A team from the International Institute (II) spent two days in Washington, D.C., joining educational institutions from 21 states and the District of Columbia to lobby for the importance of international education and foreign language.
The U-M delegation included three directors: Samer Ali, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies (CMENAS); Mary Gallagher, Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (LRCCS); and Tori Langland, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) and four staff: Henrike Florusbosch, African Studies Center; Liz Malinkin (CREES); Neal McKenna (LRCCS); and Alana Rodriguez (LACS).
The annual event was organized by the Coalition for International Education, a group of over 30 national higher-education organizations who informs policy makers, education and private sector officials, and the media about national needs in international and foreign language education. Miriam Kazanjian serves as its consultant, and this trip specifically focused on lobbying efforts to increase funding for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays International Education and Foreign Language programs.
Title VI is a provision of the 1965 Higher Education Act, funding centers for area studies which serve as national resources for world regional knowledge and foreign language training. National Resource Centers (NRCs) teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels and conduct research focused on specific world regions, international studies, and the teaching of less commonly taught languages.
In addition, the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship program complements the NRC program, providing opportunities for outstanding undergraduate and graduate students to engage in area studies and world language training.
The International Institute is home to five NRCs: Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies; Center for South Asian Studies; Center for Southeast Asian Studies; and the East Asian Center (consisting of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, Center for Japanese Studies, and Nam Center for Korean Studies). The five NRCs, as well as the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREES), receive FLAS awards.
The Fulbright-Hays Program dates to 1961 when the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright sponsored legislation for several programs that aim to increase mutual understanding between the United States and the rest of the world. The Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship is part of this larger program and is administered on campus by advisors in the International Institute.
Practice, Practice, Practice
To prepare for a full day of meetings with Congressional staffers, a briefing was held the day before where advocates learned everything from specifics of the bills they would discuss to which materials to leave behind with staffers. Participants worked out butterflies and honed talking points via mock interviews to better understand the workings of an actual meeting, and the Michigan advocates worked late into the night strategizing a game plan for the next day on Capitol Hill.
Because the state had one of the largest delegations, the group decided the best game plan would be to utilize its strength in numbers by visiting the Senators’ offices together. For meetings with the Representatives’ staff, they would split in two.
After a full night of studying, the team joined advocates from Michigan State University (MSU) and Western Michigan University (WMU), as they visited the offices of Senators Gary Peters (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D), and Representatives Debbie Dingell (D), Brenda Lawrence (D), Andy Levin (D), John Moolenaar (R), and Elissa Slotkin (D).
And after a full day of lobbying, the team remained strong—and focused. When an evacuation of the Cannon House Office Building forced everyone outside, Liz Malinkin and her group seized the opportunity to continue their meeting with Debbie Dingell’s legislative aid. Although Liz had been to meetings on the Hill before, this was her first time as a lobbyist. “Advocating for something I find important and experiencing this type of access to the democratic process was empowering and inspiring.”
Alana Rodriguez adds, “Each member of our delegation emphasized different points that focused on areas in which our Centers are particularly strong.” She chose to highlight the teacher training and outreach initiatives at LACS, including the annual K-12 teacher training workshops and U-M/University of Puerto Rico Collaboration. “I also spoke about the II shared projects such as the World History and Literature Initiative and the Midwest Institute for International and Intercultural Education, which are K-12 and Community College curriculum development partnerships.”
For some of the staffers they met with, the work done at the International Institute was well-known. Alex Huang (BA International Studies, Spanish, Music ’12; MA Educational Studies, Urban Pedagogy ’15) is the Senior Legislative Assistant to Representative Lawrence, and Representative Levin’s legislative assistant Abbas Alawieh (MPH ’17) had been a Graduate Studies Instructor for former CMENAS Director, Juan Cole.
Although teams from each state met with their respective representatives, the goals were the same: present a Dear Colleague Letter (an official House request for funding) and obtain as many signatures as possible on the House letter for Title VI/Fulbright-Hays funding. The day ended with 105 bipartisan signatures, the most in recent history.
Miriam Kazanjian, consultant with the Coalition for International Education and organizer for the Title VI advocacy, explains that Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Don Young (R-AK) submitted the letter to the leadership of the House Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations. It urged FY20 funding of $106 million, including $95.7 million for Title VI and $10.4 million for Fulbright-Hays. On May 8, the House Appropriations Committee passed the bill to increase U.S. Department of Education funding by $4.5 billion for fiscal year 2020, with Title VI and Fulbright-Hays receiving an increase of $17 million—a 24% increase over fiscal year 2019. This is the first time there has been significant proposed increases to both programs since the 2011 fiscal year reductions.
For Neal McKenna, volunteering for the trip was an easy decision to make. He had lobbied on behalf of U-M for Title VI in 2018 and found the experience to be a rewarding one. In the future, he hopes the II continues to send staff and faculty to participate in these efforts, and he’s happy to provide advice for staff who might be interested in future trips to Capitol Hill. “II staff are chosen on a volunteer basis,” he explains. “Everyone who wants to go, should.”