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UMass-Amherst Reverses Its Policy on Iranian Students

Kevin Roche
University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
UMass Amherst admits the exclusion of a class of students from admission directly conflicts with the school's institutional values and principles.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has backed off  a new policy  that banned Iranian nationals from some engineering and science programs.

The school had said the ban was tied to federal sanctions designed to discourage Iranian citizens from entering the U.S. to prepare for careers in the energy sector of Iran, or in nuclear science or engineering.  In a statement released Wednesday, the school says after consulting with the State Department and outside counsel,  it will accept Iranian students into science and engineering programs and will develop individualized study plans based on a student's projected coursework and research. 

UMass faced sharp criticism for the ban, which was announced less than a week ago. Rod Sanjabi is executive director of the New Haven-based Iranian Human Rights Documentation Project, a nonprofit that focuses on human rights abuses inside Iran. He said blanket educational bans can be compared to the kinds of barriers that students might face domestically inside Iran. 

Credit YouTube
Rod Sanjabi is the executive producer of a New Haven-based, non-profit organization, Iranian Human Rights Documentation Project, which focuses on human rights abuses in Iran.

"Often times, students who are coming into the U.S. to study from Iran are specifically fleeing a very closed educational atmosphere," Sanjabi  said. "They’re fleeing restrictions on sometimes what they can study. They’re fleeing restrictions on even the right to education. And these kinds of bans in the U.S. only resemble what they’re running away from."

UMass Amherst had admitted the exclusion of a class of students from admission directly conflicts with the school’s institutional values and principles, but justified the action, based on the ‘Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.’

The state department says this type of ban is not required by law, as students' visa applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The New Haven Register reported that a Yale University graduate student from Iran was among those being denied admission.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s website says it is also unable to admit Iranian citizens in the graduate fields of mechanical and nuclear engineering. And Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s website states that restrictions by U.S. agencies are making it increasingly difficult to accept students from countries including Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

New England Public Radio contributed to this report.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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