Proposed federal export guidelines tied to national security concerns may prevent international students who work in University laboratories from handling certain technologies.
Yale President Richard Levin met with U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and other senior members of the U.S. Departments of Energy, Defense and Commerce in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to discuss the potential increases in export controls. Levin participated in the discussions as a representative of the Association of American Universities, AAU spokesman Barry Toiv said. The Defense Department has already issued a set of proposed regulations, but Toiv said the Commerce Department is still seeking input before issuing their guidelines.
Levin said he is optimistic that the proposed rules can be relaxed.
“We have been working hard to convince the Commerce Department that there is something less than licensing every piece of equipment,” Levin said. “I’m hoping we can continue to make the case with the government that stronger regulations in this area would be counterproductive.”
Controls on fundamental research are not necessary if the results of the research are made public, Yale Director of Federal Relations Richard Jacob said. Federal agencies are considering scaling back exemptions on fundamental research, which would limit both equipment use and professors’ freedom to teach international students about advanced technologies, Jacob said.
While government officials have argued that an increase in regulations is necessary to protect national security, Jacob said the policies would divide the University community. The process of identifying controlled equipment — as well as keeping records on regulated international students — would ultimately serve to weaken research at all university campuses, he said.
“Our view is that export controls, the way they are being conceived and proposed, would significantly harm the research enterprise,” Jacob said. “The notion of having two classes of faculty or students on campus is at odds with long-standing University values, traditions and policies.”
Until now, the government has granted universities an exemption on the grounds that they produce basic research rather than commercial technologies. The result of new regulations would be more paperwork and bureaucracy for faculty and graduate students operating even standard equipment such as spectrometers, Levin said.
The proposed changes do not make a distinction between undergraduates and graduate students, Faculty of Engineering Dean Paul Fleury said. Increased export controls would have a significant impact on the U.S. graduate student population, Fleury said, because nearly half of graduate students in the engineering and physical sciences in this country are international students.
“The message is all pretty consistent, that at least some of the proposed changes would be very detrimental to the conduct of university research, and particularly to the involvement in such research by international students and faculty,” Fleury said.
Toiv said discussions on a coordinated policy for export controls have been ongoing, and the Tuesday talks reflect progress for the University.
“[Federal agencies] have the authority to do what they think is needed,” Toiv said. “It’s not our sense that they are interested in being foolish about it and being counterproductive. That’s why there has been very productive dialogue so far.”
Commerce Department representatives could not be reached for comment.