Our Sept. 15 report on the primacy of U.S. colleges resonated with readers. “Top colleges are superb,” conceded one. “What about others?” Asked another, “Do the poor have a chance?” Grade inflation, racial profiling and student-visa cutbacks drew ire.
STUDYING THE AMERICAN DREAM?
Your thorough analysis of “Turning American” (Sept. 15) was first rate. Students worldwide are enticed by the United States because it is a land of immigrants and because U.S. universities offer flexible programs. Besides, in America, there is good communication between students and teachers. In France, for example, where it costs less for foreign students to enroll in universities, students spend time taking notes while teachers talk. This is boring and often turns into rote learning that kills incentive.
Mathieu and Angel Chellumben
Your articles on American universities were interesting but not very convincing. Everybody knows that top U.S. universities are superb—indeed, they are the best in the world. But a critical reader wants to know: what is the quality of the other 4,200 universities? And to say that American universities are not only the best but also the most democratic sounds like unfounded propaganda. What’s the criterion for democracy? The fees?
So the world’s spoiled brats are flocking to America’s most prestigious universities. But what about America’s own poor and underprivileged? The claim that 65 percent of the college-age population goes to university sounds impressive, but I would have liked more specifics. Have blacks, Hispanics, kids of the unemployed and working poor really got much of a chance? Isn’t the campus a prosperous white kids’ club after all?
You compare the few internationally renowned U.S. universities with some carefully picked negative examples of universities in poorer countries to come up with the patriotic conclusion that the United States is the best. Surely, the fact that the world has become smaller and other countries have become richer makes American universities both chic and affordable? You did not consider American university graduates’ lack of foreign-language skills—a distinct disadvantage in today’s business world. Having been on the board of advisers of a European campus of an American university, I know firsthand the constant struggle to raise both the quality and faculty salary to European standards. Clearly, the opposite of your message could be underlined and “proved” by endless examples.
Saint George’s, Grenada
It is appalling that students in Russia feel they must bribe their teachers to get good grades. But it is equally distressing that professors in America feel pressured to give high marks to students who don’t deserve them. This is tantamount to Russian students’ buying grades, only the price tag is much higher. Two years ago, Harvard’s president led the controversial charge against rampant grade inflation by exposing it at his school. You should have included this well-publicized and relevant issue. Many international students are shocked and disappointed to find out how easy it is to get A’s in American universities, because it makes their degrees feel both devalued and overpriced. You also failed to report on the sometimes hostile atmosphere that foreign students find on U.S. campuses, post-9/11. Feeling excluded or even taunted by classmates, non-American students are now subject to open racial and ethnic profiling as required by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Institutions of higher learning are under a congressional mandate to track foreign-student enrollment in the beleaguered national database for students. Despite this unwelcoming milieu, foreign-student enrollments have not dropped as much as expected after 9/11. A million international students continue to enrich U.S. campuses, but many of them feel more isolated from mainstream activities and American friends than ever before.
Cheryl de Jong-Lambert
NEWSWEEK, you painted a one-sided picture by not mentioning that a nation’s ability to provide an excellent higher-education system is fundamentally linked to its wealth. In a global economy, in which the gap between rich and poor nations is growing wider, to boast of the superiority of American colleges could be viewed as yet another illustration of American arrogance. As for European universities, you should have compared them with ordinary American ones, rather than with Harvard and Yale, which are not representative of American colleges as a whole. If your researchers had looked beyond the veneer of glossy prospectuses and lavishly endowed dormitories at what makes for real value—first, the quality of a university’s teaching (its ability to train and educate a large number of students) and second, the quality of its research (its ability to develop the minds and creativity of a much smaller elite)—they would have found as much to praise as to criticize on each side of the Atlantic. “Spending per student” in higher education is only one parameter, useful in judging a university’s research capacity rather than its ability to educate the majority of its students. Spending per student, in the United States, includes high faculty salaries, vast amounts spent on sports facilities, public relations and other nonacademic budgets that are much lower (or nonexistent) in Europe. In terms of turning out effectively educated graduates, it can be argued that European universities are better performers than their U.S. counterparts.
University of Franche-Comte
Nearly seven out of 10 Brazilian university students are enrolled in private colleges not because they prefer them, but because they were not admitted into public universities, which are better because they have harder entrance exams.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
As a journalism and political-science major, I wanted to do graduate work in the United States because freedom of the press is a thing that many developing countries like mine do not have. But it is becoming difficult for people from Muslim countries to go to U.S. schools because of the new student-visa restrictions. While I understand the U.S. government’s concern over security, I find it ironic that a country founded by immigrants is turning away others who seek a better life and who, like me, are “yearning to breathe free.”
Your article notwithstanding, the only good universities are not those that are copying the ultra-expensive, not-always-efficient U.S. model. Many private U.S. universities do not reach the academic excellence of Rome’s crowded La Sapienza. At the Sorbonne, you don’t need to be a football star to get a scholarship. Millions of young Americans would love to live in Argentina, where public universities are free and they enjoy autonomy from both government and big-business donors. Buenos Aires’s public university, for one—however crowded—has given the country several Nobel Prize winners. Its foreign students come mostly from Latin America, but some African-American students also prefer to study in inexpensive places with no race quotas or prejudices. Finally, all universities—if they’re good at all—should always be looking for reform and improvement. That does not mean they are in big trouble; it only means they are alive.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
AID IN THE REBUILDING
“What America Should Do” is another brilliant piece by Fareed Zakaria (Sept. 8). Why can’t our current leaders think in this manner? I am a middle-class, middle-aged, American-born woman who is feeling more alienated from national policy than ever before. Perhaps President Bush and his advisers know something they are not telling us, but my sense is that because of this war we are distancing many former and potential allies, spending huge amounts of money and suffering too many casualties. There has to be a better way to combat terrorism. For a start, the Bush administration should follow Zakaria’s advice to get partners and increase support for building a democratic Iraq.
Grand Blanc, Michigan
InsertArt(2044998) Fareed Zakaria suggests that the United States has failed in Iraq. Perhaps he is simply reflecting our society’s remote-control-fueled demands for instant gratification. Some perspective would suggest that taking control of a country about the size of California and modernizing it so it can sustain itself will take more than the five months it has taken up to this point. It took us four years in Japan after World War II. Perhaps it will take five years in Iraq and cost us $50 billion a year—less than 0.5 percent of our gross domestic product. Do we really have a choice?
The last line of Fareed Zakaria’s article says it all: “A failed Iraq could prove a greater threat to American security than Saddam Hussein’s regime ever was.” The Bush administration should have thought of that before it got us into this hole. Wasn’t it Secretary of State Colin Powell who said there should always be an exit strategy? After thumbing our noses at the United Nations and our European allies who didn’t see Saddam as an immediate threat, and who thought we should let the weapons inspections go forth, we are now asking for help. Isn’t it understandable that they aren’t terribly eager to do so with us in control?
Huntington Beach, California
Zakaria’s article, which should be required reading for the entire Bush team, was certainly correct about our administration’s handling of the Iraq debacle. Your pullquote “This has been a massive enterprise undertaken with little planning and extreme arrogance” should be the motto engraved on the monument built to honor the U.S. and allied dead in this expensive, horrific fiasco. While our forces continue to be killed, what is being gained? Is Iraq liberated? Is my world safer from terror? Can the United States regain its prestige? We continue to spend billions of dollars on the war, but our economy is in trouble. Thousands are laid off, and the chances of speedy re- employment are minute. Let’s hope that the coming election sends the right message to the White House.
Pompton Lakes, New Jersey
As a retired business journalist, I have a suggestion: Why not tell us what good is being accomplished in Iraq? Is power being supplied? Is water becoming available? Are streets being cleared, demolished buildings removed? We keep hearing about soldiers or Marines being killed almost daily, but surely there are some positive things being accomplished. I hope you will give readers the other side of the story.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations special envoy who was killed in the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, honors a tradition of remarkable Brazilian diplomats (“The U.N.’s Day of Reckoning,” Sept. 8). More than anyone else in his generation, he consistently put his talents at the service of those in need, ultimately offering the highest sacrifice. The people in Iraq should be forever thankful for his generosity, and the world should look at him as an example to follow in our troubled search for peace. To those born in Brazil, tired of corrupt and weak national public figures, Vieira de Mello brought back the pride of being Brazilian.
Leonardo W. B. Barreto
A DEMOCRATIC GENERAL
Your Sept. 8 article “The General on the Edge” asks, “Is Wes Clark [the Democrats’] man?” In a word, yes. Howard Fineman spells out the problem with front runner Howard Dean’s candidacy: Dean’s risk of repeating George McGovern’s crash-and-burn defeat in 1972. Michael Dukakis was similarly pummeled by former president Bush in 1988. Dean may represent the sensibilities of many Democrats, but the fact is that the party needs a centrist with a clear agenda that emphasizes the country’s dismal economy while simultaneously bringing military credibility and leadership back to the White House. Clark can return the United States to its status as a respected international partner.
Mary Beth Culp
Rolling Hills Estates, California
I began attending “Clark in 2004” meet-ups in my area after seeing Wesley Clark interviewed on TV last summer. It immediately struck me that here, finally, was a viable candidate who had the brains, the credentials, the vision, the international experience and the charisma to beat President Bush and to restore a sense of sanity and honor to our national and international politics and policies. At 58, I’ve never participated in anything remotely resembling political activism, but now I’m gripped by a sense of urgency that other Clark supporters seem to share. Working to bring about a Clark candidacy and daring to contemplate a Clark presidency has given me a much-needed burst of optimism.
Los Angeles, California
IN DEFENSE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY
It is folly to hit the hot buttons of genetic diversity, monocultures and biotechnology to slam modern agriculture (“Crisis in the Cupboard,” June 9). A looming food-production crisis has nothing to do with monocultures; it is a result of an animosity to biotechnology. You report the views of those with a professional commitment to biodiversity with the same doomsday scenario for monocultures that we’ve been hearing over the past half-century. From 1850-1950, wheat-rust epidemics in India resulted in many major famines. But there has not been a single rust-induced famine in India in the past 50 years, even though wheat is now extensively grown in monocultures of uniform varieties. From the 1940s to the 1980s, an effort was made to improve disease resistance in wheat. Yields of wheat increased by 120 percent; grain output increased twice as fast as population growth, and yearly fluctuations in yield were reduced. India’s Green Revolution would not have been as revolutionary as it was without the development and diffusion of multiple-disease-resistant, high-yielding varieties. Biotechnology has not limited genetic diversity. Molecular tools and techniques allow rapid and complete access to crop genomes and provide greater disease resistance and other valuable genes, and yes, more genetic variation. We don’t need to wait another 8,000 years for a one-in-a-billion event that gave us bread wheat. Why should people starve while we have modern tools to improve crops? Romantic notions of farming that deny the power of modern technologies will not feed people.
Dave Wood, Jill Lenne, Tom DeGregori, Neal Stewart, C. S. Prakash
Academic Scientists in Agriculture
If reintroducing agricultural diversity, rather than creating genetically modified food and increasing pesticide use, is a solution to the problem, the reduction of yield may be compensated by a change in behavior. We know the production of animal protein requires large quantities of grain. So if consumers in developed countries reduce their meat consumption in favor of vegetables and grains, a less intensive, less “chemical” agriculture could feed the world.
OUT OF AFGHANISTAN
Having recently worked for a year in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I found your piece on Hamid Karzai (“Walking a Fine Line,” June 9) very interesting. There is no peace in Afghanistan, and there will be none until the United States gives the necessary financial support to the central government and stops supporting corrupt and immoral governors of the provinces. Most Afghans just want peace—to live a normal life, to have freedom of religion, to find employment. Every Afghan I worked with was a decent, family man who simply wanted to work and live in peace. It is not Karzai’s fault that peace is a still distant dream. The drug trade is flourishing, corruption is rife and the “new” Talibans are fanatics, less respectful of human life than even the former Taliban. In fact, the rural population in the south longs for a return of the Taliban because at least there was law and order under them, as well as some peace and some morality. Even that harsh regime was better than what exists there now. Many NGOs are leaving the south and begging the Coalition to provide security for the area so that reconstruction can begin and people can have access to health care and business opportunities. It is time we stop telling ourselves we won a war in Afghanistan and admit that the road to peace is long and hard and requires us to win hearts and minds not by words but by actions.
Former health-program manager for a U.S.-based NGO
© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.