Guest post by Glenn Geher, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, and Founding Director of the Evolutionary Studies Program, SUNY New Paltz.
My Bronx grandma, Pearl Trilling, was fond of reminding me that experience was often the best teacher. “You’ll really understand Glenn,” Grandma Trilling would say, “when the shoe pinches you.”
My experience through the years has confirmed the observation that people rarely care much about a problem until they are directly affected. When the shoe pinches you, that’s when you care.
To say the least, the shoes Donald Trump is trying to make America wear are pinching lots of people, in lots of place, in lots of ways. Think immigration. Think health care. Think the environment. Elsewhere, I’ve spoken out on all of these issues. But because I work in higher education, I feel the pinch there directly.
A few weeks ago, I was informed about an international boycott on academic conferences in the USA – supported by thousands of academics from all around the world (as reported in Times Higher Education). The abortive executive order banning Muslims from seven nations, among other presidential actions, has led scholars world-wide to organize to take a stand against what is happening in our country. (Thankfully, that order, as well as a more narrowly focused redo, has thus far been stopped in its tracks by the courts.)
I am the program chair for the 11th annual meeting of the Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS) meeting in Binghamton NY, slated for June. NEEPS prides itself on its large international group of participants. Indeed, last year, we held our 10th annual conference in Halifax – and we had participants from every continent (except for Antarctica).
While our overall submission numbers from engaged scholars in the field remains robust, our international numbers are clearly lower than they have been in the past. Further, several international members of NEEPS have indicated that the boycott is responsible for their not planning to attend. So the shoe is pinching.
As the founder of NEEPS – and an advocate for evolution education – I am worried about this situation. And I’m not the only one on our campus who is worried.
Our Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) is an organization that has grown to have national and international stature. Its annual conference, often featuring expert speakers from abroad, attracts widespread attendance and participation. Amy Nitza, the IDMH Director, reported to me recently that a keynote address invitation that she extended to a scholar in Europe was declined – again, due to the boycott.
I also direct the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab – and across the years, we’ve drawn some applicants into the lab from outside the US . I’ve been in touch with a biochemist from Iran over the past year. She is interested in pursuing graduate studies in evolutionary psychology in the US – and had expressed interest in joining my lab here at New Paltz. Unsurprisingly, she recently emailed me to say that she is now only pursuing programs in Europe.
We’ve recently been told by college leadership that we are in a serious budget squeeze. One reason is that enrollments for international students have dipped across a wide array of programs on our campus. While this trend is not necessarily due to the boycott, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that the same broader issues are at least partly responsible for this disturbing trend. Certainly these national policies will have an impact in coming terms.
The Trump administration agenda raises numerous other areas of major concern for our college, and others in the region. Most generally, statements by the president and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, indicate skepticism – if not hostility – toward the value of liberal education, especially at public colleges like SUNY New Paltz.
America has a fixed four-year presidential election cycle. The reality: It’s not likely that we will be able to get better-fitting new shoes for a while.
But we can do some things to make the ones we have pinch less. One is to make the direct negative impact of Trump’s agenda more visible and harder to defend. That’s one reason why, in collaboration with the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, Dr. Nitza and I are currently organizing a large-scale agenda-driving study to examine the full effects of the Trump agenda on colleges and universities in the Hudson Valley. Stay tuned!