The parade of national flags at last Friday’s Tercentennial Convocation emphasized what we have been hearing for a long time now: Yale is an international school, dependent on international students and scholars. As multiple speakers this weekend reminded us, now more than ever, we need an international perspective in our studies. That perspective can often be offered by the foreign students already in our midst.
As students, we ought to be especially concerned about efforts to cut back the number of foreign students at American universities and to track the ones who are here.
Plans to track international students are problematic largely because they show a fundamental lack of welcome for those from outside the United States. For Yale especially, as we try to further internationalize our student body and reap the rewards of expanding our need-blind admissions policy, any projection of closed doors could be disastrous.
Foreign students should have the same rights to privacy as every other student. Universities should not be complicit in attempts to undermine the rights of foreign students on the pretense of ending terrorism.
After the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Immigration and Naturalization Service created the Coordinated Interagency Partnership for Regulating International Students. Under CIPRIS, foreign students would be tracked by their universities, which would then report the information to the federal government.
Under this system, universities would tell the government the student’s name, address and major — information which the Buckley Amendment, the law regulating student privacy, considers public information.
But CIPRIS would also require schools to report internal disciplinary actions, as well as any known criminal information — information which universities generally cannot reveal except when faced with court orders or emergency situations.
CIPRIS, now Orwellianly renamed the Student Exchange Visitor Program, has not been implemented, partly because the computer program required has not been completed and partly because universities have objected to the program. They’ve argued it would be too difficult to implement and that tracking people is the job of law enforcers, not educators.
After Sept. 11, most objections have been dropped, as previous opponents fear they would look like obstructionists if they held their ground.
But what was a bad idea before the attacks remains a bad idea now.
The privacy of scholars is what makes academic freedom possible. If past behavior is a guide, foreign scholars studying science could be targeted as security risks merely because the government wants to harass them politically. In my last column, I wrote about an Iranian physicist at Duke who was called a national security risk merely on the basis of his research in computational fluid dynamics. We must not give the government any tools to harass scholars with unpopular political opinions.
The erosion of privacy for foreign students also bodes poorly for American students. In the panic after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Department of Education issued guidelines to colleges and universities suggesting, for the purposes of the Buckley Amendment, we are now in an emergency situation.
In other words, an exemption from the privacy legislation that was originally intended to protect us during personal emergencies has now been reinterpreted to open the door to any government request.
And according to the Sacramento Bee, the FBI has already started calling registrars’ offices around the country asking for information on foreign students. But the FBI has already begun to overstep its boundaries.
“Some requests were not about foreign students, they were students with foreign names or with a foreign origin,” Barmak Nassirian, the associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, told the Bee’s Terri Hardy.
Those of us at American universities should be afraid of any decision made in a crisis mentality that would undermine our ability to cement our position as a global leader in education, research and scholarship. Foreign students, and our ability to participate in an international network of scholars, are a big part of that leadership.
To render our university less desirable to foreign students or to undermine our privacy and the academic freedom that go with it would be a grave mistake.
Jacob Remes is a senior in Saybrook College. His columns appear on alternate Wednesdays.