Former Taliban diplomat Rahmatullah Hashemi’s presence as a non-degree special student at Yale has put pressure on administrators to expedite ongoing efforts to clarify the difference between the Non-Degree Students Program and the degree-granting Eli Whitney Students Program.
If Hashemi intends to gain degree status next year — as he told the News in February he would seek to do — his application to the Whitney Program must be received by the May 1 deadline. Some students within the degree program have questioned in internal e-mail messages whether Hashemi’s background merits his acceptance, and Assistant Dean William Whobrey, who oversees both the Non-Degree and Whitney programs, said that, pending approval, next year’s Yale College Programs of Study will attempt to clarify the distinctions between the two.
The Blue Book revision will aim to more accurately reflect the distinction of the Whitney Program, Whobrey said. Both programs were simply referred to as “special students programs” until two years ago.
“It’s simply an attempt to reflect reality,” Whobrey said. “We have two different programs — they’re not two different versions of the program. Each should be under its own heading.”
The bachelor’s degree-granting Whitney program is designed for students who for various reasons have not had the chance to complete their college educations. According to the Admissions Office Web site, consideration for the program is given in particular to students whose “work/life experience and community involvements promise to add unusual dimensions to undergraduate life in the classroom.” Participants in the Non-Degree program, who may or may not be college graduates, “should have a compelling educational reason” for taking classes at Yale.
Eli Whitney Students Association President Brooks Prouty ’06 said some students in the program have expressed strong disapproval of Hashemi’s joining the program, but others feel they do not know enough about Hashemi to argue either for or against his admission.
“The fact is that there has been discussion and there are some people who have felt very strongly against his being in the program,” Prouty said. “There are also a lot of people who feel we really don’t know very much about him or his situation because he himself has said so little on his own behalf. That just creates a certain level of speculation.”
In e-mail messages obtained by the News, a student in the Whitney program wrote that he would not subscribe to the program’s new mission statement if Hashemi fell under its auspices.
Both Yale President Richard Levin and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel declined to comment when asked about potential changes to the programs on Sunday, but Levin said he will release a statement today on the issue.
Though University admissions officials said they cannot discuss whether the increased media attention will affect their evaluation of any application Hashemi submits, a number of administrators have spoken out in the national media to clarify Hashemi’s current status as neither an undergraduate nor a degree student at Yale, and to defend the University’s decision to admit him to the non-degree program.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published letters to the editor discussing Hashemi’s presence at the University written by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, lecturer and diplomat-in-residence Charles Hill, and political science professor David Cameron.
The letter from Hill said any condemnation of Yale for allowing Hashemi to take courses in the capacity of a non-degree student is unjustified.
“As a ‘Special Student’ in a category designed for people without a standard academic background, he is not taking a slot away from any qualified applicant,” Hill wrote.
In his letter, Salovey wrote that Yale is justified in “allowing Mr. Hashemi to take courses here” as part of its mission as an educational institution.
“Contrary to what has been reported by some in the media, he has not been admitted as an undergraduate to Yale College nor to any of the other schools at Yale,” Salovey wrote. “We hope that critics will … acknowledge that universities are places that must strive to increase understanding, especially of the most difficult issues that face the nation and the world.”
Hashemi has continued to attend classes despite the sustained controversy surrounding him.
Nikolay Marinov, a professor in the Political Science Department, is currently teaching Hashemi in his seminar, “International Dimensions of Democratization.” Marinov said he believes the media attention has affected Hashemi, but he said Hashemi still contributes regularly in class discussions and brings a unique perspective to the seminar.
“I have heard other students say they appreciate having him in the class,” he said. “They like hearing from someone of his background.”
Martha Grant ’09, the only freshman in the 19-person seminar, also said the class has benefited from Hashemi’s comments.
“He’s had some very interesting insights into the Afghani perspective of international democratization,” she said. “He’s a very nice guy.”
Hashemi has not discussed the details of his own life in class, Grant said.
“Because the classroom is an academic setting, there was no real need for him to bring it up,” she said. “He brought his personal perspective to the class, not his personal story.”
Hashemi could not be reached for comment.