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Higher Education in a Post-9/11 World

Q&A with UAlbany Assistant Professor of Educational Administration and Policy Studies Jason Lane

The attacks on 9/11 sparked a rise in higher education programs dealing with disaster response.

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 8, 2011) -- The social, political and economic changes following the terrorist attack in the United States on September 11, 2001 are well documented. The higher education landscape changed as well, from programmatic restructuring to changing enrollment demographics.

Jason Lane is an assistant professor in the department of Educational Administration and Policy Studies at the University at Albany's School of Education. He also serves as the director of education studies and senior fellow for the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Lane is an expert on higher education and public policy, administration and globalization.

Q: In what ways has 9/11 changed the delivery of higher education in the U.S.?

A: Within the United States, 9/11 had very little impact on the delivery of higher education. While it certainly affected class discussions, particularly in the years immediately following the attack, there were few alterations in the delivery of education.

It was important, however, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks that institutions find ways to help people deal with their feelings and fears. This was partially addressed as campuses became gathering points and hosted rallies to allow folks to express their pride in their country; but also provided safe spaces to allow people to discuss issues of terrorism, fanaticism, and patriotism.

UAlbany faculty expert Jason Lane
UAlbany Assistant Professor of Educational Administration and Policy Studies Jason Lane

Q. What was the effect of 9/11 on academic freedom?

A: It certainly brought the issue of academic freedom to the forefront, particularly when some faculty began to express and pursue ideas that ran contrary to popular conventions and beliefs about 9/11. In many cases, colleges and universities had to defend the right of faculty to express such ideas. The events of 9/11 fostered intense patriotism across the country and academics who expressed views believed to be unpatriotic were often called to account, as were their employers such as the University of Colorado, University of Wisconsin, and University of New Hampshire-Monroe.

However, it forced debates about academic freedom and the types of protections that provides. Some institutions were unwilling to support outspoken faculty skeptics, particularly if the debates had little or no relevance to their expertise. I think it also had a chilling affect among some faculty who self-censored themselves out of fear of retaliation.

We have also seen an increase in regulation of knowledge, particularly knowledge in the science and engineering fields that, while not classified, may be sensitive in nature. There is one story of a doctoral student who wrote a dissertation that mapped the nation’s fiber optic network. Prior to 9/11 such a project caught little attention; but after 9/11 it was feared to be a national security threat if it were to be obtained by terrorists who wanted to disrupt the nation’s communication system. In fact, those attending the student’s defense had to be cleared by the government and the student wasn’t allowed to make unapproved copies of the dissertation. Now, the government continues to put restrictions on the publication and distribution of certain types of knowledge distribution.

Q: What programmatic shifts in higher education can be traced to the attacks on 9/11?

A: The aftermath of 9/11 created a hyper-interest in the area of Middle East studies and the Arabic language, including one of the more significant booms in the hiring of faculty in those areas. A similar interest was seen after the first Gulf War in the early 1990s as well. Though, in both cases, the initial euphoria dissipated and interest leveled off. However, the subsequent “War on Terror” provided new funding streams for academic programs the focused on national security interests and a handful of new academic fields were launched as a result. For example, we have seen the rise of programs dealing with cyber-terrorism, information security, and disaster response.

Q: In what ways has 9/11 affected international education?

A: The United States has long been the most popular destination for students studying abroad; but immediately following 9/11, we saw a significant decline in the number of foreign student studying in the United States. This occurred for two primary reasons. First, the government made it more difficult for foreign students to get visas to study in our country and secondly, many students, particularly from the Middle East, decided not to study in the U.S. either because they thought they could not get a visa or they perceived the environment as being potentially hostile toward them. This allowed nations such as the UK and Australia to increase their market share of the students studying outside of their home country. While the number of foreign students studying in the U.S. has since rebounded, our market share remains lower than what it was prior to 9/11.

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