Yale officials are in Washington, D.C., this week to continue lobbying the federal government to oppose potential increases in export regulations, which administrators fear would impose burdensome restrictions on some foreign students and scholars who work in Yale laboratories.
The proposed federal regulations would require international students and scholars to obtain licenses to work with equipment that can be used for military purposes, such as building biochemical weapons. Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson and Faculty of Engineering Dean Paul Fleury are meeting with officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce to ensure that any new regulations do not harm the University.
The Commerce Department is considering a regulation that would require foreigners studying in the United States to obtain licenses to continue their research, depending on their countries of origin and fields of study. The government is concerned that some foreign students may communicate research information directly to their home countries, compromising national security.
If government regulations require foreigners at Yale to acquire licenses, Robinson said, they will disrupt the University’s academic environment.
“We’re very concerned that the consequences of this could be quite disruptive and burdensome as far as figuring out who is exposed to what equipment,” Robinson said.
Commerce Department officials did not return requests for comment on Monday. Mark Foulson, the deputy under secretary for industry and security, said in a speech last October that export controls are necessary to preserve national security while allowing legitimate commerce to flourish.
“The fact is that the role of export controls today is more important than ever,” Foulson said. “That means that our task of making the dual-use export control system work to facilitate legitimate trade, while ensuring that these items do not fall into the hands of those who would do us harm, is also more important than ever.”
Yale President Richard Levin, who is co-chairing an Association of American Universities task force to address the academic community’s concerns on export controls, said he has had productive discussions with government officials on the issue. But he said he is not certain of the implications of the Commerce Department’s proposed regulations on universities.
“I think we’ve certainly a willingness to engage and try to work with us and come up with a sensible approach,” Levin said. “If the Commerce Department were to conclude that export licenses are required for every piece of equipment that’s on their control list, this could be a huge burden on universities and it would impede the educational process considerably.”
Export regulations on foreign nationals have been a longtime staple in private industry, but universities have traditionally had a research exemption, which allows faculty, graduate and postdoctoral students to forego acquiring a license to use certain equipment, ranging from microchip production facilities to bacteria fermenters.
Increases in export regulations would have particularly disruptive effects on students and scholars from the Middle East, China and India, Levin said.
Fleury said Yale’s lobbying efforts will allow him to share the potential impact of restrictions with government officials.
“At first glance, some of the things people have talked about look like they would be very disruptive,” Fleury said. “We have to share it with the government, because we don’t think it’s their intent to destroy research at universities.”
Engineering professor Eric Altman said he is not alarmed by the potential export regulations. He said he is more concerned that European, Japanese and former Soviet Union countries that produce some lab equipment might retaliate against U.S. restrictions by increasing their own restrictions on technology they export to the United States.
“I guess it might be a hassle, but I don’t see it being a big deal, personally,” Altman said.
Zheng Ming Fu GRD ’07, an electrical engineering student who works with microchip technology, said tighter regulations on the equipment he is allowed to use might damage his career opportunities at U.S. corporations.
“When I try to find a job at Intel, for example, or IBM, they will check my experience,” Fu said. “They will say because of these reductions, they will reduce my chance to get the job.”
University officials said they expect the Commerce Department to solicit comments from the public on the matter in coming weeks. AAU spokesman Barry Toiv said he hopes that lobbying efforts by Yale, AAU and some other universities will be successful.
“We’re engaging in discussions with the government about the issue and we feel that there are folks there who are listening but there’s a fair amount of work to be done,” Toiv said.