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SEMO officials: Paperwork for Nafis was done appropriately

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

(Photo)
This image taken from the social networking site Google Plus shows an undated photo of Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis - the same man, who according to witnesses, appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 to face charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida. The Bangladeshi man was arrested Wednesday after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb outside the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.
(AP Photo)
From the time they recruited Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis until the day they transferred his paperwork, Southeast Missouri State University officials said Tuesday they never broke protocol or procedures in their brief affiliation with the former international student charged last week with trying to blow up the Federal Reserve building in New York.

For that matter, the officials said, they never saw anything that would warrant alarm or rouse suspicion during any of their dealings with the 21-year-old native of Bangladesh who was in Cape Girardeau for the spring semester.

"If anything would have happened with this, it would have happened in New York after he left here," said Zahir Ahmed, the university's director of international education and services. "I don't see how we could have done anything different."

Ahmed and Debbie Below, vice president of enrollment, insisted Tuesday in interviews with the Southeast Missourian that, while there was one blip during his admissions process, Nafis was in full compliance with federal rules in the five months he was here.

Each official said not to expect policy changes in reaction to the Nafis arrest. But one change was made after Nafis transferred but before his arrest that would have kept him from Southeast if he had enrolled today. Starting this fall, the university no longer accepts international students with gaps of more than one year like Nafis had without transcripts from previous enrollment at foreign universities, like Nafis' records from a school in his native Bangladesh.

Their comments came on a day that U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson joined a chorus of officials calling for federal investigations into how international students are tracked and, specifically, how Nafis bypassed government screenings done to combat terrorism.

Emerson doesn't believe that Southeast dropped the ball, she said Tuesday.

"I think most people would want our intelligence services to do everything necessary to find out how serious our national security threat got in the first place," Emerson said.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the inspector general of the U.S. State Department to launch a probe into how Nafis could be granted a student visa that allowed him to live and study in the U.S.

Schumer also wants the Department of Homeland Security to investigate Nafis' request to Southeast to transfer his school records with an eye toward answering the question of whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should have denied the request.

Given that Nafis' case remains an ongoing investigation, a spokesman for the enforcement agency declined to comment.

Emerson on Tuesday said no one should mind thorough answers to complicated questions that could have far-reaching affects on the country's 720,000 international students.

"It's not that I'm against us having international students," Emerson said. "They provide some diversity. But perhaps we're not doing careful enough scrutiny. That's worth taking a look at."

Nafis was enrolled in Southeast full-time taking prerequisite courses toward a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity during the spring semester.

But before that he had to do what every other of the 830 international students presently enrolled at Southeast had to do -- he had to apply. In a process Below and Ahmed described as nuanced, Nafis was recruited to come to Southeast in the university's efforts to maintain a diverse campus. With nearly 40 percent of Southeast's 11,000 students coming from the greater St. Louis area and another 10 percent from Illinois, only 6 percent of students here come here from 53 countries.

Ahmed makes trips to several countries and had to cut short such a trip when the news about Nafis broke. While he doesn't recall Nafis specifically, Ahmed said he is fairly certain Nafis must have attended one of the recruitment sessions when he was there last year.

Nafis did apply, but Below said that his application did not include a copy of his transcripts from his time at a private university in his home country. Below said the university does request in writing that all international applications include copies of such transcripts, but she said it is not uncommon for international students to overlook it.

She insisted that the oversight was not odd in light of what came later. She also said published reports that suggested his grades at the institution were terrible were inaccurate. She described his grades there as mediocre and noted that his initial admission to Southeast was based on his high-school grades and scores on a national exam that's similar to the ACT in the U.S.

While some have emphasized that omission, Below said that it's not uncommon for that to happen and that, in Nafis' case, it came to their attention after he had been admitted. He was immediately put on academic probation, she said. When his course work this spring was substandard -- his overall grade-point-average was below 2.0, Below said -- he was sent a letter saying he could not enroll this fall.

Nafis appealed that decision and was overruled. Shortly after, he asked the university to transfer his records to a school in Brooklyn, N.Y. That, Ahmed said, was also done in compliance with federal guidelines. Homeland Security was notified about Nafis' request in accordance with immigration rules.

But Below and Ahmed said they don't expect recruitment efforts to stall or that fewer international students will be interested in coming to Southeast.

"We have a very good reputation in a lot of different countries," Ahmed said. "I'm confident that when the numbers come out next semester, we'll be fine."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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1 University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MO


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"The course" being more or less than 18 hours per week is a little ambiguous.

Are they talking about how many hours per week the student "works at being a student?" or how many credit hours enrolled in?

It would be less murky if they spoke of "enrolled in X credit hours," and this guy was apparently enrolled in 12. That number, by the way, is what lots of schools consider the dividing line between "part time" and "full time" student status, as an undergraduate. Lots of schools require you to be enrolled as a full time student for things like campus housing, etc.

Being enrolled in 18 credit hours is, certainly in the sciences and engineering, very demanding. Very few students routinely enroll in 18 or more hours per semester, at least repeatedly. You can make sense of this if you think of a credit hour as an hour of lecture per week...for every ONE of those, a person should study 2-4 hours outside. It rapidly gets to be full-time. (18 x 4 = 72.)

Just starting out, certainly in another country with cultural and language barriers to deal with as well, 72 hours of work is a lot. Non traditional students (those with prior military/work/life experience) can handle 72 hours of work/week, no problem, but not usually the 20 year old. Not usually...always there are exceptions.

Student visa program needs to be tightened up on considerably. Oops, did I just call for more regulations? Charles Schumer will be all over that. The problem is, the number of regulations seem to be inversely proportional to the effectiveness of government.

-- Posted by Givemeliberty on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 7:26 AM

"If your course of study is 18 hours or more a week, you will need a student visa. When traveling to the U.S. to attend seminars, conferences or a program of study for academic credit then you will need a student visa."

I think what it is trying to spell out is the type of visa that is required. The specifications do not say that 18 hours is required. In fact, when traveling to the U.S. for a seminar or conference or a program of study for academic credit, it is rare that those are 18 hours of study, and the stipulation clearly calls for a student visa in those circumstances.

-- Posted by Beaker on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 9:01 AM

YOU try to get admitted into SEMO without your previous college transcripts. They'd laugh at you. But this guy, because he was a foreign student, did not have to submit his transcripts. That policy, if it is one, needs to change.

BTW: I'm a SEMO graduate.

-- Posted by Raunchy on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 9:12 AM

Raunchy: I've been admitted to college while omitting a previous college transcript. I had only taken a couple classes at a different college and didn't do great in them, thus it was better to avoid transferring them over and damaging my GPA.

How would you determine if a student had previous college transcripts to transfer or not? Perhaps they spent a year or two working or traveling after high school.

-- Posted by Nil on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 9:24 AM

-- Posted by Me'Lange on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 8:15 AM

The anti-foreign student bashing is not necessary. All of your posting about 6% vs. 7.5% vs. 18 hours vs. 12 hours and "recruiting" etc. etc. has nothing to do with the fact that this guy tried to create a bomb in NEW YORK. His radical ideology is the problem. I guess you would be happier if he had 18 hours and was an "A" student and flew a plane into the Sears tower in Chicago?

It's irrelevant. He's a radical muslim terrorist. 12 hours vs. 18 hours? Really?

-- Posted by Dug on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 9:28 AM

Raunchy and Nil -- the US now has a national database that can be verified if you took college courses in the US previously. So Nil, that wouldn't happen now.

HOWEVER to Raunchy, other countries do not have this type of database. If a kid from Bangladesh doesn't tell you, LIES to you on the application, there is no way to verify that he attended a college in a foreign country. These other countries don't have this sort of database. Some of these countries barely know who their own citizens are and if they attended a high school or not, let alone whether they attended a college for 1 semester somewhere in the world.

Semo caught the fact that Nafis LIED on his application once he arrived to the campus.

-- Posted by PatK on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 10:19 AM

Regarding "anti-foreign student bashing comment, irritability with other posters is not necessary.

What is important is the rules. We all have to live under the rules. Otherwise, get rid of the rules, because it's a demoralizing charade to promulgate rules that are haphazardly followed.

I stand by my statement that 18 cr. hours in science/math/engineering is hard to pull off. Now, if 3 of those hours are EFL, and 3 of those hours are something like "International Student Adjustment" (I'm making this particular one up), then there's 12 hours for calculus, computer programming, language course, history course. This starts to sound a tad more achievable, but still a hectic course load for a newbie in another country. So this 18 hour "rule" is a little surprising...not sure he broke any rule by being enrolled in 12, in other words; I'm not sure 18 means 18 cr. hours.

The "recruiting" I'm most interested in is that of federal law enforcement "recruiting" some gullible/academically floundering/homesick young person of a convenient religious and ethnic background for the purposes of whipping up continued anti-Muslim hysteria and appetite for wars which we cannot afford because we are BROKE.

-- Posted by Givemeliberty on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 10:43 AM

WHY DO WE RECRUIT FOREIGN STUDENTS AT ALL? ARE THEY MORE LUCRATIVE FOR THE UNIVERSITY?

WITH THE INCREASED RISK OF FOREIGN STUDENTS BEING TERRORISTS... (SORRY IF THAT SEEMS TO BE PROFILING...BUT THE FACTS ARE THE FACTS!)WHY WOULD WE INTENTIONALLY GIVE THEM AN OPEN DOOR TO OUR COUNTRY IN THIS AGE OF HEIGHTENED ALERTNESS TO SECURTIY THREATS?

-- Posted by firstmissouri on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 11:20 AM

Where did this guy get the $ to subsist here, etc.? Semo needs to focus on more books in Kent-less coffee stands; less fountains on Broadway; etc. Develop quality not quantity-based recruiting of Pell grantees and foreign nationals...I, too, attended Semo...but, don't tell anybody. Shoulda/Coulda gone to a better school but didnt listen to my dad.

-- Posted by Bearcat66 on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 11:24 AM

There are millions of foreign students that pay cash to attend American universities. A huge majority of them are hard working and love the United States. They don't get massive government (aka taxpayer) money and they cannot work in the United States (take your job) on a student visa.

Timothy McVeigh, the Colorado massacre guy, the columbine massacre kids, etc. were not foreigners yet committed acts of terror. Terrorism doesn't come in colors or countries. If we screen them properly I'm OK with them. If they are radical in any way (muslim or not) ban them from entry into the US.

If you don't like them or don't want them here that's ok - you have a right to feel that way. I'm just trying to point out that they are overwhelmingly good people that work hard to get a better education and generally pay full price to attend. Many of them are funded by their governments that have a lot of cash on hand - China, Saudi Arabia, etc. Some of them pay their way or their parents help out. Education is a "product" that we sell and many foreign students want to buy it. I'll take their cash.

-- Posted by Dug on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 12:02 PM

Dug,

What you say is true; many are funded by their government, pay full price, etc. and education is a "product" we have to sell. The universities do have to make adjustments, though...they've got to staff an international affairs department, and add lots of ESL teaching, for example, especially for foreign grad. students before they can get up in front of a class.

Oh, well, who cares, it "creates jobs." That makes it unassailable!

We should think a little, I believe, about national and cultural identity*, though. Is that important? Should we respect those ideas in any way? Someone who is a citizen of another country might, when pushed hard enough, support that country over this one. I'm not talking about xenophobia, cultural elitism, unfounded suspicion of others...I'm just saying, does it seem to be a time to step back a little from the (seemingly) foolhardy open-arms approach, since it's causing us no small bit of trouble, and tighten up a bit on things like student visas?

*Spare me the references to Nazi Germany.

-- Posted by Givemeliberty on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 12:31 PM

irritability with other posters is not necessary. -- Posted by Givemeliberty on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 10:43 AM

If you want to defend a name-calling poster have at it. I won't.

-- Posted by Dug on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 12:32 PM

Someone who is a citizen of another country might, when pushed hard enough, support that country over this one. -- Posted by Givemeliberty on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 12:31 PM

There is no doubt in my mind you are right. Any chinese, saudi, french, italian - on an on - will support their country over ours. I would think less of them if they didn't support their country over ours.

If my son or daughter goes to Europe to school I would hope they would support the US over France, Italy - wherever. We're not talking citizens here, we're talking foreign students.

If they are taking orders from their government to kill Amercans? That's different. But I don't think that 99% of them are here to kill Americans. They just want to attend college. I could be wrong.

-- Posted by Dug on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 12:36 PM

Southeast will continue to bring in more and more international students to make up for the decline in domestic admissions. It's all about the money.

-- Posted by Whatacrock on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 1:28 PM

It's actually about exposing our students to global diversity. 18 hours refers to a short course that someone could take if visiting on a tourist visa, it is not referring to the requirements to get a student visa if planning to study longer term, work on a degree, etc.

-- Posted by CalavoMan on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 2:20 PM

Tighter security measures should be put in to place regarding situations like we just had right here at our back door step. I agree with Rep Jo Ann Emerson and Senator Shumer out of New York on his/her assessments.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 2:32 PM

We need a new cabinet position! Right NOW!

"Department of Foreign Student Affairs," with about 100,000 employees, and at least that many new regulations. Should take a roughly 2,800 page bill to put into effect.

That will fix everything.

-- Posted by Givemeliberty on Wed, Oct 24, 2012, at 7:48 PM


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