Speaking Out

More on INS/IRS Red Tape

I have just finished reading the letter from Dr. David White of the Chemistry Department concerning his nightmarish experience in trying to pay the travel costs of a French scientist who agreed to come to Penn for a lecture and conference. We are in the midst of a similarly incredible and frustrating experience in our department.

Early last spring we invited a noted British urban designer to visit Penn, in October, for a lecture/seminar on the latest developments in the UK and Europe. We promised him a nominal honorarium of $150 for all his efforts and expenses. In the fall just before the lecture, the INS entered the picture, it seems, with new regulations, the complexity of which no one could fathom. These new regulations, imposed with the help of our tax office, succeeded to produce an immense level of embarrassment and frustration for all who tried to meet the obligations of the department. In vain, we sought help from our own legal eagles. If anything, we only experienced indifference to the plight of our department in carrying out its obligations and in meeting its mission.

The situation is really dire. It seems that Washington's technical bureaucrats are determined to define educational and social policies in the country. In their parochialism they can, with a stroke of their pen, prevent all the universities in the country from deriving any benefit from lectures, seminars, and personal interaction with visiting foreign scholars and scientists. The letter Mr. John Butler sent addressing Dr. White's complaints makes it perfectly clear that even some of our colleagues have very limited understanding of the mission of the University and see nothing wrong with federal bureaucratic mischief, even when it is as obvious as in this case. His concluding paragraph reveals the true spirit of our own tax office. "We intend to review our policies, procedures, and practices in consultation with the Provost's Office and key school personnel, to determine what relief, if any, is available within the current INS/IRS regulations and we will keep the University community informed of the result of those deliberations."

The purpose of this letter is not, of course, to respond to Mr. Butler, an individual who seems to be from another planet, but to first inform, our colleagues that any ideas that they may have of inviting any foreign scholars and scientists for a lecture/seminar at Penn should be forgotten, lest an immense amount of grief befall them. Second, this letter seeks to alert the Provost and the President that the plans and aspirations they have announced recently for an "international," "global" university don't have much of a chance to succeed with the kind of regulations the INS and IRS want to implement. To paraphrase Dr. White, they seem to be ready to burn down the house in order to catch a tiny mouse. There surely must be simpler ways to collect the taxes due on the $150 honorarium our visitor was going to receive.

-- Anthony R. Tomazinis, Professor and Chair of City & Regional Planning


Volume 43 Number 17
January 14, 1997

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