restrictions that are in place because of COVID? Whether or not they're at the national level, whether or not they're airline specific, based at the specific console, it's a lot to keep track of and to navigate and very difficult and case-specific. One of the things I think that's kind of interesting is, say what you will about how the U.S. handled the COVID situation, but in a sense, where we are now has in a way turned into a bit of a competitive advantage, it is easier to come to the U.S. than to a lot of our competitor English-speaking higher education receiving countries. And I think, for a particular example, the UK is requiring a mandatory ten-day quarantine stay in a hotel when they arrive, and that's to the cost of the traveler. Australia and New Zealand have other stricter measures in place to prevent mobility of international visitors and travelers. And so, in a sense, that's turned into a bit of a competitive advantage. But it's really all about are students and scholars going to be able to get the visas? Right now, a lot of us are dealing with tensions and questions around vaccinations. It's a balance between personal safety. We want students to have that campus experience, we recognize the importance of the campus economy. And, just frankly speaking, I think that's what keeps a lot of U.S. higher education institutions afloat. And so for those of us who are requiring vaccines on our campuses, and if you're a student from X country who may not have access to a WHO-approved vaccine or a FDA-approved vaccine, how will that be dealt with when you arrive? Will we consider you vaccinated, will we provide you with a vaccine, do you risk your own personal health and safety and not get a vaccine, perhaps, the Russian-produced Sputnik vaccine or a vaccine that's not WHO-approved and then come to the U.S. and be required by a university to get a FDA-approved vaccine? There's really no, to my knowledge, understanding of the science of the effect of vaccine layering. And so students are making these difficult decisions right now. Do I get the vaccine that I have access to, and then take a risk of getting vaccinated again when I get to the U.S.? Do I not? I think that the last thing I would really want to say, I guess two final points about sort of tensions and maybe how we should be thinking about this right now. To me, the pandemic has really highlighted the importance of having a more strategic international enrollment plan. And by strategic, I mean, diversifying sources of enrollment. For students, a lot of institutions are one geopolitical issue or one pandemic or one natural disaster away from having a significant decrease in enrollment. I think the recent surge in COVID vaccine in India is a good example of that. Certainly, there are other cases throughout recent history, relations with China, the currency situation in South Korea several years ago, different types of things that have occurred. And so, I think the second point to that is we, I think, in the United States, really, we live in the moment, we don't think about the future, right? We are, to my knowledge, the only of our competitors, who don't have a national policy on international education. We don't have a whole of government approach, we don't have a strategic plan for how we will maintain ourselves as a preferred destination for higher education for students and scholars from around the world. And I think that's a short sighted and, in my opinion, I think there's lots of reasons for that. And with that, I'll leave my remarks and open it up to questions and hopefully some nice conversation. FASKIANOS: Great, thank you, Adam, for that. It's so complicated, and there's so much to navigate, as you described. We're going to go now to all of you for your questions, comments. So you can either raise your hand by clicking on the raised hand, or you can also write your question in the Q&A box, if you prefer to do it that way. But of course, we'd love to hear from you and hear your voice. So I'm going to go first to Katherine Moore, who has raised her hand. Please tell us what institution you're with, it will give us context. Be sure to unmute yourself. Katherine, you're still—there you go. Q: [Inaudible]. FASKIANOS: Adam, did you get that or was it breaking up too much to get it? JULIAN: I didn't get it, unfortunately. FASKIANOS: Okay. Katherine, would you mind just typing your question in the Q&A box? Because your connection is so poor, we could not decipher it. If that's okay, great. All right. I'm going to go next to going next to a written question Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome, who is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College. She has two questions: “Are there any estimates of how much the U.S. lost in enrollments as the consequence of onerous student visa regulations, in terms of international students studying here?” And then her second question is, “One would have expected COVID-19 to increase barriers to international students’ access to U.S. education. But from your presentation, the U.S. is more accessible than other English-speaking countries. Hopefully, we won't have another wave of infections as most campuses reopened, but if we do how would that complicate the situation?” So that's a twofer. JULIAN: I'll start with the first question. I am not aware of any specific surveys or studies that have been done to really get at how immigration policy affects student mobility. I know that Institute of International Education publishes their Open Doors report every year, and that is essentially a census or an accounting of international student mobility. You can find that readily accessible and that will show you year over year comparisons. I also know that U.S. Department of State publishes their visa issuance rates. And so, those are also publicly available. And the second part of the question—Irina help me here—I think was we would assume that the COVID-19 pandemic would increase burdens, but that hasn't necessarily been the case, or increased obstacles for students. FASKIANOS: Right. JULIAN: I would say it certainly has increased obstacles. All of last year, most of U.S. universities were operating in fundamentally different circumstances in terms of in person or virtual, etc. And consulates were largely closed. And so, I would say during that time, absolutely, there were fundamentally more challenges. But I think, I guess the point I'm trying to make now, is that because we in the United States have, just being frank, have taken a much more laissez faire approach to public health, that now there are no national restrictions on entry as there are to other competitors. So, if I'm a student, particularly, who for the last two years has tried to think about I want to come to the United States, I want to study abroad for an advanced degree, you've got this pent up demand, and right now, really the only supply that's readily and easily accessible is the United States, in a sense. I mean, certainly there are ways to go to other competitor countries, but with fewer restrictions. I hope that gets at the question. FASKIANOS: Great. Let's go next to Susan Briziarelli, who is the assistant provost for global affairs at Adelphi University, “We've heard about plans to allow visa interviews to be conducted in the consoles virtually, is this still a possibility?” JULIAN: That is a great question. I've seen many, many rumors, and I know there's efforts afoot through AIEA and others to try to advocate for that. I have not heard anything from the Department of State or any of my colleagues that leads me to believe that is in the near future. I simply—this is my, Adam Julian, my personal opinion, not that University of Maryland, Baltimore County or NAFSA—that I simply just don't think that's in the cards anytime in the near future. I know a lot of people want that. And I know that would seemingly save a lot of problems, remove a lot of obstacles, rather, that we're facing. But I just don't see that happening. I hope I'm wrong. FASKIANOS: Next question from Martin Edwards, associate professor at Seton Hall University, “Are you aware of any conversations at the higher level to better coordinate communication between CBP DOS and USCIS?” JULIAN: Another great question. And I think about that. And the reason I say it's a great question is it's one that we're constantly asking and constantly getting different answers to, and it's really important. Think back to the early days of the Trump administration with the Muslim ban, if you remember when that executive order was signed and went into action, there were literally people in the air who, when they were in the air, the U.S. Customs Border Protection had no understanding that this was happening and only received this information as they came. And so I think that sort of interagency communication is absolutely critical, particularly in a situation live we’ve found ourselves in the last four or five years where you're having such rapidly changing regulations and things like that. Every time we ask this question, we get varying degrees, in particular, I think with CBP, you get a lot more communication amongst the Department of Homeland Security agencies, and not necessarily the Department of State's Consular Affairs or the Exchange Visitor program, because if you remember, CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State is separate, in that sense. So, there's much more interagency cooperation. I know the couple of times that we asked that question at the most recent NAFSA annual conference of our agency partners, to a person, each one expressed the importance of that and that they take great strides to do it. But I'm not aware of any sort of specific actions or plans that are being made to facilitate better interagency communication, other than just to think right now, in this current climate, that's easier to happen naturally, particularly among the core career diplomats and career bureaucrats who are there administration to administration who perhaps no longer fear stepping out of line. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to go next to Hamdi Elnuzahi, who's raised their hand, assistant director for sponsored students at Minnesota State University, Mankato. So, if you could unmute yourself. Q: Hello. Thank you, Adam and you, for bringing this up here. I think it is a very important topic right now. And many of the schools are looking for how to strategically manage this issue to get more enrollment in the fall. It is not a question, but I just want to share something that is very important that may reduce or decrease the number of enrollments in the fall is the visa waiting time in many countries. Based on the information that I have, in more than eighty-six countries, the visa wait time could exceed sixty-five calendar days, up to maybe two hundred-something days, and most of the U.S. embassies in these countries maybe have only one option—emergency appointment. I think these applicants from these eighty-six countries, they don't have hope even to get a visa appointment, and they will not be able to come even if they get accepted. Second, if they want to enroll, they have to just to take the one option, to enroll online from the countries until they get an appointment. Mr. Adam, can you give us some insights about that, and how we can help these students in these countries? JULIAN: Thank you, those are some great points and I would be very happy to address them. I think the point about the significant delays and visa appointments, the time between when you can actually schedule an appointment, that's, I think, what most of us are dealing with right now, that's the most critical piece. And I think all I would say to that, I guess, would be in a positive sense, I know that back to this idea of feeling like we have a colleague, and not an adversary anymore. The Department of State has indicated that they will prioritize student visas as soon as public health conditions allow. And so, if the optimist in me is looking and hoping that will mean more resources, more appointments will be available, things will be coming up and we will be able to have some students who get more visas and get more appointments quickly. Obviously, that's not a given. But it is the situation as it is right now. Your point about enrolling online is a really interesting one. And so at least from my perspective, here at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a lot of our students—we did offer our students the option throughout the last year to enroll entirely online, if they chose, from outside of the U.S. But because of—back to these limited work authorizations, there's a program known as Curricular Practical Training, which is essentially a work authorization, off campus work or internship or authorization for a student to gain practical experience in his or her field. And for the most part, by and large, you must be physically present in the United States for a year, before you can be eligible for CPT. And so we found I think, in the past year that a lot of our students just simply didn't want to, particularly our masters students, or applied masters students for whom that CPT is such an important piece of what they're coming for, just simply didn't want to enroll online, simply wanted to wait so that they could start that eligibility for CPT, which can only begin when they're in the United States. And so that's a critical piece. And then I also think—back to the online piece—one of the things that I know a lot of colleagues around the country are grappling with is as we open up, and as we go back to more in person learning on our campuses, perhaps those available online options may go away, perhaps there are fewer options. And so, what we're trying to do is to find a happy medium where we can still have, still be able to offer a student a full array of online or hybrid courses that they can enroll in from abroad, if that situation comes to that, but also not do so in a limiting fashion. And I think time will tell, I think the next month, six weeks will be really, really critical for what fall enrollment is going to look like from an international perspective. And I'm hoping for the best, I think like everyone else. FASKIANOS: Yeah, thank you very much. I'm going to go next to Jennifer Tishler, who is associate director at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Our center has several international PhD students on hold but also several international nonstudent postdoctoral scholars. The postdocs would have employment status at our university, not student status. They would be entering as F-1 students and/or J-1 scholars. As things start to open up this summer, do you know if one visa classification will get priority over another? JULIAN: Short answer is I don’t. I know so much of the conversation when we facilitated our conference session with Consular Affairs and NAFSA was around F-1 students, but I do know that they are also prioritizing—and as we've seen through the past in these national interest exemptions for “academics,” and so I think there's been a lot of manipulation is not the word, a lot of negotiation, rather, around what academic means. Does that mean anyone with a J-1 visa, does that mean an H1B who is coming to teach and that sort of thing. So, I don't know the answer to that, but I think what I would say is just in general, I know Consular Affairs is understanding to higher education’s need in this regard. And I think there's an understanding that it encompasses not just the F-1 category students. So yeah, not really a great answer, but it is what it is, as the saying goes. FASKIANOS: Right. I mean, there is so much still to sort out as states are now reopening and just so much navigate through this summer as we see how things unfold in this country. So, the next question comes from Devi Potluri, who is dean of the graduate school at Chicago State University. If you could unmute yourself, that would be terrific. Q: Thank you. Good afternoon, Adam. You did mention the difficulties those of us in the smaller state universities have in our student visas. Before COVID, we used to hear the news that because we don't require GRE, consular officers would look at as a negative thing rather than a positive thing. Do you think that COVID has changed that because most universities now waive the GRE requirement? We had some students telling us, they used to ask a question does your university have a GRE, what kind of university doesn’t, even though we are a state university, fully accurate and everything else. I don't know if you heard anything like that, or any other ideas. JULIAN: In general, that idea is something that anecdotally I've heard people, colleagues like you from around the country, and colleagues I've worked with in my capacity at NAFSA, say for years things from “Oh, you don't require the GRE” to “Oh, your [inaudible] requirements are very low. These are the types of questions that we've asked consular officers in the past, and certainly, I would admit that these practices have happened. I would suggest that they are a little more isolated than I think the belief is, I think we, human nature just sort of grasp on to these ideas that when there's a perceived sort of injustice or unfairness, I think there's human nature to really think of it as a trend rather than a few isolated incidents. But that's not to say that it absolutely does not occur, I certainly think it does occur. And, in my experience working in the past at a public state university without much international name recognition, I've encountered some of those things myself. I think there are some things that you can do to ameliorate that situation. I think, one of the things that we really focus on at UMBC, and in other places, throughout my career, where I’ve worked, is really on, I don't want to say coaching, it's not coaching students on the visa application process, but helping them understand what they have to articulate. And part of that process is explaining to a consular officer, why Chicago State? Where is Chicago State? What you're studying, what your future goals are, why you chose that specific university? I think you raise a really interesting point with the—particularly as a lot of us are going test optional, even not only with GRE and for undergraduate admissions, SAT and ACT and those sorts of things, but in the English language testing area. Duolingo, I think is making a lot of significant headway in English language. And so, consular officers provide—they have bias for TOEFL or Duolingo, or the type of testing that it is, is it a public university, is it a community college, those sorts of things. I haven't heard any anything specific, but what I guess my strategy would be or what sort of what my team tries to do is to really educate our students and our applicants on really how that burden of proof is on them. And not necessarily just burden of proof that they're not going to immigrate, but burden of helping to articulate what their future plan is and why your specific university or school or institution fits into those plans and what it is. And I think that will go a long way. FASKIANOS: Thank you. We have another question from Martin Edwards, “Many universities have decreased their staff and resources to international students on campuses over the past year in order to offset difficulties of the pandemic and lower enrollment of international students. Could you offer any data resources that we could point to, to make a case for an increase of staff and resources to support an expected increase of international students?” JULIAN: So trying to wrack my brain here for any sort of specific data, I'm aware of some benchmarking surveys that some of my colleagues, particularly people in my role as a director of international student scholar services have done with NAFSA to talk really about what ideal staffing looks like, based on enrollment. Outside of that, if you could send me a message, I could follow up with you on that. I could share that information; I'd have to locate it. I don't know where it is, and how easily or readily available it is. I'd say, one point that we might bring into this conversation is how do you go about creating additional staffing and supporting increases in students? I know there are many, many different models that people employ, whether that's an international student fee charged per semester, or whether the fee for services you charge for OPT applications that you process or H-1B applications that you process. Obviously, we all have our own political and cultural context to work within what's possible at our campuses and institutions. But I would say one place where I would want to kind of put some focus would be on how could we creatively increase those resources. But I'd be happy to share that benchmarking survey if we can connect offline somehow. FASKIANOS: Sure, we can make sure that happens. Next question from Danielle McMartin, who is director of global education at California State University, San Marcos. “We do anticipate a change in F-1 regulations regarding allowance to online classes, as many institutions and faculty have become more online friendly within their curriculum planning. You might have touched upon this, but I want to just break surface it again.” JULIAN: That's a great question. And for those of you who work closely with F-1 student regulations, you will remember that much of the language that revolves around hybrid or distance or virtual education is antiquated at best, I think there's a reference to closed circuit television in the regulations that we have to use to sort of navigate this. So, I would hope that there are some changes, I think there are a lot of things that have occurred this last year that are not going away. I think one of the things that I think about when I hear that question is what exactly does hybrid mean? How do you define hybrid? Right? That was the guidance we had to work with throughout most of the pandemic with our F-1 student populations, how do you define hybrid? Is it one minute of in-person instruction? Is it one activity? Is it a majority? There's no, like so much of our work, there's no black and white, this is what it is. And so I think that piece of sort of virtual learning, hybrid versus online versus in person, is one of the single greatest areas of need, I think, for clarity in the F-1 student regulations in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. So hopefully something will come with this. I hope we learn our lesson from this and prioritize it moving forward. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next written question from Katy Crossley-Frolick, who is an assistant professor at Denison University, “You discussed the need for longer term strategic thinking regarding international enrollment and mobility. Are you sensing a shift in the Biden administration in terms of pivoting in that direction? And what should be tackled first?” If you were going to give them, 1, 2, 3, what would you advise, Adam? JULIAN: Oh, yeah, I love that, I've suddenly been given some power. This is a great. Am I sensing his shift? Yeah, I think in general, I think it's just a more friendly administration, you see it in not just international education, but more friendly to higher education. You've seen it in some recent Title Nine actions, you've seen it in some other things. I know this idea of a national policy is something that other associations and other groups have brought up and advocated for. For me, the number one—I don't know if I can come up with three—but the number one thing I would fix or would address as part of this policy is to increase opportunities for work for international students and increase the ease by which an international student has a path to permanent residency or citizenship. I know I'm preaching to the choir or so to speak here. But the value of international students to this country and to the world is really immeasurable. Right, how many of our Nobel laureates and others and Fortune 500 company founders and CEOs are former international students, right. Making the U.S. more attractive destination for the world's best and brightest minds to come, making it easier for them to work, to gain practical experience, to invest in this country in this economy, and if they so ultimately choose to have a path to permanent residency, should be the number one piece of any strategy, in my opinion. International students create jobs, international students innovate, international students who are responsible for some of the greatest accomplishments of this country, in my opinion. I’d also focus on opportunities for study abroad or study away. I think the value of mutual understanding, particularly thinking of my experience coming from smaller state schools or growing up in rural Southwestern Indiana like I did, the value of interacting with people with differing perspectives and experiences is immeasurable, so I would try to find some way to create support for international study or travel for U.S.-based students. I think that's only two, but those are the first two that come to mind. FASKIANOS: Great, and Adam, speaking from your position at UMBC, what have you done over the course of the pandemic to foster a sense of community for your international student population? And what are the strategies that you're putting into place for returning this fall, especially if some of them aren't going to make it onto campus if they are trying to get those interviews, and they're not going to be there in the fall, or make it to the fall, are you offering the online option? How are you thinking about all that? JULIAN: Well, that is, I think, the number one question that we think about every day. So, the first part: what did we do over the fall, we actually established a new program—I'm sure most the people on the call with universities have similar programs—our Global Ambassadors Program. And it really is designed to do two things simultaneously: provide funding and support for international students who already have limited opportunities for employment in the U.S. who may have lost their job because that on campus employment isn't available due to COVID. And so, we employ them to really serve as ambassadors for new students and admitted students to help them connect, build a sense of community online, virtual, different types of platforms, different types of activities that they participate in together. And really, that was sort of as a substitute to try to, during the COVID times, build a sense of community and try to replicate those bonds and the importance of mutual understanding and trust that comes with the campus experience. But the campus experience, the experience of studying in a U.S. university of vibrant campus life is really in some ways what differentiates the U.S. system of higher education from other systems of higher education in the world. And I think we would all be naive to say that's not extremely valuable. And so, we're looking at ways that we can do that safely, just like I'm sure everyone else are, that is something that we think should be critical, it's a priority. And to add to that, we've got a whole group of students, they're not many, but who came in the fall or spring during COVID, who have never visited campus. So, there's this real kind of pent up need for that. And so, we are planning things for the fall semester, we're doing some sort of hybrid orientations and meet and greets and a sort of welcome reception with our senior administration for international students to recognize the significant obstacles they've overcome to join us. And we really want to celebrate that and recognize that at the most senior levels, and so we're planning some things like that for the fall. FASKIANOS: Thank you, and then putting on your NAFSA, or your role at NAFSA. What are you doing—obviously, so much of this is dependent on our U.S. immigration policy and reforming that—what are you doing to talk to Congress to advocate for some of these changes that you've mentioned here, and that need to be put in place in order to decrease the barriers to come to this country to study? JULIAN: Yeah, NAFSA has a great advocacy wing, a group of professional staff members who are really dedicated to advocating on behalf of the Association and its members. They do several things that you can imagine, from an advocacy day to specific calls to action. One of the things, in particular, that the regulatory practice group that I've been involved with has done over the past is when there were these proposed changes to immigration regulations, the way the process works, typically, there's a public comment period where anyone can comment on how this rule will impact them, or impact their state, their university, their institution, their family. And so we've really worked with NAFSA to sort of muster the energy amongst people to write these comment letters and to have our voice be heard. There have certainly been successes, I think, through this. I think back to [inaudible]. I know at some point the duration of status was on the chopping block, so to say, so to speak, there were, it was up for public comment, and received thousands and thousands of comments. And ultimately, that was dropped by the next administration, that's no longer in danger. So, I would say, really kind of summary, two things. NAFSA’s advocacy arm works really closely with other associations and really sort of daily on the Hill for our means. And then also, we as association members, I think, really need to be actively engaged in public comment periods and things like that. FASKIANOS: Fantastic, I'm just looking to see—we're almost at the end of our time. So, I'm just wanting to see if there's anything—we covered a lot of ground. So, I think I can just turn to you for any closing remarks that you want to make before we finish up our session. JULIAN: Thanks. Well, I just want to say, I really appreciate everybody attending, and I appreciate a lot of the great questions and comments that I know were—for those of us who are in the weeds, so to speak, in this room right now, it's a very stressful time. But I think back to last summer, and then I'm reminded that it's not nearly as stressful as it was, then. So, have hope, keep the faith, we'll see, I think as things improve, appointments will open up and we'll get back to sort of establishing whatever our new sense of normal is, and we'll do it like we do all things, that's together. And I look forward to that, if I can ever help in any way and to anyone on the call, please don't ever hesitate to reach out. I'm always happy to share ways that you can get involved with NAFSA, with international students, calling regulatory practice committee, or just trying to share resources that I may have come across in my work with that group that would be helpful. And I guess that's all I have to say. FASKIANOS: Adam, I do have one final question, just as your people are navigating over the course of the summer, is there one source or a couple, a handful, that you would say should be the touch point go to reading or go to check, like every other day or daily or once a week, just sort of see where things are? JULIAN: Yeah, I would say so if you're looking at that from a sense of what's changing on a regulatory perspective, I think NAFSA, at least for student and scholar pieces, is the definitive source. And so, I would put in a plug for, that's the landing page where any recent changes and updates occur. On the consular front, it is really post specific. And so, if you're working with a student, or you have a population, have a heavy population of students from one country or another, I would really refer you to that particular embassy or consulate itself and their social media feeds. They do a great job with their public outreach. And they're a great source of information. FASKIANOS: Fantastic. And we will circulate the link to this webinar, some of the resources that were mentioned, as well as the benchmark study that Adam is going to dig out for us. So, appreciate that. So, Adam Julian, thank you very much for being with us and to all of you. I hope that people can take a little bit of a break. It has been a grueling year for educators. The summer probably won't give you much respite. But hopefully, you'll be able to take a few days off to try to reenergize and do some self-care, which is so important. So, we really appreciate it. So, thank you. You can follow Adam on Twitter @Adam_l_Julian. So I hope you will follow him there. We appreciate your expertise. And again, follow us on @CFR_Academic, and you can visit and for more resources. We look forward to seeing you all again for our next webinars, so stay well and stay safe and take care. (END)

College and University Educators Workshop

CFR hosts an annual workshop for university and college professors, the College and University Educators Workshop, which features expert briefings on global issues and discussion groups on best practices for teaching international affairs. For more information about future workshops, please email [email protected].

College and University Educators Workshop Sessions


The 2021 Virtual College and University Educators Workshop convened professors from across the country for substantive expert briefings and group discussions on foreign policy issues, to learn about the wide variety of CFR and Foreign Affairs academic resources available, and to share best practices and educational tools for bringing international affairs into the classroom.  

Women and Economic Growth

Kim K. Azzarelli, Jamille Bigio, and Richard Fry analyze factors underlying the global gender wage gap and discuss the benefits of gender parity, with Elmira Bayrasli moderating.


Nicole M. Bibbins Sedaca, Jacqueline R. McAllister, and Michael Nojeim discuss CFR teaching resources and how CFR materials can bridge the gap between the academic and policymaking worlds, with Dan Caldwell as moderator.

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Watch the 2019 event celebrating the tenth anniversary of the podcast The World Next Week with a live taping before a student audience.

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Each year, CFR welcomes a limited number of college and university student groups to its New York headquarters and Washington, DC, offices to learn about the organization and meet with CFR fellows and staff (*Note: All briefings are currently conducted virtually). Briefings may include an overview of CFR and its mission, a foreign policy discussion with a CFR expert or Foreign Affairs editor, or a short presentation on job and internship opportunities. A minimum of twenty students is required to arrange a visit, and briefings are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information and to apply, please fill out the CFR Briefing Request Form



CFR Academic participates in conferences across the country by hosting exhibitions, meetings, and workshops. Meet CFR representatives and learn more about our resources at upcoming conferences. Contact [email protected] for more information.


Commissioned from Gallup, a December 2019 survey by CFR and the National Geographic Society revealed that adult Americans exhibit gaps in their knowledge about geography and world affairs. While the report shows that U.S. adults have limited knowledge about these topics, seven in ten respondents consider international issues to be relevant to their daily lives and express a desire to promote education in these areas.


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