International students provide a service to UF

Published: Monday, November 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 31, 2004 at 10:52 p.m.
In response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Department of Homeland Security implemented the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a web-based system for maintaining information on international students while they are residing in the United States.
International Students pay for the cost of operating the SEVIS system through $100 fee that must be paid before international students can even apply for a visa. In addition to the $100 SEVIS fee and $100 visa fee required by the federal government, international students at the University of Florida are now being asked to pay a $50 per semester "international student fee" to meet the extra demands placed on UF by SEVIS.
While most universities in Florida have absorbed these costs into their general operating budget, UF administrators chose to pass these costs on to their international students despite protests and appeals from the graduate student employee union and the international student community.
The argument for the International Student Fee seems simple when described by UF International Center Dean Dennis Jett.
"When you have a service provided to students, it is paid for by the students who use it or by all students or by taxpayers from Florida," he said. "The position at the federal and now, presumably, the university level is that students who use this service have to pay the fee."
There are two major problems with the rationale behind this argument.
The first is the question of whether or not international students are really "using" a "service," as Dean Jett suggests. The International Student Fee helps the federal government track and monitor international students. Is paying to have yourself unwillingly placed under government surveillance really a service "provided to" and "used" by international students?
I contend that the service is really being provided to American citizens who feel safer when international students are being closely monitored. At the very least, one must concede that preventing terrorism (which is the ultimate aim of the fee) is a service to everyone residing in the United States.
The other problem with Jett's rationale is that it implies that only those students who utilize a university service should pay for it. Under this logic all the services provided by the Disabilities Service Center should be paid for only by those students with disabilities, and Latino students should exclusively pick up the tab for the Institute of Hispanic and Latino Cultures.
Fortunately, people realize the value added from having these students and institutions on campus and are willing to help fund them. Why should the costs associated with having International Students on campus be any different? Why should international students be the only demographic group on campus that has to pay their own special fee?
Realizing the hefty economic burden being placed exclusively on international students by charging them a $50 per semester fee, UF's Student Government is considering recommending a $5 fee for all students as an alternative. Dean Jett has stated that he is in favor of the new proposal to spread the fee amongst all UF students and suggested that it would "help UF project a more welcoming image to international students" at a time when "we find ourselves competing for international students as the number of nationwide applicants drops."
While the across the board fee proposal being discussed by student government would be better than the current situation, Graduate Assistants United (GAU), the university's graduate student employee union, has taken the position that the fee being levied upon all international students since the 2002-2003 academic year was imposed illegally and without proper authority. GAU lawyers are in the process of bringing their case before the Florida Board of Governors for a final decision.
In the mean time, graduate applications from abroad fell 35 percent this year and admissions slid by 20 percent. Based on those figures Dean Jett calculates Fall enrollment of international students to decline by about 50 percent.
If President Machen's vision of making UF a top ten university is to become a reality, UF administrators must realize the importance of recruiting and retaining quality international students. To make itself competitive and prosperous, UF needs to continue to draw from an international pool of applicants.
When the very best international research and teaching assistants choose to attend UF, they do a service to the university, not vice versa. Hence, it is the responsibility of administrators to make UF as internationally appealing as possible. Unfairly charging international students to study and work here is a step in the wrong direction.
Victor Romano is co-president of Graduate Assistants United (GAU).

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