Students at Delaware Valley University, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, are often surprised to learn that their European history professor is a Taiwanese immigrant. But for Dr. Shih-chieh “Jay” Su, studying and teaching in the United States has made perfect sense. “Academic freedom in the U.S. higher education system is very protected for teachers,” he explains. “That is not the case in most Asian countries. If you want to research what you want to research, the United States is the perfect location for any historian.”
To be a world leader, we need to open our society to different groups of people and to diverse viewpoints.
With an emphasis on 19th century Germany, Dr. Su studies how non-democratic regimes pressure scholars to create official versions of history that are favorable to the ruling party. His discipline would be impossible to teach in places like China, Singapore, and Hong Kong, where governments continue to impose similar controls. “If I worked in Asia, I’d be under a lot of pressure from the government and the university,” he says. Fortunately, Dr. Su was never in this situation. While completing his PhD at Brown University, he was hired by Delaware Valley, in 2005. Just over a decade later, he became a U.S. citizen.
Foreign-born students like Dr. Su bring significant revenue to American universities. The Association of International Educators (NAFSA) estimated that the more than 1 million international students at U.S. colleges and universities in the 2015-2016 academic year contributed $32.8 billion to the economy and supported more than 400,000 jobs. However, international student enrollment has been declining recently. An Institute of International Education survey of nearly 500 colleges and universities found a 7 percent decline in new international student enrollment in 2017.
The loss to the United States extends beyond economics. “I teach European history that is not from a western-centric perspective, so my students have a better understanding of other people’s views,” says Dr. Su. By the same token, foreign students learn to appreciate the United States and its values. “You have the opportunity to teach these students what democracy and freedom look like. You’re helping the brightest people from foreign counties and teaching them your values. When they return, they can let people know what people in America are like. That can reduce a lot of anti-American sentiment.”
Dr. Su hopes to see an immigration system that recognizes and welcomes the mutual benefit of these exchanges, rather than fostering us-verses-them thinking. “To be a world leader, we need to open our society to different groups of people and to diverse viewpoints,” he says. “It should be a win-win situation.”