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Foreign students add challenges: IU faculty

– Growing numbers of international students attending Indiana University are drawing praise for the diversity they bring but raising questions about their lack of English proficiency and understanding of the ethics and style of higher education in the United States.

IU has 7,785 international students at all of its campuses, a 70 percent increase since 2005. Most of those are concentrated in Bloomington, where 5,941 international students are enrolled this semester.

David Zaret, IU’s vice president for international affairs, said the university’s strategic plan emphasizes drawing students from around the globe.

“IU’s success in attracting increasing numbers of top students from around the world indicates that we are achieving and exceeding the goals that we set out to accomplish,” he said an IU news release announcing the eighth consecutive year of record international enrollment.

Some IU faculty aren’t as happy, however, and say many of the international students lack basic skills for success in classrooms and hinder learning among other students.

“The simple truth is that we’re letting in students who can’t speak English and we’re letting them get through the university without even minimal English language skills,” said Glenn Gass, a Jacobs School of Music professor who teaches classes about the history and culture of rock ’n’ roll music.

“I’ve had students in 400-level courses who can’t understand a question, let alone respond to it. It’s an embarrassment, and it drags a whole class down,” Gass told the Herald-Times.

Zaret said having international students enhances the learning experience of those born in the United States.

“It makes the campus a more exciting place,” he said.

He acknowledged the faculty concerns about English proficiency but said that should be less of a problem now that IU has begun requiring all new international students to present proof of passing a language proficiency test before being admitted.

International students also must pass the Indiana English Proficiency Exam developed by IU faculty and staff, said Chris Viers, associate vice president for international services. IU also is working to require English proficiency classes and have them completed earlier in the student’s time at IU.