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The ‘unwise, disruptive policy’ of shutting out international students

New rules for foreign college students have stunned American academic institutions. The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that all of the roughly 1 million international students currently enrolled in the U.S. must attend at least one in-person class this fall or be denied visas. We hear student reaction, and Jeffrey Brown talks to Rebecca Blank of University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New rules for foreign college students sent shockwaves through American academic institutions this week.

    On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said all of the roughly one million international student who are currently enrolled in the U.S. must attend at least one in-person class this fall, or they will be denied visas to either enter or stay in the country.

    The news came as both colleges and students are struggling to make plans for the fall semester in the middle of a pandemic.

    We start by hearing from some of the students reacting to the news.

  • Elizabeth Gimba:

    I'm Elizabeth Gimba. I'm from Kenya and South Sudan, and I'm currently enrolled at Skidmore College.

  • Raul Romerot:

    I'm Raul Romero. I'm from Caracas, Venezuela.

  • Yuxiu “Isabel” Wu:

    Hello. My name is Yuxiu Wu. I also go by Isabel.

    I'm originally from China. I study Latin American history,

  • Jaskirat Panjrath:

    So, I'm Jaskirat Panjrath. I'm originally from India, but I reside in New York City.

  • Nile Nair:

    My name is Nile Nair. I am from the islands of Fiji. I'm proud to say I'm one of the first geneticists out of the Pacific Islands.

    My entire world view of how we should be approaching science and medicine changed by the opportunities I was afforded by coming to the United States.

  • Yuxiu “Isabel” Wu:

    My research is based on — solely based on the library sources I have. And the California library system is one of the largest library systems in the U.S., in the world. And this is just a tremendous resource for researchers like me.

  • Jaskirat Panjrath:

    You have hands-on experience of what you dream of in the United States. And now it's being taken away from me in many ways. So, I don't know what to think about it.

  • Nile Nair:

    The new regulation, again, blindsided us completely, and the choices I'm faced with is either risk my life and health and go to class in person, or risk being deported, even though I am legally here.

  • Raul Romero:

    We're basically having to make the choice of staying, continuing our education, and becoming deportable, or going back to our countries that in many cases face a certain amount of risks.

    In Venezuela, it goes beyond the humanitarian crisis and the violence. There's also, you know, very poor Internet connection. Blackouts occur daily. There's no constant supply of water.

  • Elizabeth Gimba:

    I'm most concerned about my education, because I don't think I have the luxury or the option of, for instance, taking a semester gap, or deciding to go back home, and take a break, or anything of the sort.

  • Jaskirat Panjrath:

    There's, like, this constant, you know, feeling that, like, I don't belong here, even though I'm paying so much money and there's so much — and I'm on a student loan.

  • Raul Romero:

    We're here temporarily, and we're not even being allowed to stay here temporarily.

  • Elizabeth Gimba:

    I mean, it's — it's tiring, it's hectic, it's frustrating, it's really draining, and there's not much we can always do from our side.

  • Yuxiu “Isabel” Wu:

    This law makes me and a lot of international students feel that we are deserted by the country, we're unwelcome here. What is the most devastating thing for me is that feeling of rejection.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Harvard and MIT quickly filed a lawsuit to block the new rule, saying that it risks the health of students and faculty.

    One of the major institutions grappling with the change is the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    Jeffrey Brown spoke with its chancellor, Rebecca Blank, a short time ago.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Rebecca Blank, thank you for joining us.

    We just heard from several students. I understand you have some 5,800 foreign students on campus there. What do you think is the impact on them?

  • Rebecca Blank:

    So this is an unwise and a terribly disruptive policy.

    We have many students who are in the middle of programs, many of them doing research work in labs with faculty. Having to tell them all to go home if they can't take in-person classes simply doesn't make any sense.

    Now, we're trying to run a hybrid model of both in-person and online classes this next semester, so I'm hoping many of them will be able to stay in Madison. But some students can't get home. Some students, it's not safe for them to be in their home country. The infections are far worse there than here in Madison, you know, and some students, if they stop out, are just not going to get back.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Ken Cuccinelli, who's the acting deputy secretary of DHS, he said: "If they're not going to be a student, or they're going to be 100 percent online, then they don't have a basis to be here. They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens."

    What is wrong with that logic?

  • Rebecca Blank:

    So, there are a lot of reasons for a student to be here on campus in the United States while they are a registered student at our campuses.

    As I say, some of them may well be working with faculty, doing lab work, and research, even if they are taking classes online. Some of them will be in situations where there are literally no flights back to some countries right now. They can't get there.

    We had a whole number of students who stayed last spring when we went online. Almost all of them were international students. Many of them stayed over the summer, because they were reasonably certain, if they went home, they wouldn't be able to get back to school here this fall.

    It's quite clear that, when schooling gets disrupted in this way, that, once you stop out, you know, once it becomes hard, it's just that much harder for students to get back in and finish their degree. And we want all these students to get an education and to finish their degrees as fully and quickly as possible.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Now, we're talking about the impact on students.

    What about the impact on schools like yours? Where are you in planning for the fall? And how much does this — how much of an impact would this have?

  • Rebecca Blank:

    So, we are very busily trying to change our entire mode of operation, so that we can have students back on campus and do so in a way that's safe for both our students, as well as our faculty and staff.

    If we're able to accomplish that — and we believe we're going to be able to — then our international students should be able to stay under this order.

    But, of course, it's possible that infections get a lot worse, various things happen, and that we would have to go to an all-online program at some point in the fall. And at that point, all our foreign students would be under threat of going home.

    The effect on the institution, obviously, there's institutional financial effects on this, but that's not the primary issue. Our students are part of our campus community. They're integrated in, in a number of ways.

    We want them to be as safe and as healthy as possible, and, in many cases for them, even if we're online, being in our dorms and staying here in Madison, and not trying to get home to what are sometimes much more uncertain situations in their home countries.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But there are financial implications. Right? A lot of these students would be paying full tuition. You wouldn't be getting that.

    So, what would happen if this goes through and you lose these students?

  • Rebecca Blank:

    Well, you know, the effect on our tuition from our international students is about $200 million.

    That's not zero. Of course, if we go to a virtual and online situation, we will be having students dropping out who are domestic students, as well as international. But, as I say, my main concern about this policy is not the financial implications. We're going to do everything we can to try to be open in the fall.

    My concern is its impact on the education of students. And I should say, the presence of foreign students at American universities has been incredibly important to this country. They go home, they become business leaders, they become political leaders. Their connections back to the United States, from having been to our schools and having spent time in the U.S., are just golden, in terms of creating long-term relationships between this country and other countries.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Several critics of this administration and this move have seen it as an attempt, a political attempt, to force colleges to reopen in the fall.

    Do you see it that way?

  • Rebecca Blank:

    You know, I can't judge the motivations behind this regulation.

    As I said, I just think it's a very unwise regulation. It was issued with, as far as I know, no consultation with any of the universities or higher education organizations, and caught everybody by surprise, which, of course, makes it all the more disruptive.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And so, briefly, what is the next step for you?

    I know several schools, Harvard and MIT among them, have sued already. You have not joined that suit, I don't think, yet. What's the next step?

  • Rebecca Blank:

    So, you know, we're clearly trying to message to all of our students that we're doing everything we can to have online classes available to them, and that we're going to work with them to be able to stay here.

    We're looking at our legal options, whether it makes sense to join or not. As a state institution, we have certain constraints on that. But I have issued a very strong statement of opposition to this particular regulation. We have talked to our delegation in the U.S. Senate and Congress. And they — some of them have been very supportive of this.

    And I hope we can actually get ICE and the administration to really rethink what they're doing here.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, Rebecca Blank is the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    Thank you very much.

  • Rebecca Blank:

    Thank you.

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