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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


FAU shifts international policies in correspondence to educational-foreign relationships law

In May 2023, the Florida House and Senate unanimously passed a bill that prohibits partnerships between state universities and non-U.S. citizens, residing in any of the seven designated “countries of concern.”
Erika Fletcher
Student Services Building

On May 2, 2023, the Florida House and Senate unanimously passed SB 846 a bill prohibiting partnerships, including recruitment programs, between state universities and non-U.S. citizens residing in any of the seven designated “countries of concern”— including China, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Cuba, Syria and North Korea. Effective July 1, 2023, SB 846 restricted the ability of Florida’s public colleges and universities to hire researchers and graduate assistants from these countries, prompting state universities to shift their international policies.

According to the Florida Governor’s website, this law aims to confront the cybersecurity, real estate and academic threats posed by the Communist Party of China and other adversarial foreign powers. Its objective is to make it more difficult for these seven countries to engage in espionage or influence operations within Florida’s borders and prevent their governments from acquiring agricultural land and properties near military bases. 

“Thanks to Governor DeSantis, Florida will not allow foreign adversaries and Communist dictatorships to have insights into some of the most sensitive data and cutting-edge research taking place in U.S. academia,” said Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz in a statement

While the law imposes limitations on such agreements, there is a provision for exceptions: state universities can enter into partnerships or agreements with the foreign countries of concern if both the Board of Trustees (BOT) and the Board of Governors (BOG) approve them. The BOG also can penalize and withhold performance funding from state universities that enter into unauthorized partnerships or agreements.

“This new legislation will have a significant impact on the university’s ability to recruit competitive students to our graduate programs,” said Robert Stackman, dean of the FAU Graduate College at the Boca Raton campus.

According to the Student and Exchange Visitor (SEVIS) database, FAU serves 2,035 international students and scholars in the F and J visa classifications, including degree-seeking students, visiting scholars, interns and students who graduated and are engaged in Optional Practical Training.

As of February 2024, Iran and China are among the top 10 countries represented by international students at FAU. 

International students from the designated “countries of concern” are eligible for admission and enrollment in graduate programs at FAU; however, as of fall 2023, FAU is unable to extend assistantship offers as a consequence of this law, which include financial commitments such as paid positions as graduate teaching assistants or graduate research assistants, to students originating from these countries.

International students from the “countries of concern” already domiciled in the U.S. can be offered assistantship positions, but those individuals will be subject to the foreign screening process and would not require approval by FAU’s Board of Trustees or the Board of Governors.

“As a Cuban-American, I know how Communist countries attempt to infiltrate schools and universities to steal intellectual property and indoctrinate young people with their dangerous and  radical ideology,” said Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz in a government-issued statement.

The UP reached out to the Governor’s Office and Senator Bryan Avila, who sponsored the bill, to ask about motivations behind its introduction, but did not hear back by time of publication. 

FAU faculty expressed some confusion about the interpretation of espionage in this law, considering each international student seeking an assistantship position at a Florida university must undergo the foreign screening process which involves rigorous background checks.

“I think that admitting students in non-critical fields of study does not influence our national security,” said Ali Danesh, FAU professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “We are not admitting students with a questionable background. They go through exams. They go through selection criteria.”

Danesh moved to the United States from Iran at the age of 28 and was granted a graduate assistantship at the University of Memphis.

Many of FAU’s doctoral programs extend assistantship offers to prospective students in the spring for entry in the fall of the same year. Some international students from the “countries of concern” accepted offers in spring 2023 and enrolled for fall 2023; these students, approved before the legislation, underwent FAU’s screening of foreign influence process and are able to continue their assistantships at FAU. However, the university had to rescind any offers international students accepted from these countries for spring 2024.

According to Stackman, there were fewer than 10 rescinded offers to students admitted for spring 2024. 

FAU faculty are also concerned that restricting employment opportunities for these students at universities may dissuade them from choosing Florida as their destination. Typically, students arriving from abroad are limited to employment within the university due to their student visas. They may opt for another state without university funding and face substantially higher out-of-state fees. 

“If you’re preventing [international students] from being graduate teaching assistants, you’re mostly preventing them from coming,” said Eric Berlatsky, associate dean of graduate studies in the College of Arts and Letters at FAU. “There might be an exception or two where someone comes from a rich family… But we’re limiting the pool of students who could be helping in our research and bolstering our programs.”

Danesh echoed Berlatsky’s concerns about restricting international students’ opportunities and highlights the potential broader motivations driving students from overseas to pursue education abroad.

“A lot of young people from these countries, they’re under pressure. If they could pursue their dreams in their own countries, why would they come here ?” Danesh said. “Some of these individuals who want to come here are looking for a new life, they’re looking to contribute.”

According to Stackman, several graduate programs in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Science will be particularly affected as their programs interest students from Iran and China. 

The UP contacted the FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science but did not receive a response for comment before publication time. 

During the BOG regular meeting on March 27, two UF professors attempted to express their opposition to SB 846 during the public comment period, but BOG members interrupted them several times, instructing them to restrict their comments solely to matters directly related to the agenda.

 “Florida should accept brilliant students who come from these countries,” Danesh said. “Do not punish them [for] the actions of their government.” 

While Danesh and Berlatsky advocate for the inclusion of talented students from the affected countries, they also acknowledge the necessity of adhering to Florida’s laws.

“Right now we have to follow the laws of Florida. We have to understand that there is reasoning behind this from a national security point of view,” Berlatsky said. “So, we’re not here to question that, we just want to make it work for us.”

Laurie Mermet is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM laurie.mmt on Instagram.

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About the Contributors
Laurie Mermet
Laurie Mermet, Student Life Editor
Laurie Mermet is a senior pursuing a bachelor's in multimedia journalism with a minor in public relations. 
Erika Fletcher
Erika Fletcher, Lead Photographer
Erika is a senior majoring in multimedia studies with a minor in photography. She loves shooting sports and street photography and in her free time, she enjoys drawing, skateboarding, playing soccer, listening to music, and being with her friends and family. She joined the UP on a whim to make new friends and to get better at photography. In her time here, while not long, she's made connections and learned so much about herself already and can't wait to continue her journey with such great people.

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    SMApr 2, 2024 at 7:54 pm

    I work in FAU graduate admissions. The screening process is a comedy of errors, at best. Dean Stackman should step down. Dr. Berlatsky, or literally anyone else, is better suited to handle this complex issue.