By Collin Binkley AP Education Writer
US colleges are withdrawing students from study abroad programs in Russia, ending research partnerships and severing financial ties as part of a global wave of condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine.
At the same time, colleges have pledged to support Russian students on their campuses, fighting back calls from a few in Congress to remove them from the country as a sanction against their home country.
The moves are largely symbolic — US colleges have little power to influence Russia or squeeze its finances, and academic exchanges between the nations have historically been tenuous. But the suggestion that some or all Russian students should forgo the opportunity to study here has drawn renewed attention to the role of universities in global struggles.
Last academic year, US colleges hosted nearly 5,000 students from Russia, less than 1% of all international students. Advocates of international education say losing these students would forfeit a chance to expose them to Western ideals, and they say Russians choosing to study in America are already more likely to want a change at home.
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“Leaders need to differentiate between Putin and Russians who want a better life,” said Jill Welch, a senior adviser to the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of university presidents. “Sending someone back wouldn’t shorten a war by a day.”
Many universities have called for sympathy for students from Russia who, like those from Ukraine, may fear for the safety of family members or face sudden financial difficulties.
In a message to students, the Columbia University president said students from both countries face a “confusing and uncertain path.”
At the University of Washington, President Ana Mari Cauce said the campus stands by Ukraine, “but must also be careful that the actions of Russia’s authoritarian government do not affect our treatment of Russian students, academics and community members who play no part in their policies . ”
Some in Congress have pushed for visa restrictions on Russian students. Last month, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told CNN that the US should consider “thrown every Russian student out of the United States” to provoke a backlash against Vladimir Putin in Russia.
The idea has found little support in Washington, but the White House later hinted that its separate sanctions against Russian oligarchs are aimed in part at blocking access to US universities.
“What we’re talking about here is confiscating their assets, confiscating their yachts and making it harder for them to send their children to colleges and universities in the West,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week while discussing the sanctions.
University leaders are not fighting the idea that oligarchs and their children should lose access to American education. But broader measures against Russian students would evoke echoes of American discrimination against Japanese and German immigrants during World War II, proponents say.
“In our country, we don’t punish children for the crimes of their parents,” said Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities and past president of Case Western Reserve University. “You have to think carefully about the consequences of attacking people because of their country of origin.”
For many colleges, the first priority has been to remove American students studying in Russia or Ukraine, although few are believed to have been there. A total of 1,400 Americans studied in these countries in 2018, and the total number of studies abroad has fallen sharply during the pandemic.
Vermont’s Middlebury College suspended a study abroad program in Russia in late February, citing safety concerns and urging the 12 students to return home. Among them was Zavier Ridgley, who was studying in Moscow, when he was told to book a flight home quickly.
The 22-year-old said he respected the decision but was disappointed. As a senior at Tulane University, he had been trying to get into the Middlebury program since 2019, but it had been delayed by the pandemic.
“The month I’ve been here was the opportunity of a lifetime and it’s really terribly sad that it was cut short so abruptly,” said Ridgley, who has since returned home.
Other schools have joined the ban on student travel to Russia and some, including Dartmouth College, have canceled upcoming study abroad programs. A growing number are also cutting financial and academic ties to censure Putin, but the US response has been more diffuse compared to Europe, where nations like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark have ordered universities to freeze academic exchanges with Russia.
Shortly after the invasion began, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced it was ending its partnership with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, a research university it co-founded near Moscow in 2011. MIT officials called this a rejection of “unacceptable military action against Ukraine.”
After Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last week urged universities to cut their investments in Russia, the University of Colorado announced it would divest all of its holdings in the country, including $3.5 million in mutual funds.
Several other states, including Virginia, Ohio and Arizona, have also advised colleges to withdraw investment.
Arizona public university presidents told the state Monday they were severing financial and academic ties with Russia in response to an executive order from the state’s governing council. Arizona State University announced it is divesting a corporate training center in Moscow affiliated with its business school.
Other colleges are considering contracts or financial donations from Russian sources, but some had no plans to return the money or close deals.
According to U.S. Department of Education records, Stanford University received $1.6 million in December 2020 through a contract with an unnamed Russian source. A spokesman for the university said the deal was for online business courses and that Stanford was “fully compliant” with US sanctions.
Last year, Rutgers University announced a new contract with Russia. The school said it has an agreement with the Russian State Humanities University in Moscow for research and information sharing until November 2023. Officials said the agreement is currently inactive.
AP reporter Lisa Rathke contributed to this report from Marshfield, Vermont.
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