Harvard/MIT Wrong About ICE’s New Regulations For Foreign Students

Harvard/MIT Wrong About ICE‘s New Foreign Student Regulations; How They Can Eliminate COVID Risk Without Moving to OnLine Classes

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 9, 2020) -  A law suit claims that ICE's new rules will "force many F-1 students to withdraw from Harvard and MIT," and is "an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes."

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Limitations For Foreign Students To Take Online Courses

But regardless of the administration's motives, universities can still protect faculty, as well as students who are at especially high risk of death if they become infected with the coronavirus in a classroom, while at the same time accommodating foreign and other students who are willing to accept the risks of COVID in return for receiving instruction in a classroom with other students, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

The new regulations limit the number of "online courses" which many foreign students could take if they wish to come to - or remain in - the United States for their higher education.

While some see the new rules as forcing universities to make a difficult binary choice - either requiring faculty (especially vulnerable ones) to go into classrooms to avoid having too many classes taught online, or protecting faculty by permitting them to teach online and thereby adversely affect foreign students - there is a third option which does not involve online teaching (so it has no effect on foreign students), but also does not force vulnerable faculty to risk infection by teaching in a classroom.

In this regard, many faculty - especially those who are older or have a variety of medical conditions putting them at exceptionally high risk of death from COVID-19 - are refusing to return to classroom teaching this fall, and/or are planning to take legal action under the Americans With Disabilities Act or the Occupational Safety and Health Act to avoid being forced to return to classroom teaching, says Banzhaf.

The Third Two-Rooms Option

Here's how the third two-rooms option could provide an alternative which would not adversely affect foreign students while still protecting vulnerable faculty.

Students would assemble in one classroom, but the professor would be in another separate ("TV studio") room, or in his office with a video cam.  The professor's image and voice would be carried to the classroom by a cable - or, if necessary, by an intranet connection.  The professor will see, hear, and call upon students from a monitor in the studio or in his office, and the students will see and hear the professor (probably better than if he were in the large classroom) on a large-screen TV in the classroom.

If a simple cable is used to connect the classroom where the students are with the room the professor is in, there is obviously not an "online class." Indeed, it's just like any other "overflow" classroom used when all students cannot fit into one room.

On the other hand, if the two rooms are connected by an internal intranet, it's also not an "online class" since there is a well recognized distinction between online classes utilizing the Internet, and the use of an intranet where the signal is confined to a single building.

In either case the students have virtually all of the advantages denied them with online classes; e.g., they are physically in the same room where they can easily see and hear each other; interact before, during, and after class; share documents, ideas, or work with each other; and even do joint projects, etc.  They can also see and hear the professor better than they would if they were seated far away in a socially-distanced classroom, and the professor wore a mask and/or was behind a plexiglass shield.

If desired, the professor's voice and image (plus anything on the blackboard or a projector) could also be transmitted over the Internet for any students who might, for whatever reason (e.g., risk of infection, child care responsibilities, employment, etc.) prefer online instruction, but the other students (including the foreign students), together in the physical classroom in a building on campus, would not be receiving online instruction from "online classes" of the type limited by the new ICE regulations.

In short, such a simple and inexpensive arrangement would avoid having to move many classes online (to protect faculty and even students at high risk from COVID-19) while still providing those who need it with protection from exposure in a classroom, argues Banzhaf.