October 25, 2011

Devil’s Advocate

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To the Editor:

Elias Wynshaw is a naïve, arrogant, weak writer whose columns don’t deserve to be printed in The Sun. I tolerated him writing against our celebrations of Osama’s death. I patiently bore how he drowned us in the stream of his embarrassingly uninteresting consciousness and even how he droned on and on about poetry of all things — doesn’t he know America is post-literary? But this last column — in which he argued that the increase in Chinese international students benefits both our University and our country — just did me in. How much convoluted sophistic logic does he think he can pull on us?

Plus, I hear he’s got multiple personality disorder.

Now, I do appreciate that Mr. Wynshaw laid the foundations for discourse on this topic. But it’s obvious that his column spoke only for those of us who have politically correct opinions. We xenophobes need a voice, too.

He split the discussion into two questions: (1) Do Chinese international students benefit the University, and (2) If Cornell is obliged to serve American interests, does the huge number of Chinese international students indeed serve American interests?

His answer to the first question was that Cornell prides itself on what he called “diverse excellence,” i.e., taking only the best, most talented students, whence-ever they come. Elias asks: If the better applicant comes from China, why not take him or her over an American student?

I ask in turn: Can Elias really believe that there’s no American student just as well-qualified for the spot? There are more and more American super-applicants with astronomical SATs, a dozen A.P.s and perfect high school records who find that they make the wrong throw in the crapshoot of elite college admissions because American universities are choosing fifth-generation legacies, athletes or internationals over them. In what way does a Chinese international student contribute to the excellence of the University more than an equally qualified American applicant would — or, for that matter, one of the many outstanding Asian-American applicants who are disadvantaged by this system?

Still, I can think of two reasons to opt for a more “diverse” applicant over a traditional American applicant. The first is to benefit the under-advantaged members of society, as Affirmative Action does. But Cornell tuition costs more than 10 times the average Chinese income. Do these students really need Cornell’s help?

The second reason is the intrinsic value of a cohesive diverse community. I agree with Mr. Wynshaw on at least this point: “the more mutual exposure, the better.” He, however, has been so optimistic as to argue that various organizations should take the initiative to better integrate the Chinese international students into the University community. A fine idea, but how realistic? So far as any of my fellow xenophobes or I can tell, the Chinese internationals won’t integrate. Many seem to pass their four years in segregation — either of their own will or ours (not that this matters for our purposes). They speak almost exclusively Mandarin and hang around almost exclusively with other Chinese internationals. Rather than strengthening our community by fully joining to it and contributing to a common understanding, as would be welcome, they make an already-enormous University feel even more unfamiliar.

So much for benefitting the University. How about American interests? Mr. Wynshaw has argued that, because China will economically surpass us (I’m not so sure about this, either), we ought to help enable good Sino-American relations. That way, China will realize its best interests lie in embedding itself “in the liberal global order.” Maybe this is true. Yet there is little to suggest that granting Chinese citizens American university degrees will dispose them to cooperating with us. One reader e-mailed me as I worked on this column:

“I lived and worked in a small, industrial city in Southeast China for a year and surprisingly, most anti-American rhetoric that I heard came from foreign-educated Chinese citizens. They would always tell me that everyone in my country was fat, obsessed with partying and ignorant of global politics. They used their degrees to obtain prestigious positions in their home country but after that found no camaraderie with the U.S. at all. So while there is the POSSIBILITY that alumni who go back to China will induce cooperation between the two countries, I don’t think it is necessarily a GUARANTEE.”

This admissions policy is far less forward-looking than Mr. Wynshaw has made it out to be. The increase in Chinese internationals has not grown from any noble intentions on the part of Cornell admissions. They do not have in mind admitting the best students, nor serving our country’s long-term well-being. They’re just happy to admit more people who can pay all the fees, no matter where they come from. Mr. Wynshaw says, ”Cornell admissions gets a lot wrong, but enriching our campus with international students is laudable.” In fact, Cornell admissions continues to get almost everything wrong — not least letting in Mr. Wynshaw.

To the Editor:

Elias Wynshaw is a racist, brutish, sarcastic monster who . . .

Elias Wynshaw is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at ewynshaw@cornellsun.com. Imperfect, Tense appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Elias Wynshaw