Burning Bridges?

The journal Science reports this week that Southern Illinois University (SIU) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are possibly facing a suit by the Department of Justice unless they curtail a controversial scholarship program. SIU supports some graduates via the National Science Foundation's (NSF) "Bridge to Doctorate" scholarship program. "The Bridge To Doctorate" scholarship helps fund graduate minorities, women, and students with disabilities who study science and math. Science reports that the program is being targeted because it "engage[s] in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, nonpreferred minorities, and males". The University has previously been warned about three of its scholarships, according to the school paper, "The Daily Egyptian". The National Institute of Health NIH has a similiar "Bridges To Doctorate" program.

There is an oft stated goal in education that it's important to actively recruit qualified minorities to science, yet across the country there are groups fighting against such programs. The issue continues to be a hot button civil rights issue and since the University of Michigan admissions policy case, schools that appear to be crafting programs that specifically use race as a selection factor are pressured to curtail their programs.

On the subject of recruiting more people to science and math, the U.S. continues to try to recruit from abroad. However the Financial Times reports today that the US Commerce Department proposes restricting certain research opportunities to scientists who are U.S. nationals or citizens of strong allies like the U.K.. A United States rule requires a government export license for researchers working with military technology who are citizens of some countries, including China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and those in the former Soviet Union. There are concerns that Chinese researchers who become residents of non-restricted countries, like Canada or Australia, then work in the U.S on these technologies somehow pose a security threat. The new proposal purportedly aims to restrict these Chinese born researchers even though they are citizens of Canada, Australia, U.K. But is this story only a rumor? The U.S. Department of Commerce site notes that the reported change in the rules is a mistake, the old rule still applies:

"'Applications for foreign nationals with temporary or permanent residence status of a third country (i.e., non-U.S. and a temporary or permanent residence status other than a foreign national's country of origin) should be based on the foreign national's country of citizenship.' This is not correctly stated, the policy in recognizing the most current citizenship and permanent residency still applies."

The Department of Justice site notes all "foreign nationals", not necessarily those of select countries - its somewhat unclear. Finally, Carl Bialik suggests that perhaps our shorts are tied in a knot about education for naught. He writes in "Sounding the Alarm With a Fuzzy Stat", that the statistics used to support the contention that the U.S. is falling behind in global science education are spurious. He writes that he tried fruitlessly to track down the origin of this statement: "Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China. In India, the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.". He concludes that the cited graduation figures are incorrect, China's are overestimated and probably India's too, he says; America's are underestimated. Clearly the U.S. seems to be falling behind, but this story, if true, indicates that some of the statistics used to support these stories misstated.

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