WSU President V. Lane Rawlins and approximately 30 administrative/professionals from the Pullman campus met with about 70 students at noon on Friday to discuss concerns regarding the pending war in Iraq and support of international students.
The students firmly requested that Rawlins and the university take a formal stand against the war in Iraq and against the Student and Exchange Visitor
Information System (SEVIS), a database that federal officials use to monitor and track foreign students. They also want WSU to provide more support for Mideastern students and scholars, including a larger room for the association to meet in and financial and legal support for international students.
Rawlins began by noting that “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.”
Rawlins noted that he was a student at the University of California Berkeley during the ‘60s and also at WSU during the ‘70s, when the Vietnam War was being protested, and understood the students’ “passion, commitment and willingness to take a stand.”
If we can keep this at a level of civil discourse, I believe we will have a strong opportunity to keep control of the situation on our own campus,” he said. “The one thing that university presidents fear the most in situations like this, however, is losing that control. And, I’ve been in two situations where that has happened, when the administration is no longer in control and others are brought in from outside to do that.”
Rawlins told students that he could not and would not take a public stand on the pending war in Iraq. “As president of a public university, I am not authorized to take political stances on behalf of the university community and it would not be appropriate for me to do that…. to say that one position represents the view of the entire university.”
Taking an official university stand on the war, he said, would suggest that “we’ve cut off all debate and discussion. The very act would be anti-intellectual, anti-university and a violation of the higher education position. It doesn’t promote a peaceful environment. It just doesn’t work. It never has worked.”
However, Rawlins said that faculty still have academic freedom in their classroom and can certainly voice their personal opinion, “as long as it’s identified as such.”
“We’re not going to try to police what faculty can and cannot say in their classroom…. However, if you start taking the whole week’s worth of classes, or identify it as the position of the university, then we have a problem.
“A student who signs up to take a physics class is entitled to go to that class and receive the appropriate instruction,” Rawlins said.
Rawlins and Charlene Jaeger, vice president of Student Affairs, said they were looking into the possibility of providing a larger room where Mideastern and other international students could meet, and would report back to them next week.
Mary Furnari, assistant director of International Student Services, told students that her department has been providing transportation and escorts for international students who need to travel to Spokane to comply with the National Security Entry Exit Registration System.
Rawlins also assured students that the university would continue to support existing university policies ensuring the rights and safety of all international students and faculty.