Letter from SNAC+ on Navitas proposal

This letter was originally sent to the University administration from the Support Network for Academics of Colour Plus (SNAC+), a campus organization promoting equity and racial justice. It has been reprinted by The Meliorist with the permission of SNAC+ in the public interest. This letter does not necessarily reflect the views of The Meliorist’s editorial board. 

December 10, 2020 

Dear President Mahon, Provost VP Academic Okine, and Vice-Provost Helstein 

We are writing to address four pressing equity issues that emerge due to the proposed relationship  with Navitas to provide a “pathway program” for international students. At this moment, when the  university has strongly committed to addressing structural racism on campus and in society more broadly, should this proposal come to pass, it risks undermining the University of Lethbridge’s stated commitments to equity and inclusion.  

International students are a category of students who often face significant challenges specific to their positions as racialized people, as second or third language learners and as people who are responsible for sending remunerations to family in their home countries while also bearing the burden of much higher tuition fees. They are also adding value to our scholarly community by their  diverse ways of knowing as well as contributing to the diversity of the wider Lethbridge community. Navitas is a private company that recruits students on the basis of their ability to pay, not on their  academic achievement or possible contributions. By recruiting from one particular type of international student body, it risks reducing the value and contribution of international students to monetary value only. There is no guarantee that students will be recruited from diverse backgrounds and/or countries. As an institution it does not provide financial aid or incentives to  those enrolled at its facilities. In addition, it has garnered an international reputation for the promise of high-level university preparatory programs, but a failure to deliver.  

Administrators, faculty, or staff who have engaged with international students know that the  University of Lethbridge’s reputation for recruiting and retaining them depends on the personal and engaged experience they have here, and the financial, academic and health and safety supports  provided by the university. International student success is the result of the already existing English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program, International Student Services, and International Office among other units, that are tailored to this specific academic community and to ensure that students meet foundational academic standards to guarantee successful movement through their  respective programs. The Navitas partnership risks undermining these existing units through the  perception of duplication when it is well-known that Navitas provides substandard labour contracts  to precarious contract faculty whose teaching loads prevent them from providing the quality  instruction that the University of Lethbridge has ranked 2nd best in Canada for providing. Furthermore, it risks furthering the discrimination towards racialized scholars as studies show that in Canada (and elsewhere) substandard precarious contracts are primarily targeting racialized and marginalized scholars. 

Even with our existing academic supports, international students accomplish their goals while  adapting to new sets of conditions and expectations without access to their regular networks of support and health, in a new linguistic, legal, and cultural framework. The Navitas “pathway program” exacerbates every challenge which employees at the University of Lethbridge already strain to mitigate for international students, while producing new structural inequities for students, staff and faculty alike. This takes place in the following four ways. 

First, students who arrive in Canada without university credentials often have learning challenges.  These learning challenges are often coupled with mental health issues which emerge, or are at  times pre-existing and are exacerbated, due to the challenge of adapting to an alienating social  context. We have directly heard the voices of international students who struggle with isolation  once coming here, or who worry for their peers facing similar situations but do not know how to seek support. Such a “pathway program,” still only vaguely proposed by Navitas, cannot tailor a  community-based experience with the quality instruction and supports that the University of Lethbridge already provides. This is not a pathway to autonomy that will meet the unique needs of  a new international student body. 

Second, there are risks—ethical, legal, and reputational—when funneling students through a  private program segmented out from the university. International students are disproportionally  targeted for discrimination and harassment, despite the work provided by ULSU, the Writing Centre, Counselling, and the Inter-faith community. Redress for these issues often requires deep connections to the broader community for referrals to both legal and mental health services. Navitas has a proven record of failing to put the needs and interests of the student body first and has an existing reputation for providing a substandard education for profit. The current UCP budget cuts have led to a steep reduction in counselling services and mental health supports; the University of Lethbridge has never had adequate legal supports for students experiencing discrimination and harassment. An influx of international students without adequate support from either institution will set them up for failure. This is not in keeping with the University of Lethbridge’s strategic plan, nor is it in keeping with the University’s stated commitments to equity and inclusion.  

Third, by replacing internal planning and contact, and instead replacing our existing framework (EAP) with Navitas, we introduce multiple bureaucratic systems. International students are  currently not provided with adequate support to navigate the existing institutional labyrinth. Streamlining to a dual system with little personal contact, international students risk becoming caught in an institutional gulf that faculty at neither institution will be adequately briefed in managing. This will weaken existing supports by failing to provide a culture of internal communication and knowledge between university community members, the students and Navitas.  

Finally, Navitas is slated to be based in Calgary. Not only is there no guarantee that students enrolled in Navitas programs will transition to the University of Lethbridge, those that do will face a  second transition to Lethbridge following their first significant transition from their home country to  Calgary. This will require additional support for integration into the Lethbridge community where they will face similar forms of racial discrimination, challenges in finding housing, and other barriers  including a lack of decent and affordable public transportation. This will not only exacerbate the  difficulties outlined above, it will also increase the workload for racialized staff and academics who  already bear the brunt of the invisible labour of supporting international students and helping them navigate institutional and community supports for redress of grievances. These four points highlight  serious equity issues and will contribute to a lack of community. The proposed partnership with Navitas is at the expense of international students and will tarnish the reputation of this university.  

Sincerely, 

Support Network for Academics of Colour (SNAC+) 

Support Network For Academics of Colour – Snac+ (snacplus.org)

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