After protests from students and faculty, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has lifted its ban on Iranian students from the school’s graduate engineering programs. The decision for the ban arose in early February of this year from the university’s desire to comply with the “Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.” The aforementioned sanction prevented Iranian nationals from conducting research on nuclear energy at American universities. The majority of Iranian students in the U.S. are in graduate engineering or science programs. UMass Amherst’s policy would have banned Iranian students from being admitted to fields such as mechanical, computer, and chemical engineering. UMass hosts around 60 Iranian students on its Amherst campus. Other universities with admission policies concerning Iranian students include Virginia Commonwealth University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The spark that started the initial policy’s implementation concerned an Iranian student doing research at UMass Amherst who was prohibited from returning to Iran. The intent of the policy was not to ban students of a specific nationality, but to prevent students from choosing studies that would later prevent them from returning home, just like the student mentioned earlier. Consequently, student and faculty opposition galvanized the university’s administration into revising its policy. Social media also played an integral role in the reversal; a petition was even formed to urge the State Department and university to reconsider the policy. Additional legal counsel and advice from the State Department was sought by the university in an effort to remedy the policy.
UMass Amherst now allows Iranian students to matriculate into graduate engineering programs, including mechanical, computer, and chemical engineering. To comply with the law and lessen restrictiveness, UMass will develop individualized study plans based on research and projected coursework. What remains, however, is a restriction that prevents Iranian students from enrolling in strictly nuclear energy related programs. Although current popular opinion among relevant students and faculty is that the administration took a step in the right direction, many still sense a level of discrimination and restrictiveness in the adjusted policy. UMass Amherst will continue consulting with the State Department on the issue.