Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The War on Academics

The Chronicle of Higher Education (Chronicle.com), In Mysterious Case, U.S. Withholds Visa From Bolivian Scholar Hired to Teach at U. of Nebraska, By Burton Bollag, Monday, February 20, 2006

A Bolivian scholar hired by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has been unable to take up his post because the federal government has withheld his visa. The case has again raised concerns of what critics have described as the arbitrary use of government power to keep foreign academics out of the United States.

Waskar T. Ari, a member of Bolivia's largest indigenous group, earned a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University in 2005 and was hired by Nebraska as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies. His job was to have begun last August.

Barbara S. Weinstein, a history professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, called the situation "very disturbing." Ms. Weinstein is president-elect of the American Historical Association, which has spoken out in behalf of Mr. Ari.

The government's reason for not issuing the visa, she speculated, seems related to his ethnicity. "He has certainly never been a member of any movement that would be of a security concern to the U.S. government," she said.

Mr. Ari, a member of the Aymara people of Bolivia, is a scholar of the religious beliefs and political activism among indigenous Bolivians. He has served as a consultant on social and economic issues facing the Aymara with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other organizations. Last December Bolivia elected its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, a leftist who has opposed U.S.-backed efforts to eradicate the cultivation of the coca plant. Coca is the main ingredient in cocaine. Mr.

Morales is also an Aymara.

Peter S. Levitov, Nebraska's associate dean of international affairs, said the history department was "particularly excited" to have hired Mr. Ari. His specialty in the indigenous peoples of the Andes region would make a fruitful match with the department's strengths in indigenous peoples of the central part of the United States, he said.

In a letter sent last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and subsequently made public, the historical association wrote: "We recognize that there may be individuals who pose a genuine security risk ... However, in Dr. Ari's case, we feel there are no perceptible grounds for such treatment. Within the Aymara community of Bolivia, he is widely recognized as a voice of moderation."

Mr. Ari's situation recalls the case of Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Muslim scholar who was appointed to a tenured professorship at the University of Notre Dame in 2004 but was unable to assume the post after the federal government revoked his visa (The Chronicle, September 10, 2004). Mr.

Ramadan subsequently took a position at a British university (The Chronicle, September 9, 2005).

Last month the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging a provision of the USA Patriot Act that was used to deny a visa to Mr. Ramadan (The Chronicle, February 10). In the lawsuit, the ACLU said the government was using the provision broadly to exclude from the United States people whose views it disfavors.

Last June, shortly after it hired Mr. Ari, the University of Nebraska paid $1,000 for an expedited application to the U.S. immigration service to have him declared eligible to apply for a visa for a professional job in the United States. Today, eight months later, the service's Web site shows the application as "pending."

The university says it has not received any explanation from the immigration service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

But it appears that the government has classified Mr. Ari as a threat to American security. Mr. Ari had been living in the Washington area when he was hired by Nebraska, and returned home to Bolivia for what he expected would be a short stay to settle his affairs and pick up a new visa. But when he visited the U.S. Consulate last summer in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, U.S. officials took his passport and stamped "canceled" over his student visa, which was about to expire anyway.

Asked about the situation, a spokeswoman at the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs checked Mr. Ari's file and said the cancellation of his old visa was done under a terrorism-related section of U.S. legislation on the granting of visas. "We have derogatory information that renders him ineligible," she said, but declined to add any further information.

Reached by telephone at his home in La Paz, Mr. Ari described being in a kind of limbo, waiting for the United States to make a decision on his case.

Initially, when he was unable to return to the United States, he worked in a real-estate agency "just to pay the bills," he said. Now he has a temporary teaching job at Bolivia's biggest public institution, the Greater University of San Andrés.

Mr. Ari is one of very few members of the Aymara to have attained a Ph.D.

When he enrolled at a university two decades ago, however, "it was very hard to get a higher education in Bolivia if you had an indigenous name," he said. So he applied under an assumed name, "Juan Arias." Only halfway through his graduate studies in the United States did he decide to start using his real name again.

Mr. Ari said that he considers the United States like his second "fatherland," adding that "many indigenous people think I'm too pro-American."

"It must be some big mistake," he said of his situation, adding, "I believe in justice. The truth will win out."



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