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UMass Amherst Reverses its Policy Banning Iranian Students from Certain Classes

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Yesterday, the University of Massachusetts Amherst reversed its recent policy that prohibited Iranian students from enrolling in certain engineering and science courses. The policy was announced on February 6, and was based on a 2012 sanction which bans Iranian immigrants from coming to America with intent to earn a degree so they may start a career in nuclear science, energy, or engineering back in Iran. Iranian students at UMass Amherst said that the rule is a deliberate discrimation and violation of rights, and the U.S. State Department, which issued the 2012 sanction law agreed, clarifying that the law is not meant to prevent Iranian students from coming to America to learn science and engineering. UMass Amherst officials argued that the university is not the only school which holds a policy like this, but has refused to comment as to who those other universities may be. Both the Iranian Graduate Student Association and the Persian Student Association have expressed their feelings of "betrayal" and "worry" over this policy.

After stirring much controversy, the school has decided to lift that ban. Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Michael Malone says that the latest decision reflects the university's “longstanding commitment to wide access to educational opportunities.”  

“We have always believed that excluding students from admission conflicts with our institutional values and principles. It is now clear, after further consultation and deliberation, that we can adopt a less restrictive policy,” he says. Instead, the Huffington Post reports, the university will now work to create “individualized study plans...based on a student's projected coursework and research.”

Though we're still shaking our heads over the fact that the policy was put into place in the first place, we're glad to see the school has seen the error of its ways and has chosen to reverse the ban. The offensive policy was not based on solid ground; the basis for the institution of the rule lacks sufficient legal weight, which poses the question as to how UMass Amherst managed to get away with this policy in the first place. 

Perhaps, when the sanction was first enacted in 2012, there may have been some logical reasoning for putting that sanction into effect; there was increased paranoia over Iran's growing nuclear threat, and worry that young Iranians might take what they learned abroad and use it to further that nuclear program back home. Especially given how diverse the student population in Boston is, to think a university could take a prominent section of the school's population and deliberately prevent them from pursuing their dreams (who says America is a free country?) is as absurd as it is hurtful. These students come to America to study because they want to get a good education, and to do so in a country where they will be free to think, speak, write, and act as they choose. The power of fear is a strong one, as we've seen with the war on terror, and even so far back as the days of McCarthyism. It can make rational people do entirely irrational things, and make them believe they are doing it for all the right reasons. 

It is not by any means easy for these Iranian students to come to this country to study—especially from a country like Iran which, with a theocratic government, does not look favorably on the U.S. or anything of western culture. For these students to go through all the trouble of getting here, only to be turned away from what they desire to study (and according to UMass Amherst's Iranian student associations, some 79 percent of Iranian students choose to major in natural sciences) is entirely unjust. Bureaucracy and foreign policy and intergovernmental affairs need to be cast aside for the time being—we need to focus on what's really important: upholding the values which this fine nation is based on, by allowing these students the same freedom to choose their path as the rest of the population. It's not as if fixing this problem will magically erase all the other infractions our country has committed against foreigners—but it's a good start. 


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