Universities Grapple with Federal Requests

Article excerpt


Among the challenges posed to colleges and universities by the events of September 11 is the need to balance the rights of foreign students with the desire to cooperate with federal efforts to strengthen national security.

In the weeks following the attacks, federal and local authorities asked for information about foreign students from over two hundred colleges and universities. In almost all cases, they received it without question, according to a survey conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Only about 5 percent of the institutions told those students about whom information had been requested. At about one hundred institutions, the information solicited included items usually kept confidential, such as the courses students were taking, their grades, and their financial data.

In November federal officials announced that they would take the additional step of interviewing 5,000 young Middle Eastern men, many of them students, who were in the United States on temporary visas and who were not suspects in the attacks. Civil rights groups and Arab American organizations criticized the interview plan, which called for officials to ask the men about such matters as their acquaintances, their movements in the United States, and their emotional reactions to the September 11 attacks.

Some interviewees have said publicly that they were distressed by the questioning, which is now complete; others commented that it was difficult to see how the pro forma interviews could yield any useful information. Federal agents initiated some interviews by showing up unannounced on students' doorsteps; other students received letters asking them to schedule interviews at their convenience. …