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How Has the Purpose(s) of American Higher Education Changed Over Time, and Why?

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Initially, universities and colleges have been founded on three central promises such as (a) teaching, (b) public services, and (c) conducting academic research (Scott, 2006). Myriad surveys and studies executed regarding universities and colleges echo that the above three purposes of higher education have undergone huge changes over the past centuries, and the origins of these changes were political, social, economic, and demographic upheavals in the in the USA. Considering the three purposes of higher education and the impacts of political, economic, and social factors on them, I want to answer this question that how much the above purposes of higher education have altered over the course of history?

Brubacher and Rudy (1997) state that English Americans founded the colonial colleges in the USA so that their children could preserve the facets of “Old World civilization” which were valuable for their ancestors (p. 23). They add that arguably another factor which led to the establishment of colonial colleges in the USA was the demand for teaching religious matters for literate and educated priests. Likewise, Spencer (cited in Shapiro, 2009) holds that in the eighteenth century, the purpose of universities was to separate erudite men from less erudite men. It indicates that till the end of the eighteenth century, the focus of American higher education was on a typical stratum of the society.

With the advent of new social, political, cultural, and economic changes in the United States of America, the purpose of higher education was also changed. For example, Trepanier (2013) argues that in the early 1970s the purpose of universities was shifted from military research to civilian and commercial research so as to fulfill the needs of the ongoing emerging “global economy” (p. 4). He adds that before the Civil War in America, the primary purpose of American higher education was to train undergraduates as “good democratic citizens and leaders” (p. 6). Thus, the institutions held that to meet this necessity, they offered a liberal arts curriculum.

Thornton and Jaeger (2007) have quite a similar story that how previous American presidents were persuading the higher education institutions authorities to train strong leaders and productive citizens. They, in the article of The Ceremonies and Symbols of Citizenship, cite from President Jefferson that he was in this belief that universities of Virginia had to teach its students how to be responsible citizens and future leaders. Similarly, Lee (2016) in the book of Class and Campus Life writes that Linden College, a pseudonym liberal arts college, instilling this notion into its students that they are preparing them for tomorrow’s societal leadership.

Higher education institutions in the USA since their inception by the British Empire have undergone huge changes in terms of demographics. In 1790 there were 10,050 students, 141 faculty, and 11 institutions in the entire USA (Cohen, A. M., &Kisker, C. B., 2010). But after elapsing approximately three centuries and a half, the demographics of students, faculty, and higher education institutions in the USA is incomparable to 1790. For example, today only the University of Missouri accommodates 116,906 students, 1,168 faculty, and instructors, let alone all American higher education institutions (website of the University of Missouri, 2017).

So, booming population and increasing demographics of students led to social, political, and economic changes, and subsequently these various upheavals obliged higher education institutions authorities to expand the scope of their activities; as a result, the huge expansions in educational sectors changed the purpose higher education too. Nowadays, higher education authorities feel responsible for educating all the stratum of society rather than merely educating a privileged layer of the society or differing erudite folks from non-erudite ones.

One of the most political and social factors which disrupted the whole process of higher education and in particular the purpose of higher education was America’s Civil War (Shapiro, 2009). He argues that after the Civil War, we have noticed a huge tremendous of changes in the size and nature of the higher education. Shapiro (2009) asserts that the antebellum colleges and universities were not able to fulfill the needs of the society. Upon ending the Civil War, the numbers of higher education institutions increased, students and faculty demographics mounted rapidly, and especially the purpose of higher education shifted from merely teaching religious courses, literature and arts, and moral philosophy towards teaching the subjects and matters that society needed for tackling its social, political and economic challenges.

During the course of history not only the purpose of higher education is changed but also the governance anatomy, leadership models, curriculum, teaching methodologies, scope of higher education, physical body of higher education institutions, political, economic and social approaches towards higher education, and the status of interactions between faculty and students were all altered too. For instance, Bonfiglio (2004) says that in the past faculty-student interactions outside the classroom used to take place at professors’ homes – parlor. The faculty parlors were the main places where social, political, cultural, and economic ideas were used to be exchanged between students and professors. He adds that parlors were the main outdoor places where students could improve their social skills and capacities. He continues that when campus clubs such as (a) dining halls, (b) libraries, (c) student centers, and (d) other campus associations were set up, they replaced the faculty parlors. Hence, faculty ceded their dominance on students’ spare time.

The same story goes for the purpose of higher education. For example, the American higher education institutions in the colonial era were established with the purpose of teaching the religious matters to teach children but over the passages of time, political, social, economic, industrial, and technological metamorphosis led to the alternation of the purpose of higher education. For example, Scott (2006) argues that globalization and rapid changes in technology effectuated huge changes in the way how educational institutions educate the public. She adds that academic organizations are in the crux of these upheavals in society. Scott (2006) holds that educational institutions so as to embrace these social, political, and economic transformations, must remain exorable. Thus, higher education institutions, to prove their alignment and adaptational capacity with the new changes, nowadays constantly prepare and update their statement of missions based on their updated academic purposes.

Since the beginning of the postmodern era, there is another growing trend in higher education which tries to attract the purpose of higher education in its own direction. This new trend is promulgating the “Aristotelian prudence” (Trepanier (2013, p. 7). He suggests that the primary purpose of American higher education should be based on promoting the “character and practices of Aristotelian prudence” (p. 8). Moreover, he argues that erudition not only fills the gap between theoretical and practical reasoning for students but also it can act as a linchpin to wind the conventional activities of the higher education institutions – teaching, research, and public services. Further, it will capacitate the higher education to align its missions with the society today’s needs. Trepanier (2013) says that the propensity of promoting the “Aristotelian prudence” in higher education is originated from the idea of reinvigorating the political philosophy and pedagogy in order to countervail the challenges of postmodern critics regarding questioning the importance of theoretical reasoning in higher education.

It seems that the nature, scope, and constituents of the purpose of higher education have been being discussed by the governmental authorities, academic institutions administrators, and politicians since the inception of academic institutions. As Fortino (2012) says that all our liberal arts colleges with holding 200-year old history – their foci are on training the students for effective and efficient contribution via developing their persona. But nowadays, there are demands that higher education should turn their focus to making ready the students for a career. He believes that the purpose of higher education should be based on creating minds that react to any kind of strange occurrences in society. Similarly, I think, given all the social, political, and economic challenges awaiting higher education institutions to unravel them, higher education authorities should contemplate about the abovementioned challenges via revising their purposes in accordance with the needs and necessities of the society as they did for centuries.

All and all, in my mind, in the 21st century – in the era of technological explosions, entrepreneurial development, business expansion, globalization, internationalization of higher education, privatization, commercialization and corporatization of public sectors, higher education institutions significantly need to converge their main purpose on teaching creative, problem solving and critical thinking skills to student rather than just filling out their memories with some incongruous information so that they can fight with increasing gap between wealthy and indigent strata of the society in the USA, soaring competitive and tough job market, increasing unemployed degree holders, emerging quasi-automatons replacing people at factories, increasing huge intramural and extramural migration, booming population, financial crisis, students debts, and increasing degree completion retardation among the students.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea

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On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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Maximizing Biden’s Plan to Combat Corruption and Promote Good Governance in Central America

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Authors: Lauren Mooney and Eguiar Lizundia*

To tackle enduring political, economic and security challenges in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Biden administration is attempting to revitalize its commitment to the region, including through a four-year, $4 billion plan submitted in a bill to Congress.

In its plan, the White House has rightly identified the root causes of migration, including limited economic opportunity, climate change, inequality, and violence. Systemic corruption resulting from the weak rule of law connects and entrenches the root causes of migration, while the increased devastation brought about by climate change exacerbates economic hardship and citizen insecurity. 

The renewed investment holds promise: previous foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle has shown results, including by contributing to a reduction in the expected level of violence. As the Biden Administration finalizes and begins implementing its Central America strategy, it should include three pillars—rooted in lessons learned from within and outside the region—to maximize the probability that the proposed spending in U.S. taxpayer funds has its intended impact. 

First, the Biden administration should deliver on its promise to make the fight against corruption its number one priority in Central America by supporting local anti-graft actors. The sanctions against officials which the United States is considering  are a step in the right direction, but lasting reform is best accomplished through a partnership involving regional or multilateral organizations. Guatemala’s international commission against impunity (CICIG) model was relatively successful until internal pushback and dwindling U.S. advocacy resulted in its dismantlement in 2019. Though Honduras’ equivalent was largely ineffective, and El Salvador’s recently launched version is marred by President Bukele’s campaign against judicial independence, there is room for learning from past mistakes and propose a more robust and mutually beneficial arrangement. The experience of Ukraine shows that while external engagement is no silver bullet in eliminating corruption, the role of foreign actors can lead to tangible improvements in the anti-corruption ecosystem, including more transparent public procurement and increased accountability for corrupt politicians.

In tandem with direct diplomatic pressure and helping stand up CICIG-like structures, the U.S. can harness lessons from prior anticorruption efforts to fund programs that address other aspects of graft in each country. This should involve empowering civil society in each country to monitor government compliance with anti-corruption laws and putting pressure on elected officials to uphold their commitments. While reducing impunity and improving transparency might not automatically persuade Central Americans to stay, better democratic governance will allow the three Northern Triangle nations to pursue policies that will end up expanding economic opportunities for residents. As Vice President Harris recently noted, any progress on addressing violence or food insecurity would be undermined if the environment for enabling corruption remains unchanged.

Second, the United States should support local initiatives to help reverse the deterioration of the social fabric in the region by expanding access to community decision-making. Given the high levels of mistrust of government institutions, any efforts to support reform-minded actors and stamp out corruption at the national level must be paired with efforts to promote social cohesion and revitalize confidence in subnational leaders and opportunities. In the Northern Triangle countries, violence and economic deprivation erode social cohesion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. The U.S. government and practitioners should support civic efforts to build trust among community members and open opportunities for collective action, particularly in marginalized areas. A key component of this is expanding sociopolitical reintegration opportunities for returning migrants. In so doing, it is possible to help improve perceptions of quality of life, sense of belonging, and vision for the future. While evidence should underpin all elements of a U.S. Strategy for Central America, it is particularly important to ensure social cohesion initiatives are locally-owned, respond to the most salient issues, and are systematically evaluated in order to understand their effects on migration.

Lastly, the U.S. should take a human-rights based approach to managing migration and learn from the pitfalls associated with hardline approaches to stem migration. Policies rooted in a securitized vision have a demonstrable bad record. For example, since 2015, the European Union undertook significant measures to prevent irregular migration from Niger, including by criminalizing many previously legitimate businesses associated with migration and enforced the imposition of legal restrictions to dissuade open and legal migration. Not only did this violate freedom of movement and create adverse economic consequences, but it also pushed migration underground, with individuals still making the journey and encountering significant threats to their lives, security and human rights.

A welcome realignment

Acknowledging the role of push factors is key to responding to migration effectively. Most importantly, putting political inclusion and responsive governance at the center is critical for ensuring vulnerable populations feel rooted in their community. A more secure, prosperous, and democratic Central America will pay dividends to the United States not only in terms of border security, but also in the form of improved cooperation to tackle global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China. 

*Eguiar Lizundia is the Deputy Director for Technical Advancement and Governance Advisor at IRI

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