PULLMAN, Wash. -– Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins and other administrators met with students today to discuss a number of topics, including the threat of war, terrorism and campus concern for the safety of international students.
Rawlins responded to a number of questions posed by the students and faculty members and shared discussion details with the university in prepared comments later that afternoon.
The president said the university will do everything in its power to assure that WSU is a safe place for all students, faculty, staff, and other members of our community. “This includes those from Middle Eastern nations who currently fear that they may be stereotyped and singled out for discriminatory acts or even violence. The university has clear policies and rules intended to curb racial, religious, ethnic, or other forms of discrimination and we intend to fully enforce the law, as well as our own rules and procedures, during this extraordinary time,” Rawlins stated.
Anyone who is a victim of discriminatory acts or hate crimes or who knows of any such actions, is asked to use WSU’s reporting process to inform the university immediately of these acts. Rawlins said he has asked to be informed personally of any such reports.
“In addition, we encourage the entire community at this time to reach out to those of Middle Eastern heritage in our community and assure them of our friendship. If any feel threatened, we will provide counseling and should any feel uncomfortable in their current living spaces we will help them relocate,” he added.
The students had many concerns about the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System or SEVIS. Rawlins said WSU, along with many other major universities, has opposed the SEVIS process and will continue to do so. “We opposed it on these three grounds: that it is discouraging to international students; that it is unnecessarily intrusive; and it is costly both to the university and to the students.”
But the president said SEVIS is not something to take lightly, but the university is under order to comply with this federal mandate. “We will continue to express our concern about this process and the instruments it requires,” the president said. The objections filed by higher education have lessened the severity of the originally proposed process.
Students also asked the president to publicly state his and the university’s opposition to war. Rawlins emphasized that he and others in the administration are not authorized to formulate or express a university position on the foreign policy or military actions of the United States or any other nation. “We do have clear policies in support of free speech and assembly, and we will use all of our resources to support the right of the members of our community to exercise their rights on this campus, subject to the usual caveat that they cannot interfere with the rights of others to do the same,” he said.
Personal statements by members of the administration are also protected by the same rights of free speech. “However, we recognize that any position taken by a prominent official may appear to be the official position of the university and thereby raise concerns about whether other positions would be contrary to some official stance,” he said.
Rawlins said in the event of war, university leaders are aware that many may wish to spend time discussing the issues, following the news, and protesting or supporting certain international actions. “We are currently working to provide an appropriate peaceful environment for this troubled time,” he said. “It is important to remember that the responsibilities of conducting classes and mastering the course material constitute a kind of contract between individual faculty members and students. The university has the responsibility to assure that faculty members cover the required material and that students master that material in order to receive a passing grade.”
In the event of an invasion of Iraq, WSU will encourage faculty and students to work out arrangements to meet their educational obligations with minimum disruption to the academic process. “I ask that, within reason, faculty members make allowances for those students who may feel the need to miss class at this time. We must stress that students need to work with individual faculty members,” Rawlins said.
Rawlins told the students that while the university cannot offer legal advice to individual students, a number of local attorneys are stepping forward to offer free, legal support for individual international students who may have concerns.
The president said communication is vital and the university will plan open meetings, discussions and other opportunities to share views and ask questions.
Rawlins said “this is a troubled time when we need to remain a community and respect each other and each other’s rights to differing views.” He asked the students to look upon the session as a start to an ongoing dialogue, and added “We cannot control what goes on in the rest of the world, but we can control what goes on here.”
To read the president’s full dialogue sent Friday, March 7, to the university community, go to the following Web site: www.wsu.edu/president/update16.html.