Margaret Eby
February 19, 2015 1:38 pm

You know those crazy, seemingly random, sometimes oppressive laws and rules that you can’t believe are on the books? Well here’s one. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst just lifted a ban that barred Iranian students from attending science and engineering programs in the grad school. Yup.

The school just lifted a regulation that barred Iranian students from some of their STEM graduate programs.

What’s extra surprising is that this isn’t some outdated, old-timey thing. The school announced the ban on February 12 (like seven days ago February 12), based on a law made in 2012 (the “Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012”) imposed to restrict Iranian citizens from education in the U.S. if they were preparing for a career in nuclear science. Basically all of this is to try to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. When UMass Amherst announced the decision the backlash, as you might imagine, was immediate.

But now, after consulting with the state department, and facing severe student outcry, the school is reversing this decision. Good.

Literally just think about that feeling: Not being able to take a course in the United States because of what country you’re from. That’s shocking. UMass grad student Michael Havlin told the Boston Globe, “My roommate is Iranian. It’s very humiliating for him to have to sign an agreement like that. It’s like he’s being treated as a second-class citizen. So far he’s been very accepted here, but this university that’s supposed to be so open-minded forcing him to sign a document saying he won’t go home and build a bomb or something is just really disappointing to see.”

The school maintains that they enacted the policy in accordance with U.S. law, but after hearing more from the US State Department they decided to retract the policy. As the Boston Globe reports, “Under its new plan, the university will create individual study programs for Iranian students entering graduate school for the affected engineering programs.” Some students say that is still too restrictive, but it is a definite improvement.

Iranian grad student Nariman Mostafavi attending UMass Amherst told the Boston Globe, “I got banned from my education in Iran because I raised my voice against what happened in my country. I was a leader of a pro-democracy secular group that was advocating for academic freedoms in the universities and when I moved to the United States, especially UMass Amherst, I never imagined anything like this. . . . I think it is against anything America has ever stood for.”

This goes to show just how destructive discriminatory blanket policies like this can be. We’re happy to hear that UMass Amherst reversed the decision, but pretty horrified to hear it ever happened in the first place.

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