Additional TA cuts would hurt UI’s international diversity


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Together, international graduate and professional students make up more than 1,600 of the UI’s graduate-student population. However, their impact is out of proportion with their numbers.
They enrich the university’s diversity with many cultures, they teach thousands of undergraduate students, and they are doing groundbreaking research.

International students are also one of the most vulnerable groups at this university because of a variety of factors, including their relative lack of familiarity with the cultural and institutional environment, their ambiguous credit status, their lack of home-support systems, and, most importantly, their exceptionally heavy reliance on the UI for funding for their studies.

In spite of these challenges, international graduate students still apply, accept admissions offers from departments across this university, and journey from all over the world to study and work here. According to the university, some 40 percent of international masters students and almost 80 percent of international doctoral students rely on the university as their major source of funding.

It is not an overstatement that many of international graduate students rely on teaching assistantships as their major source of funding. In order to be able to teach here, they have to pass a rigorous English-language evaluation, and they receive training from their respective departments.

Like the university’s domestic graduate and professional students, they balance the demands of employment with those of course work, research, and their private lives.

And they do much of this in a foreign language and a different culture — which is no small feat.

It is important to clarify just why international graduate students are vulnerable economically: If administrators cut graduate assistantships, they will not be able to get other employment. The regulations of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service clearly specify that most of the university’s international students cannot accept employment off campus unless it is in their professional field. This means that if an international graduate students lose their funding, they have no real alternatives.

In addition, international graduate students are themselves serving as recruiters for this university — in other words, the UI is benefiting from a “chain migration” of global talent. As international graduate students start leaving for good, they will inform their home-country professors and peers of the situation, in effect advising them against applying to this university.

This will mean that the wonderful work the UI’s staff has been doing in recruitment around the world will be undermined — if not completely undone.

Amid the recent budget cuts, UI international graduate students have been gritting their teeth, holding onto their positions, and succeeding against increasingly uneven odds. They are one of the most vulnerable groups on campus, however, and if the UI implements additional TA cuts, they will be the first to leave.

Gyorgy Toth is a graduate teaching assistant from Hungary. This guest opinion was adapted from a letter the author sent via e-mail to UI President Sally Mason and members of the UI Task Force on Graduate Education and Diversity and Internationalization.

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