Proposal to ban Iranian students from nuclear physics study sparks heated debate

A debate erupted on blogs last week in response to a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council proposing a prohibition on the education of Iranian students in the field of nuclear physics at any foreign university.

The proposal focuses on thwarting Iran’s nuclear program and suggests banning technical or financial assistance that could aid it in any way, on top of restricting the visas of Iranian students wishing to study nuclear physics abroad.

A self-described Canadian Ph.D. student writing under the alias Arash supported the resolution on the blog Iranian Truth.

“I think they have the right to refrain from educating a person who at the end may help Ahmadinejad build his bomb,” Arash wrote, referring to the current president of Iran.

Blogger Nema Milaninia challenged that view, responding that “by targeting students, the Security Council resolution would not only prevent democratic forces to emerge, but it would actually strengthen the popularity of the Iranian government. Ultimately sanctions that target the Iranian people, are nothing but counter-productive measures which will ultimately strengthen the regime, rather than destroy it.”

Experimental nuclear astrophysicist and assistant professor Kate Jones also questioned the effectiveness of the proposal.

“The kind of information they [nuclear weapons scientists] need to be dangerous they probably already have,” Jones said, adding that “the basics [of nuclear weapon construction] are generally quite well known.”

“We [the United States] want to be competitive,” she continued, “so students should be encouraged to come and stay.”

As opposed to the current situation, where foreign students are able to come study, but then must return to their country, said Jones, a British national, teaching at the University of Tennessee on a visa.

Kamran Abedini, a board member of the Association of Professors and Scholars of Iranian Heritage, said the large American universities would not allow such a measure to take effect.

For although this particular proposition centers on students of nuclear physics, the possibility of a slippery slope effect, eventually touching other disciplines, is a reality schools do not want to face in the future.

“The president of Stanford University brought up the point that seven out of his top ten PhD students are Iranian,” Abedini said, if those students are prohibited to come here, “the PhD program would shut down.”

In fact, Abedini said, many universities are sending more professors to foreign lands to recruit bright students to continue their studies in the United States.

Abedini is also a professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering at California Polytechnic Institute who originally entered the United States as a student.

The conversation on Iranian Truth degenerated into name calling as a blogger describing himself as American wrote, “It’s about time to stop the immigration of these virulently anti-american vermins,” followed by a response from Milaninia, “Umm.you’re an idiot, nuff said.”

When the outlying comments are disregarded, an intelligent discussion on a hot issue persists in the academic community as the Security Council decides whether to adopt the resolution or return to the drawing board once again.

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