UMass Amherst Reverses Policy Banning Iranian Students in Nuclear Science Programs

Nancy Palmieri/AP
Nancy Palmieri/AP

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has reversed its recently announced policy of banning foreign students from Iran who wish to enroll in advanced graduate courses with content related to the development of nuclear capabilities.

After consulting with the State Department, the university announced Thursday that it would drop the ban put into effect earlier in the month and continue to allow Iranian students to enroll in graduate classes in chemical, electrical, computer, mechanical, and industrial engineering, microbiology, physics, and polymer science.

According to, UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy apologized for the ban, though many faculty wanted to hear more than an apology.

“I have accepted responsibility for the way it came out,” Subbaswamy said. “We’ve come together as a community, and we now understand how to move forward. That will be much more inclusive, much more consultation, in terms of how we comply with the law.”

“Iranian students are the 3rd largest foreign cohort of students,” computer science professor Emery Berger said. “You know, we are concerned that this is giving people the wrong impression. This should’ve never ever happened, and it can’t happen again. And people who are responsible should pay some kind of price.”

As UPI reported, the university’s announcement of the ban was put into place in keeping with the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 that stipulates that Iranians cannot be issued a visa to study in the United States if they plan to enter the nuclear or energy fields.

The act bans providing “through a direct operational role or by other means…technological knowledge or equipment not previously available to Iran that could contribute materially to the ability of Iran to develop nuclear weapons or related technologies.”

However, the State Department reportedly told NBC News that a blanket ban is a misleading characterization of the law and that applicants to the graduate programs can be evaluated on an individual basis.

On its website, the university announced the reversal of the ban by stating, “The decision to revise the university’s approach follows consultation with the State Department and outside counsel.”

“This approach reflects the university’s longstanding commitment to wide access to educational opportunities,” said Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement. “We have always believed that excluding students from admission conflicts with our institutional values and principles. It is now clear, after further consultation and deliberation, that we can adopt a less restrictive policy.”

Leila Golestaneh Austin, executive director of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans – which urged UMass to reconsider its policy – said she was satisfied with the reversal of the ban.

“What we were concerned about there was the broad application of the law,” Austin told NBC News. “If they had any concerns about liability, which I understand, they should have talked to the State Department. It sounds like that’s what happened.”

As reported, the announcement of the ban sparked a backlash on social media, including a petition urging the State Department and the university to reverse the policy.

UMass, according to NBC News, has about 60 Iranian students on its Amherst campus, most of which are in graduate level programs. More than 10,000 Iranian nationals are currently studying in U.S. universities, mostly in graduate programs. More than half of these students are in engineering programs.

Other universities with policies that address Iranian students in relation to the U.S. sanctions are Virginia Commonwealth University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.