Security Squeeze

The USA Patriot Act has proven that the UA Campus isn't a small world after all

Just beyond the UA's Chemistry and Biological Sciences Building, little white-smocked figures hoist wee test tubes and raise chalk to diminutive blackboards. Called "Twenty Five Scientists," these art-piece researchers reflect various ethic hues, all collaborating in the noble pursuit of knowledge.

It's a swell sentiment, arching high above campus cobblestones. And thanks to the USA Patriot Act, it's also becoming a lie.

Since Sept. 11, international faculty have faced increasing hurdles. Security checks have forced big-name visiting professors to apply for visas months in advance--and then cross their learned fingers.

In turn, this imbroglio has sparked campus consternation, and prompted one feisty, retired chemistry professor to take action. Late last semester, 82-year-old Cornelius Steelink presented the faculty senate's Committee of Eleven with a plan for protesting the Patriot Act.

Like their colleagues across the country--and with support from UA President Peter Likins--the faculty senate eventually approved a resolution calling on "the administration and all of the University of Arizona to use the university's talents to work together to assist our federal and state legislators and our executive leaders, in ensuring that governmental actions against terrorism do not erode our fundamental rights, and do not compromise our educational and research missions."

That was the least the senators could do, says Steelink, who's old enough to remember similar excesses during World War II and Joe McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts. "There's no doubt the Patriot Act is just as scary," he says. "It allows the federal government to have access to my library records and all kinds of information. And I think it really sends a chilling message to the university community."

For Michael Cusanovich, director of the Biotechnology Department, it also means endless hassles. The Patriot Act "has become a bureaucratic nightmare that directly affects the ability of foreign scientists to get visas or come to give talks or whatever," he says. "We're not objecting to security. But the process could be smoothed out. Issuing or reissuing visas is really not that hard."

Passed by Congress in 2002, the Patriot Act included a greatly expanded regimen of visa reviews for international faculty and students. However, critics charge that the law was written by politicians with little understanding of the international scientific community.

Others don't consider the strictures too harsh. "I think the Patriot Act was designed to protect us from external agents that may be within our country," says Raphael Gruener, a UA physiology professor and Committee of Eleven member. "It's an unfortunate situation we face. But at this time, I have seen no evidence that the Patriot Act has curtailed any of our abilities."

Similar disparate perspectives arise across the country. While the conservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni charges that "college and university faculty has been the weakest link" in America's beefed-up security shield, the nonpartisan American Studies Association charges the Patriot Act with squelching " free and frank intellectual inquiry" on campus.

Overblown or not, the affects are real. According to university administrators, an increasing number of government contracts restrict or even bar the participation of non-U.S. citizens in projects using classified data. Even on unclassified projects, universities are required to provide extensive documentation for international faculty.

By passing Cornelius Steelink's resolution, the UA senate joined a nationwide outcry on campuses such as the University of California at Santa Barbara and Boston's Suffolk University, where students' groups have issued similar decrees. And the UA follows in the footsteps of Stanford University's faculty senate, which passed its own resolution in January 2003.

"I think it's important that faculty members stand up and be heard," says Andy Silverman, a UA law professor and Committee of Eleven member. "Faculties across the country are taking a position on these matters that do affect travel, research and privacy at universities."

Carol Carpenter heads the UA's Office of International Faculty and Scholars. It's her job to spearhead visa applications for about 800 visiting faculty each year, and she says the increasingly Byzantine process has proven discouraging. "Now I tell people planning to come over that they should prepare months in advance. Bureaucratic complications with Social Security numbers and driver's licenses and everything else have hurt the campus."

When those roadblocks become impenetrable, Carpenter calls Rep. Jim Kolbe's office, which she calls "extremely effective" at unsnarling red tape. (Attempts to contact Rep. Kolbe were unsuccessful before press time.)

In addition, visiting faculty must now dish out $100 for visa applications, and another $100 fee for the SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) program, she says. In turn, security reviews are conducted by a number of federal agencies, from the FBI and CIA to the Department of Homeland Security. Once those reviews begin, "We don't hear anything about what's going on," Carpenter says.

For his part, Esteban Temporini is familiar with that particular sound of silence. After first moving to the United States from Argentina in 1996, the plant pathologist applied for a permanent resident status in November 2001--two months after the Sept. 11 attacks. And suddenly, a process that should have taken one year ended up taking four. "My application was sponsored by the university," he says, "but it was very unpredictable. You send in all your paperwork, and then you just wait."

Temporini says Carpenter was very helpful. Still, after living in nearly endless limbo, he was about to contact Rep. Kolbe's office directly before his application was finally approved. Today, he maintains that these security restrictions "have definitely had an impact" on the willingness of foreign academics such as himself to visit this country. "It just goes on forever," he says.

Cornelius Steelink agrees, calling it just the tip of a hulking security iceberg. "Really, it's unbelievable," he says. "It's like Orwell's 1984."

Or Joe McCarthy's 1954.

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