UMass Bans Iranian Students From Science & Engineering Classes
The University of Massachusetts announced Wednesday that it reversed its decision to ban Iranian nationals from several graduate-level science and engineering courses.
The school claimed that the former policy, revealed earlier this month, aligned with U.S. sanctions against Iran but admittedly clashed with its purported principles of diversity and inclusivity.
“We recognize that these decisions create difficulties for our students from Iran and regard this as unfortunate,” the university said in a statement on Feb. 6. “Furthermore, the exclusion of a class of students from admission directly conflicts with our institutional values and principles.”
On Wednesday, the school said that it decided to accept Iranian students after consulting with the Department of State and outside legal counsel.
“We did hear a lot of concerns expressed in the last few days about the admission’s policy for the graduate school,” Daniel Fitzgibbons, associate director of media relations for UMass, told Yahoo News. “As a result of those concerns, we reached out to the State Department to get clarification on the issue.”
He said the school will “step back a little from the policy and make it less restrictive.”
Keith Wrightson, 38, who graduated with a master’s of science in labor studies in 2012, said he was proud of his alma mater before it adopted the discriminatory policy.
“I’m in shock. In my opinion, it’s hazardous that only certain people will be able to study in those halls, especially when it’s in a public university,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News.
Wrightson, a Massachusetts native who now works in Washington, D.C., as a public interest advocate, said UMass's worry that Iranian science students might apply their knowledge in ways that might harm our country is “hardly a concern.”
“There are other math and science schools around the world that also have top-rate programs,” he said. “Do they all bar Iranian students, too?”
To justify this policy, school officials cited the "Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012," which President Obama signed into law in August of that year.
It prohibits Iranian citizens from studying in the U.S. if they plan to focus on nuclear energy or related fields, according to the school's interpretation of the law.
"The Secretary of State shall deny a visa to, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall exclude from the United States, any alien who is a citizen of Iran that the Secretary of State determines seeks to enter the United States to participate in coursework at an institution of higher education," a noteworthy passage reads, "to prepare the alien for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran."
Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council, said the school had misinterpreted the law, which aims to quell the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“The law Congress enacted put the onus on the State Department to prevent Iranians who were coming to the U.S. to study in fields that would prepare them for the nuclear sector in Iran,” Abdi told Yahoo News. “They do interviews for visas and background checks. The onus is not on the university to handle that. The school has decided to police this on their own.”
Apparently, Abdi says, the school had an Iranian student who left the school temporarily and was unable to return because he did not meet the requirements for a student visa, which caused a considerable headache for the school’s top brass.
“Instead of dealing with this they passed the burden onto all Iranian students,” he said. “In so doing, they are discriminating against Iranian students.”
UMass may have been vulnerable to penalties for violating rules and regulations that prohibit discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or country of origin, according to the council.
The university's policy sent shock waves throughout the student body and alumni population.
UMass’ International Relations Club and Persian Students Association had organized an on-campus discussion with professors, graduate students, and resident student organization leaders for Wednesday night.
Other students launched a petition to end the policy, aimed at school president Robert Caret.
“We demand that UMass Amherst put an end to its discriminatory admission policy against Iranian nationals,” the petition read in part. “The discrimination against Iranians does not have a rational basis and since it is based on national origin, it is illegal.”
The controversy spawned the hashtag #weareallumass. Concerned citizens took to Twitter to attack what they consider institutionalized racism.
I fully support the #weareallUMass movement. A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. - Rev. Martin Luther King
— nubianbrotha (@nubianbrotha) February 18, 2015