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University of Massachusetts Bans Iranians from Studying Science

University of Massachusetts Bans Iranians from Studying Science

AMHERST, MA – SEPTEMBER 17: Students on the campus of UMass Amherst. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A University of Massachusetts decree this month to halt admissions of Iranian nationals to certain engineering and science programs has provoked ire and accusations of discrimination and a backlash among enrolled students who say it was unfairly enacted and would damage the school’s reputation.

The controversial ruling stems from the U. S.’s sanctions on Iran to prevent the government from developing a nuclear ordinance, from which the 2012 law that excluded Iranian nationals from studying in the U.S. if they sought to work in the energy or nuclear fields was prompted.

Enforcement of the education sanction has normally rested with the State Department, which issues the student visas, and the Department of Homeland Security, which investigates possible threats. Generally, the universities have relied on those agencies to weed out possible students seen as risks.

But last week, UMass said that compliance with the sanctions was getting difficult, so it would simply bar all Iranians from registering in certain graduate programs in its College of National Sciences and College of Engineering.

The university cited several instances, including chemistry, physics, polymer science, microbiology, computer and electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and industrial and mechanical engineering.

NBC News reported that on Tuesday, a State Department official said, “U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering. Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. We will reach out to UMass Amherst to discuss this specific decision.”

The new policy, outlined in a document posted on the school’s website Feb. 6, shocked students. In the aftermath, outrage engulfed the school’s small number of Iranian students who would not be hurt by the ban, but would have to “certify their compliance” with the government restrictions.

Shirin Hakim, an Iranian-American who graduated last year said, “We always felt like an integral part of the university community. Now we’re just kind of confused,” on the behalf of Iranian students still on campus. “We want an explanation for all this, and we don’t think it should be tolerated, because it’s clearly discriminatory against Iranian nationals.”

National Iranian American Council Policy Director, Jamal Abdi, said his organization was working on a national petition to pressure the university to repeal the policy. He said he knew of only one other school, Virginia Commonwealth University, with a somewhat similar policy, albeit much less restrictive.

“The State Department and Department of Homeland Security really does cause headaches for these universities, but instead of allowing them to interview students and figure out which ones don’t get a visa, the university is taking a short cut and policing it on their own,” Abdi said. “That’s discriminatory.”

Computer science professor, Emery Berger, said his department wouldn’t be affected by the new school policy, but he raised concerns that it would dissuade talented Iranian graduate students from choosing the university as a place to conduct their research.

“I think there is a reasonable risk that these students will look at this unfortunate set of affairs and conclude that UMass Amherst is not a welcoming place for Iranian nationals to go,” Berger said. “Which is definitely not the case, except there is now this ridiculous policy.”

The university released a statement saying the policy was brought about by an inquiry from a student, but declined to provide further details. “We recognize that our adherence to federal law may create difficulties for our students from Iran and regard this as unfortunate,” the statement said. “Furthermore, the exclusion of a class of students from admission directly conflicts with our institutional values and principles. However, as with any college or university, we have no choice but to institute policies and procedure to ensure that we are in full compliance with all applicable laws.”

In response to the criticism, the university has asked the State Department for “clarification on the whole issue,” a spokesman, Daniel Fitzgibbons, said Tuesday. He alluded to the possibility of a loosening of the school policy. “I guess its within the realm of possibility that based on what the State Department says we may change our position in some way, but that remains to be seen.”

In the mean time, Iranian student groups are communicating their grievances directly with the school administration, Hakim said. They are also consulting a student legal service for a possible challenge.

Hakim said the future of what has been a “beautiful” tradition of academic exchange between two countries is at stake.

“Institutions that provide opportunities for Iranian students to come study here help cultural diplomacy between two countries that don’t have the strongest political ties,” Hakim said. “It’d be so sad to see it end at UMass Amherst.”

NBC News


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This entry was posted on February 18, 2015 by in Headlines, Massachusettes, U.S. and tagged , , , .

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