ISSUR 3-25
March 25, 2017

GUEST ROOM | Cornell’s Fading Mission: The International Students’ Plight

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A week ago, I attended the First American University lecture, in which I learned about Cornell’s history. A feeling of genuine pride for my alma mater empowered me as I found out that Cornell was the first Ivy League institution to accept women, and also that “every nationality” figured among Ezra Cornell’s “any person, any study” vision. Today, I am writing to you in distress because Cornell is walking away from these values, and is marginalizing the international student community like never before.

This past year has been hard on us international students, given the political climate that exploded in xenophobia, led to bans on countries from which some of us come or have family living in, and maliciously framed us as the other. During such times, Cornell issued brave statements that provided some sense of security. But there has been a clear disconnect between what Cornell says through its official statements and what is reflected through its actions.

In the last three semesters, the international student community has witnessed regressive policies levied against them, one after the other. First, the University changed its need-blind policy for international students to need-aware. It did so without engaging any international students in the conversation, and crushed its values of shared governance. It also provided little facts or data to support the sudden policy changes. For instance, the administration alleged that a high number of international students were dropping out because of financial constraints, but never provided any evidence regarding this claim whatsoever.

I know some people will undoubtedly point out how international students should not receive financial aid because their parents do not pay taxes. I have neither the time nor the space in this piece  to explain how we never asked for more financial aid to begin with, but just a chance to apply for it while we look for other outside sources of funding, and how the switch to need-aware implies that many of us who continue to contribute to Cornell would have never been here in the first place.

I do, however, want to delve into how the university will probably use this switch from need-blind to need-aware for international students to reduce the economic diversity of students, including domestic students. A document from the Admissions and Financial Aid Review Working Group explains how increasing the number of rich international students using the need-aware policy would enable Cornell to admit fewer domestic students who require financial aid and fall under the need-blind policy.

I am inclined to believe that the housing masterplan will use this option of admitting more rich international students to pay for itself, given the increase in enrollment it advocates for. After all, as the early draft of the AFARWG report mentioned, the University thinks that options pertaining to international students when it comes to financial resources have “potentially less negative public perception than other options that are more visible.”

International students are indeed the first ones to be thrown under the bus when tough decisions need to be made, because the administration expects us to remain quiet. My heart aches when I read how the university, behind closed doors, tokenizes us to achieve superficial diversity but does not really care about our student experience.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Cornell has implemented other regressive policies against us. The economics department, at the end of last year, decided to stop giving approvals for Curricular Practical Training, the work authorization that the majority of international students use for paid summer internships. The department announced the decision in an email without giving any explanation. When I led the pushback as the international student representative on Student Assembly in the fall, they agreed to reconsider their decision and reinstate the CPT. A university-wide task force was instituted to look into the issue and make recommendations. Yet the summer is nearly here and the economics department is still waiting to hear from the task force. The department is refusing to give CPT approvals for the moment, breaking away from the Chair’s promise that it would continue to do so.

International students, meanwhile, are distressed about whether they will even be able to get work authorization for the summer internships they spent anxious months applying to and interviewing for. Cornell sits in silence as we send emails urging them to act quickly and attend meetings that have an emotional toll on us. I have never not been in tears after each CPT task force meeting in which I am expected to listen politely and be professional while the economics faculty attacks my humanity and that of my community.

Cornell, a member of the Ivy League that has been accepting international students for more than a century, does not have a resource center for them. We only have the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), situated in the basement — yes, the basement — of Caldwell Hall, which is an office that the majority of us only attend for visas and paperwork. On the day of the Trump country ban, I attended a meeting in that basement with students from the affected countries. Several students had to remain standing because there was not enough space for chairs in the room. This just goes to show how little resources the university is willing to expend on us.

Most people believe that Student Assembly does not do much, but during my time on the S.A., my relentless advocacy for international students affected my mental health and academics. I worked on resolutions for weeks. I wrote dozens of urgent but always politically correct emails. I attended countless emotionally draining meetings. I am both saddened and shocked that the university is going in a direction that requires me, a student paying tuition and who is here to study before anything else, to have to forgo my well-being and studies to support my community.

“I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” We have never, in practice, reached an ideal embodiment of “any person, any study.” For years, we have made progress by following this vision, and we have gotten closer to fully achieving it. Recently, however, the Cornell administration seems to have abandoned this vision and is moving further and further away from it.

As an international student, and as a Cornell student who still believes in our founding principles and our global engagement mission, I ask the broader Cornell community to denounce the regressive policies against the international student community. I humbly ask for your help, because we, international students, form part of the Cornell community too and contribute to it in salient ways through our different experiences and additions. But today, we feel unwelcome, betrayed and exhausted.


Akhilesh Issur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He currently serves as the international student liaison for the Student Assembly, and is the vice president for advocacy for the International Students Union. Guest Room appears periodically throughout the semester. Comments may be sent to


  • Yolanda Arce

    While I don’t agree with some of what the article states, I find it disheartening that Cornell attracts and admits international students and creates reliance with its promises to provide training and aid and Now withdraws its obligations and has students waiting at this late time. If it chooses to change its policies then it should not retroactively affect students who accepted admission relying upon the offers made. Sounds like a unilateral breach of an agreement. Shameful indeed.

  • Big Wooly Sheep

    Not the basement! Oh no! The horror!

    talk about entitled

    Nothing is good enough for King Issur it seems LOLZ

    Foreigners should learn they are guests in this country: you to not understand that American universities do NOT exist for the benefit of everyone on the planet. Why should Americans care that there’s no foreigner student center? You think when Westerners go to China or Korea, they get the red carpet treatment?

  • Big Wooly Sheep


    Is that like how the Asian students on campus self-segregate and refuse to interact with anyone else? There are dozens and dozens of organizations like the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) but that’s not seen as a problem.

  • Big Wooly Sheep

    Was it xenophobic when the Vietnamese and Algerians threw the French out?

    Was it xenophobic when the Indians threw out the British?

    Americans are feeling similarly colonized when they see foreigners going to the very American institutions that they can’t afford to send their own children to.

  • Big Wooly Sheep

    How about American universities accept only American students?

    American schools do not exist for denizens of the rest of the planet to send their children to for 4 years

    America does not need to be educating the competition and creating a larger pool of talent that will depress wages.

    Make America Great Again

    • Kat

      College years are an important time to learn about a world greater than yourself. The world is now globalized, and only those prepared for the global economy will succeed. I suggest you take some sociology, anthropology, and economic classes and expand your horizons. If you are so concerned about international students outperforming you, study more and troll less. Also, join some clubs that will help you meet international students. Maybe then you will feel less ‘colonized’ and more appreciative of the richness that diversity creates.

      • Cute Baby Ringtailed Lemur

        Funny how for being in a globalized economy, it seems everyone wants to come to the US to study not the other way around. 400,000 Chinese students study in the US each year while what – 10? Americans go to China? Seems like we’re educating our future competition…

        Trolling is my culture. Respect it. I don’t have year of the cock celebrations or dragon float parades. Feels bad man.

        Not everyone is a self-loathing White or a self-hating American who feels other people have a superior culture. I have ZERO interest in eating hot pot or nibbling on fried insects.

        I would feel less colonized if there were fewer foreigners in my country.

        Why don’t you tell China that it needs to become more diverse??? 1,3 billion Han Chinese. So stale so boring. Why don’t they mix it up a little? Diversity is good for the economy? Tell that to China and Japan – who have the second and third largest economies – and are incredibly ethnically homogeneous.

        Keep worshiping at the alter of diversity moron

      • Cute Baby Ringtailed Lemur

        Why were the Vietnamese and Algerians not appreciative of cultural diversity when they threw out the French?

        Why were the Indians unappreciative when they threw out the British?

        So when Asian and African countries threw out White people, it was their right to self-determination and righteous independence BUT when yellow and brown people inundate Western nations, we’re told to suck it up and enjoy it.

        Nah nah nah. Smells like hypocrisy

  • InternationalStudentWithSense

    As an international student, I agree American universities should put Americans first. It’s a privilege, not a right, to attend an Ivy League university as a foreigner. You can’t just expect free handouts and not give anything in return.

    • Michaela

      International students pay tuition too (more than the average American student since only a very small minority of them get financial aid), international alumni contribute to Cornell a lot, and Cornell has a global engagement mission, as the article states. If it does not want to fulfill that mission, then it’s a different story.

      • Cute Baby Ringtailed Lemur

        Paying higher tuition just discourages Cornell from trying to keep the price of education down. If Cornell can just make money off rich foreign students, then it has no incentive to keep costs down. So tuition will just keep going up and up because people somewhere in the world can afford to pay it.

        Also, more money to pay the bloated admin obscene salaries.

        Why does the University President need to be paid $800,000 a year? To make banal endorsements about diversity and inclusion??? I could do that and I wouldn’t charge a million bucks a year!

  • Carlos M. Cañuelas

    The most important information in the article comes from the Administration itself: The housing plan. So, now Cornell has a plan, which is executing, of becoming a place for rich student, both domestic and international. I have supported and promoted Cornell now from more than a quarter of a century, sent some of my best students there, and proudly identified myself as a Cornelian. Cornell needs to decide if it wants to be the institution we all love and support, or become a playing field for rich kids. Makes you wonder about the character of the people involved in the decision to take my alma mater down this road.
    Carlos M. Cañuelas

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