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Year-end Committee Report on the April 28 Agenda


Committee on International Programs

The Committee on International Programs of the University Council was given the following charges by the Steering Committee of the Council:

1. Continue exploring ways in which the Penn environment can be made more inviting for the international visitors, in particular visiting scholars, post-doctoral fellows, etc.

2. Evaluate the impact of Homeland Security policies on prospective versus current international students and exchange visitors, and explore steps the University might take to ameliorate negative effects.

3. Gather more information and conduct further discussion of the issues surrounding the integrity of student applications, especially from certain parts of the world to ensure (a) that we have reliable data and (b) that we avoid stereotyping applicants from certain countries.

4. Examine and advise the University Council on ways the University can coordinate and expand its international endeavors at Penn and its global presence beyond the campus.

The Committee, so far, has met six times during the academic year 2003-2004 and will attempt one more meeting. The following individuals appeared as guests of the Committee at its meetings: Dr. Shalini Dev Bhutani, Director, International Student and Scholar Services , OIP; Dr. Peter Conn, Deputy Provost; Mr. Omar Blaik, Senior Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services.

Charge 1

The Committee chose to continue its deliberation of the previous years on the need for short-term, affordable housing for international scholars. At the request of the Committee, Dr. Randolph supplied us with the results of a survey titled "Short Term Housing for Visiting International Scholars," which was completed in 2001. The survey, that included both public and private universities and those from different parts of the U.S., was extensively discussed. We also shared our interest with Dr. Conn when he appeared as a guest of the committee. The conclusion of the Committee was that none of these schools has successfully solved this problem for lack of willingness to devote the necessary resources that it requires. In our interim report to the University Council, we suggested that the University Administration might want to set an example for the nation by devoting the necessary resources to address this need. President Rodin suggested that the Committee should meet with Mr. Omar Blaik, Senior Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate. We had an exceedingly fruitful meeting with Mr. Blaik, in which he presented several possible models for addressing the housing needs of the international visitors. On April 14, 2004, the current Chair of the Committee, Dr. Randolph and Mr. Blaik met with Dr. Conn to plan the next step.

Recommendations for Action: The Committee recommends that the President and the Provost place the objective of providing short-term, affordable housing for visiting international scholars high in the priority list of the University, and provide the necessary resources to implement one of the options presented to the Committee.

Recommendations for action by next year's Committee: The Committee recommends that the initiative started this year be vigorously followed to completion.

Charge 2

As part of our deliberations on this issue, Dr. Shalini Dev Bhutani, Director, International Student and Scholar Services of OIP, gave the Committee a report on Penn's compliance with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Each international student and J-1 scholar, including his or her dependents, should now have a SEVIS issued immigration document. However, the SEVIS system is flawed, and there are no clear guidelines for some SEVIS processing requirements.

The University of Pennsylvania had 1074 incoming international students enrolled this fall, compared to 863 in fall 2002. Despite these figures, there was much anecdotal information provided by the Committee members regarding delays in obtaining visas by these individuals. Some students who faced visa delays and denials have decided to defer their admission to Penn until spring 2004 or fall 2004 or chose to study elsewhere. As in previous years, most students facing visa denials were from China.

Visa delays arose largely due to heightened security concerns. In addition to the regular security screening, some students were also delayed because of the extra security screening required by the Technology Alert List (TAL).  Individuals can be affected if their fields of study appear on a "critical fields list," or if they are nationals of those countries, that the Department of State has listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. In addition, the new requirement for face-to-face interviews for non-immigrant visa applications has resulted in backlog delays that have affected some students.

The Association of American Universities (AAU), the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) and the National Association of International Educators (NAIE) are conducting a survey on international enrollments and visa trends.

Ms. Simi Wilhelm informed the Committee that GAPSA and the UA have arranged a meeting with the representatives of the Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs, the President's Office and OIP to discuss international student issues. Some of the agenda items are: Homeland Security, the USA "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" Patriot Act and Penn advocacy.

Recommendations for Action: The Committee urges the University Administration to be actively involved with the outside organizations listed above in developing a common position for minimizing the adverse effects of these policies on the legitimate global role of Penn.

Recommendations for action by next year's Committee: The Committee should continue following developments in this area.

Charge 3

The Committee heard from its members and received confirmation from Dr. Conn that there is an indeterminate but presumably significant level of fraudulent material being submitted with applications, largely from the People's Republic of China. The response within Penn as well as nationally has been varied. Certain departments have added specific warnings to their application materials, indicating penalties for falsification of records. Penn's Nursing School conducts telephone interviews, and Wharton School is now conducting face-to-face interviews between school representatives and applicants.

In January 2004, the School of Engineering and Applied Science organized Internet2 pilot interviews with students who had applied to graduate programs from certain Chinese institutions. Two members of our committee attended these interviews. While these interviews do not address the integrity of all materials submitted, never the less, we received a very positive report on this pilot project.

Recommendations for action by next year's Committee: The Committee should continue the discussion of this issue.

Charge 4

During the discussion of this charge, it became clear that specific collaborations exit between Penn, or some of its academic or research units and certain institutions all over the globe. To give just two examples, one can point to that between Penn and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and that between SEAS interaction with Université de Technologie de Compiègne. Never-the-less, there is no central coordinating entity for these programs, across the University.

The Committee endorsed the following recommendation to the Administration: Each school should designate an individual to supervise its international affairs. The designated individuals should meet regularly as a group and would report to the Provost. A representative of the group should be named as ex officio member of the International Programs Committee.

In the meeting with Deputy Provost Conn, we discovered that he has independently arrived at a similar decision and that a "Provost's International Roundtable" has been formed, chaired by Dr. Conn, and with a representative from each school within Penn. This Group also includes Dr. Randolph. The group will meet regularly with the Deputy Provost.

Recommendations for Action: The Committee recommends that the "Provost's International Roundtable" go beyond simply discussing general policy issues, and assume an executive function in coordinating the various international programs across the campus. It further recommends that incoming President Gutmann rededicate Penn to playing a major role in global education and research.

Recommendations for action by next year's Committee: The Committee should maintain close connections with Provost's International Roundtable to ensure that it functions in the manner envisioned by this year's IPC.

2003-2004 Committee Members

Chair:  Sohrab Rabii, Electrical and Systems Engineering; Faculty: Abass Alavi, Nuclear Medicine and Radiology, Medicine, Carlos Alonso, Romance Languages, Paul J. DeWeer, Physiology, Medicine , Steve Kobrin, Management, Kim Lane Scheppele, Law, Norma Lang, Nursing, Jerry Wind, Marketing; Graduate/professional students: Mete Civelek, Engineering, Simi Wilhelm, Education; Undergraduate students: Ian Lin, Wharton, Jennifer Kessler, Arts and Sciences, Benjamin Ochieng, Nursing; PPSA: Kristine Billmyer, English Language Programs; WPSA: Suzanne Oh, Education; Ex officio: Joyce M. Randolph, International Programs; Staff: Elva E. Power, International Programs.



  Almanac, Vol. 50, No. 31, April 27, 2004