Universities Adjust to Changes Brought After the Attacks of Sept. 11

Beyond the publicity-seeking protests and the condescending “teach-ins,” the effects of the war on terror and the aftermath of Sept. 11 on universities have been subtle but significant. In some respects, universities have been asked to contribute to U.S. security efforts in ways other sectors could not.

In his State of the Union address of this year, President Bush proposed beginning “Project Bioshield,” which would be a “major research and production effort” to help the country fight bioterrorism. Bush requested $6 billion from Congress to fund research and development of vaccines and treatments against anthrax, botulinum toxin, the Ebola virus, and other dangerous toxins.

The bioterror concern is also affecting university hospitals, as they have to train and prepare emergency responses for a possible bioterror attack. Such responses include preemptive strikes, so to speak, such as inoculations against smallpox.

The passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 opened the door for researchers at universities to receive millions of dollars to fund projects related to homeland security. UNC-CH associate vice chancellor for research Robert Lowman told The Daily Tar Heel of last September that, depending upon the funding elements used, UNC-CH faculty could receive as much as $20 million in research projects.

Three researchers from N.C. State, one from UNC-CH, and one from Duke were among the recipients of the $27 million’s worth of grants announced in March by the Department of Defense.

The most pressing concern may be that of tracking foreign students. Under the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Services, hopelessly lax record-keeping allowed terrorists, including those responsible for Sept. 11, to slip in the nation unnoticed, taking advantage of the INS’s offers of amnesty, student visas, marriage, status adjustments, and other offers.

A prime concern for universities is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which is a massive database managed by the new Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. SEVIS was designed to reduce the U.S.’s vulnerability to immigration fraud, especially involving student visas.

SEVIS was delayed in its scheduled implementation of January 30, however, because universities found the system very difficult to use. In March 2003 Justice Dept. report cast a lot of doubt on the effectiveness of SEVIS. Among the findings: the INS did not complete certification reviews of all institutions, the SEVIS database currently contains information only on new students as opposed to all foreign students, the INS did not adequately train or supervise adjudicators who decide if an institution is genuine, no procedures to use SEVIS for fraud detection had been developed, and the INS had not reviewed universities’ record-keeping to sniff out any fraud that had occurred.

In a related matter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has actively sought more contact and interaction with campus police departments to further counterterrorism efforts.

UNC-Charlotte is one of only 11 schools in the U.S. offering the Federal Cyber Corps Scholarship for Service program, which trains students how to protect critical information in the digital age. NC A&T offers the Cyber Corps program by television through UNCC.

The program began during the Clinton administration over Y2K concerns, but after Sept. 11 its funding was greatly increased. UNCC enrolled its first students in Fall 2001, and its received $150,000 in funding. In 2002, UNCC received a hefty increase in funding — over $2 million.

Students in the Cyber Corps have their tuition, books, room, and board paid for, receive a monthly stipend of $1000, work summer internships, and are expected to work in a U.S. agency for two years after graduation. To join the program, students must be U.S. citizens and have a GPA of at least 3.0. They likely need to procure national security clearance as well.

Along those lines, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to create science and technology scholarships for graduate students. Recipients would need to procure security clearances of “secret” or above and also either be employed by or eligible for employment in an intelligence agency.

University study abroad programs have been dealing with greater uncertainty since the terror attacks, but so far the impact on recruitment appears to be minimal. Students’ safety is of course the biggest concern, which would tend to depress recruitment. On the other hand, it appears that students’ renewed interest in international events has offset that effect. (What may have a significant negative effect on study abroad programs is fear over the new disease SARS.)

Recently, the state Senate passed 45-0 a bill that would would have UNC institutions or N.C. community colleges charge only in-state tuition rates for students in the military. The measure is now before the House.