COUNCIL A Year-End Report on the April 28 Agenda

Report of the Committee on International Programs, 1998-1999

The University Council Committee on International Programs met seven times during the 1998-1999 academic year and addressed the following charges to the Committee:

  • Review revised INS regulations and how they will affect registered students
  • Continue to monitor the orientation of international students-what programs exist and what forms of outreach are in place to encourage students and postdoctoral fellows to use them
  • Continue discussion of study-abroad programs, including information on health insurance for those studying abroad
  • Examine the issue of tuition charges for students in study-abroad programs
  • Examine the issue of housing for short-term international guests

The Committee met with invited guests Ann Kuhlman, Associate Director of the OIP; Dr. Richard Beeman, Dean of the College; Dr. Geoffrey Gee, Associate Director of the OIP; Larry Moneta, Associate Vice President for Campus Services; and Dr. Robert Barchi, Provost.

The Committee has specifically directed me to comment on the University response to a number of specific recommendations of this Committee in previous years. In 1996-97, the Committee recommended the establishment of an International Students' Day as a major priority and this was endorsed again by the Committee in 1997-98. The 1997-98 Committee recommended that provisions similar to those that have already been implemented for postdoctoral students in the School of Medicine also be made available to other postdoctoral students in the University. The Committee also recommended that low-cost housing options be expanded for short-term visiting students and scholars. These recommendations were in addition to suggestions to further study issues such as the establishment of an International Center and improvement of integration of international students and scholars into the University community. The Committee notes that there has been little University response to its specific recommendations in the prior two years.

It was evident to the Committee that the Office of International Programs is doing an outstanding job. This Office, the center for promotion and coordination of international activities throughout the University, gives a very high level of service even though hampered by inadequate facilities.

In the course of our discussions, a number of issues were raised in addition to those specifically outlined in the charges to the Committee. For clarity of organization in this report, these issues and committee charges are grouped under the following topics: International Students and Scholars on the Penn Campus, Study-Abroad Programs, Housing for Short-Term International Guests, and Development of a Penn International Center on campus.

A. International Students and Scholars on the Penn Campus

The committee learned from Ann Kuhlman that a number of changes have been recently made in the INS regulations which impact on visiting scholars. The most significant change is that individuals admitted under B visas can now accept honoraria and associated incidental expenses from a higher education institution. We were also informed that the annual cap for H-1B visas has been increased from 65,000 to 115,000 for FY 1999.

The committee also discussed problems of taxation for international visitors. Unfortunately, it is poorly appreciated on campus that a whole year of exemption from FICA and Medicare withholding, and in some cases a year of tax treaty exemption from Federal income tax, is used up if a scholar arrives in the U.S. for just one day of the calendar year (i.e., arrival on Dec. 31). Therefore, it would be useful for Departments and Centers to advise scholars who plan to arrive on campus for a multi-year stay not to arrive in the last months of the calendar year. Another issue related to taxation is that as a part of the initial process of setting up payroll accounts, visiting scholars must visit Penn's Tax Office, often on their first day or two on campus. The reception in this office has not always been cordial and friendly.

The OIP has an extremely effective orientation program for newly arrived international scholars, if they come to the OIP office as officially required to arrival. However, many international scholars do not fulfill this requirement. Each visitor is individually counseled and is given essential information about the Penn community, including important advice on safety, so it is clearly important for international scholars to visit the OIP as soon as they arrive on campus. Moreover, registering with the OIP allows the office to track the scholars. The Committee unanimously passed a resolution dealing with this matter (see A.3 below).

The Committee, continuing discussion of outreach to international students and scholars begun in the previous academic year, feels strongly that there is insufficient integration of our international visitors in life at Penn. Although the OIP does sponsor the successful once-a-month "Talk and Taste" social events and a Thanksgiving hosting program, there are few other events on campus to make our international visitors feel welcome. The resources of OIP are limited and there is no center where International Program outreach activities can have a focus. Space limitations greatly dampen the otherwise welcoming atmosphere in the OIP. There is insufficient office space, an inadequate reception area, and there are no facilities to host activities of internationally oriented scholar groups.

Committee Recommendations

A.1. Improvements in communication with Departments and business offices on campus on matters of changes in tax, employment, and visa policies should be implemented. In addition to increasing coverage of these issues in the newsletter sent to international scholars, the OIP should communicate with departmental and center business offices by e-mail on these administrative matters.

A.2. The quality of reception for international visitors during their first days on campus could be improved to some extent. Specifically, a warmer atmosphere needs to be created at the University's Tax Office and at the ID center.

A.3. All international scholars and students should be required to visit the OIP as soon as they arrive on campus. The Committee has unanimously passed a resolution which strongly advises the administration to implement a mechanism to ensure that visiting scholars cannot start their programs, receive ID's, appear on the payroll, or obtain any other Penn privileges, without first registering with the OIP. The Committee also unanimously advises the administration to require that host departments notify the OIP if there is any change in an international scholar's status.

A.4. Increased resources need to be provided to create a more welcoming atmosphere for international visitors on campus. Mechanisms need to be put in place to get additional faculty and domestic students involved in hosting and attending activities for international students and scholars.

A.5. The facilities of the OIP need to be greatly expanded so it may serve as a true center of international activities on campus.

B. Study-Abroad Programs

The Committee devoted two full meetings to discussion of study-abroad programs. We reviewed the current policy, which permits attendance in programs approved by Penn or, in special cases, by petition. Among research Universities, Penn ranked #1 in 1996-97 in the total number undergraduate and graduate/professional students studying abroad for credit. The Committee is of the opinion that these programs are an extremely valuable option for Penn students. The current policy provides for the monitoring of approved undergraduate programs to determine if they are at the standard expected for credit at Penn. Flexibility is maintained by allowing students with special study abroad needs to petition for attendance at other sites. The Committee thinks these policies are reasonable and that our study-abroad programs are well administered. However, there are particular problems that need to be addressed.

A number of the approved study-abroad sites appear to have somewhat variable and unclear standards of grading and there have been problems of justifying particular programs in terms of developing departmental majors or course concentrations. Part of the rationale to charge full Penn tuition for undergraduate participants in study-abroad programs was that funds were needed to ensure that such programs met Penn standards. The Committee feels strongly that the distribution formula for these tuition funds must be adjusted to allow OIP and the Schools (mainly SAS) to better monitor the programs (see recommendation B.1). Oversight of these programs should involve increased on-site inspections by faculty and the OIP staff, but also with much more input from individual departments.

It appears that there is insufficient departmental input into study-abroad advising and program oversight. Although some departments are quite conscientious about this, the general impression is that relatively few departments have reviewed study-abroad programs to see how the courses and activities fit into the departmental major and to monitor quality. The Committee feels that advice provided by the OIP or by Assistant Deans is not a substitute for advice from faculty of the relevant academic departments. We recommend a more active involvement of departmental faculty in the selection of appropriate sites for students majoring in that department (see recommendation B.2).

Some programs with a limited number of slots are very much in demand. Occasionally, applicants do not meet the 3.00 GPA requirement. Since this standard may not be generally appreciated, the Committee considered it appropriate to more widely publicize this standard. Particularly important would be to advise the Admissions Office to refer to Study-Abroad as a valuable privilege earned by academic performance. The Committee learned that in some instances, slots in particular programs were being filled by students who have not met the GPA requirement. The Committee advises that the standard should be applied to all students.

The Committee also reviewed the policy of charging full tuition to all students in Penn study-abroad programs. Although this policy may appear at first sight to be unjust to students participating in programs with lower costs to non-Penn students, the Committee agreed that the current Penn policy was appropriate. Tuition funds not only are used to pay the actual costs of the students' program but are also used for undergraduate financial aid, administrative and overhead costs of running the study-abroad program, and for School-based advising and administration. With the caveat that the Committee thinks that insufficient funds are provided to the Schools and OIP for the review process (see B.1), the policy seems to be fair. For example, study-abroad students are eligible for financial aid and it would be financially disruptive for some study-abroad students not to pay a share of these costs to the University.

The Committee discussed the health insurance coverage of undergraduate study abroad students. The University required that study abroad students maintain coverage that is valid in the U.S. and meets standards of the Student Health Office. The OIP makes students aware of the health insurance requirement but has no way of determining what policies students actually have. A variety of supplemental plans that offer medical expense insurance valid abroad are brought to the attention of students by the OIP. One problem may be that the Penn Student Insurance plan is one of the options for health coverage for study abroad students, but may not cover non-emergency or even emergency medical situations. The Committee recommends that the University ensure that the current Penn Student insurance plan will cover student health needs abroad, or if not, develop a group plan that will provide such coverage.

Committee Recommendations

B.1. Increased funds (supplied from the tuition collected from study-abroad students) need to be provided to OIP and to the individual schools to allow increased monitoring of study-abroad programs. A much more active review process with on-site evaluations by faculty and OIP staff should be instituted.

B.2. Each department or undergraduate major needs to be more involved in providing advice on which study-abroad programs are suitable for their majors. Particular study-abroad sites should be recommended to majors and the faculty of relevant departments should be brought into the site evaluation process to a much greater extent than is current practice. Deans of the relevant schools should implement these changes vigorously.

B.3. GPA requirements for study-abroad programs should be made clear in University publications, including material supplied by the Admissions Office. The OIP should uniformly apply this standard.

B.4. The University should ensure that a degree of coverage for study abroad students be provided either by the current Student Health Plan or by a new group plan. Students who choose health coverage solely relying on the Student Health Plan should not be left without health insurance protection.

C. Housing for Short-Term International Guests

The Committee has been concerned about the lack of adequate housing for short-term international guests. Visitors to the campus who stay for a few days can find adequate hotel accommodations and long-term visitors can rent furnished or unfurnished apartments. However, visitors to Penn who need to stay near the campus for a period of one week to several months find very little suitable housing. As a major research university, Penn should have facilities to encourage visits of research collaborators who need to be housed near campus. Laboratory research particularly requires proximity to campus since experimental work often requires late- night and weekend activity in University laboratory buildings. Unfortunately, Penn short-term housing is mostly limited to guest suites in Grad Towers at $1100 to $1200 per month or rooms in Grad Towers with shared bath at $115 per week. The Committee considers the former to be too expensive and the latter to be too uninviting for international visitors at the postdoctoral and junior research level. Moreover, rooms in these categories are often booked long in advance and, except for the guest suites, are made available only if they are not occupied by graduate students with long-term leases. The one other source of short-term housing near campus is the Divine Tracy Hotel, which although inexpensive, has dress codes which discriminate against women and a particular religious orientation, a situation not appropriate for many of our international visitors.

The Committee has reviewed a number of housing options over the past two years and is concerned that the University not only has no plans to fill the need for moderately priced short-term housing but is actually considering decreasing the number of high-end and low-end units now available. The Committee understands that the University cannot put its resources into developing such housing unless there is a demonstrated need. We propose that surveys be carried out within departments with significant research personnel to determine the current need for moderate cost short-term housing. However, it also should be realized that the availability of such housing may itself lead to increased visits from international collaborators, thus generating additional demand. The Committee recommends that the University develop a plan to provide modest but inviting units at the price range of $600-$800 per month, the number of which would be determined by appropriate surveys and market research.

In part A of this report, the Committee notes that the atmosphere on campus for international visitors needs significant improvement. We recommended an expansion of facilities so that the OIP can serve as an effective center for international activities on campus. We propose that such a center have a number of guest suites and moderately priced single rooms for short-term international guests on campus for teaching and/or research. An International Center could serve as a focal point for housing, lectures and seminars, OIP administration, and study-abroad.

Committee Recommendation

C.1. The University needs to develop a plan to provide moderately priced short-term housing for international visitors. Current short-term housing should be maintained and additional housing at a cost affordable to postdoctoral and junior research level visitors needs to be created. The number of units to be developed should be determined by appropriate surveys and market research. An appropriate site for such housing would be a new International Center which could be developed on campus.

D. Development of an International Center on Campus

The development of an International Center, a topic considered in past years by the Committee, should be given a high priority by the University. The relative lack of integration of our international scholars and visitors into the University community is in part due to a lack of an adequate center for activities with an international focus. The OIP is housed in inadequate facilities that provide little opportunity for development of meetings, seminars, and reading areas. Part of a Penn International Center could provide the space necessary for a more effective OIP. New interdisciplinary academic programs with strong international components also could be housed in such a center, as might meeting centers for internationally oriented student organizations. The problem of inadequate housing for international scholars would be alleviated if a housing component were included in a new International Center. The Committee strongly suggests that the development of such a Center would greatly improve the ambiance of Penn international scholars and students and offer a central focus for the integration of international visitors into campus life.


Committee Recommendation

D.1. The University should place a high priority on developing a new International Center on campus to house an expanded OIP, provide meeting areas for international scholars and students, house new interdisciplinary academic programs with an international focus, serve as a center for internationally oriented student organizations, and provide short-term housing for international scholars on campus.

We wish to thank Ann Kuhlman, Richard Beeman, Geoffrey Gee, Larry Moneta and Robert Barchi for taking the time to meet with the Committee and provide us with valuable information and background. We greatly appreciate the valuable input from Joyce Randolph. Elva Power has served as a most effective and helpful secretary and we thank her for enabling the committee to function smoothly and for documenting our discussions so well.

--Eric S. Weinberg, Chair

Membership of the 1998-1999 Committee on International Programs

Chair: Eric S. Weinberg; Faculty: Roger Allen , Asian and Middle Eastern studies; N. Bulent Gultekin, finance; Roberto Mariano, economics; Irving Nachamkin, pathology and laboratory medicine; Gregory L. Possehl, anthropology; Sohrab Rabii, electrical engineering; Harold F. Schiffman, South Asia regional studies, Eric S. Weinberg, biology. Administration: Mary Ann Julian. Undergraduate Students: Thomas Kisimbi (Wh'02/Nursing '01); Katie O'Connor (CAS '00); Jeremy Thompson (CAS '99). Graduate/Professional Students: Hugh Bozorgzadeh (Dental); Aveek Das (SEAS); Heidi Wushinske (GSE). Ex officio: Joyce Randolph, Director, OIP.


Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 29, April 20, 1999