New York Times (Op-Ed)
By Carol Hay
August 08, 2017
Nine years ago, I’d just received my Ph.D. from a department ranked in the top 25 in the United States. I was in my early 30s and had a year of teaching experience at a prestigious liberal arts college under my belt. I had a promising research program and a publication in a top journal in the discipline. And to my delight, I had just received a job offer for a tenure-track job at an up-and-coming state university in the Northeast. Given the cutthroat nature of the market for academic jobs, with its well-known oversupply of Ph.D.s and undersupply of permanent positions, this outcome had been far from guaranteed.
Since then, things have gone well. I’m now a tenured associate professor at the same institution. But had I received this job offer under the newly proposed plan for immigration reform endorsed by President Trump, I’d have been deported back to Canada.
The bill, known as the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, was introduced by two Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. It is being called “merit-based and uses a point system to determine who does and does not qualify, weighing factors like education, fluency in English, job-offer salary and investment portfolio. It gives you extra points if you’ve won an Olympic medal or a Nobel Prize. It prioritizes applicants who are between the ages of 26 and 30, who are well educated and fluent in English, who have a job offer with a high starting salary and who are already financially well-off. When I plug in my credentials from the time of my job offer (I used a simplified calculator posted by Time magazine recently), I end up with a score of 25. The minimum score needed to apply for legal immigration is 30.
I wouldn’t have passed muster. My main problem? I’m a philosopher.
Receiving an Olympic medal is enough to bump you to the front of the line, but receiving a Ph.D. from a top-ranked American university isn’t — unless it happens to be in a STEM field. Because I work in a discipline in the humanities, my American doctorate is worthless. The highest level of education I’d get credit for is my Canadian undergraduate degree.
I’m assuming I’d receive full marks on the test for English fluency, but my age would also be a problem. Given that the median time to degree for doctorates in the humanities is nine years, I was, at 31, actually on the young end to be starting my tenure-track career. But not young enough to receive those precious two extra points. Another big problem is my starting salary. Even after adjusting for inflation, my starting salary was below the $77,900 necessary to receive points. I felt like I’d just won the lottery — I was actually getting paid significantly more than the national average for philosophers’ starting salaries — but salaries in the humanities are notoriously meager.
The upshot? The RAISE Act would be devastating to the arts and humanities in this country. To be clear, this is far from the biggest concern we should have about the proposal. (The act’s removal of family-based green cards and the fact that it is far more restrictive than other countries’ merit-based immigration systems are both contenders here.) But it’s a concern we shouldn’t lose sight of. The anti-intellectualism of the Trump regime is well established. The RAISE Act might masquerade as something that’s friendly to those concerned about having a skilled and educated populace in this country, but we mustn’t be fooled.
Almost 60 years ago, C. P. Snow wrote “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” bemoaning that the troubles of Western intellectual life resulted from its over-rewarding of the arts and humanities at the expense of science and engineering. It’s safe to say the pendulum swing in the opposite direction is nearly complete.
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