An Oct. 18 resolution passed by the student senate of the University of California, Irvine, would recommend that the school offer reserved seats and scholarships for college-aged displaced Syrian refugees, and provide details regarding the funding for such, by the end of the current academic year.
The resolution (R52-12), introduced by student senator Zeina Mousa, passed unanimously during the Oct. 18 senate meeting. It will be reviewed by the senate advocacy committee and then passed along to the school administration.
If passed, the school would be asked to draft a plan to offer academic seats, housing, and funding to Syrian students aged 18-22, as well as other students displaced by conflict. The assistance provided by the school would include, but not be limited to, full or partial scholarships to these incoming students.
“As long as there is one American citizen that, despite meeting qualifications, cannot get into a university or receive a scholarship due to difficult circumstances, we have no room to help non-Americans receive a higher education using our education system,” said College Republicans at UC Irvine president and Refined Right senior contributor Ariana Rowlands. “We need to help our own people with want first. Taking seats away from deserving American citizens and giving them to refugees is just political pandering at the expense of citizens already here, further requiring them to look to government for a handout, in turn furthering government’s power.”
According to the text of the bill, available online: “Syrians face an ‘academic emergency’ due to a breakdown of higher education within their country.” The bill cites the Syria Scholarships program, run by the Institute for International Education, as a motivating factor behind the resolution, and encourages the UCI administration to join a list of schools already participating in the program.
The bill claims that 90,000 to 110,000 Syrian students are qualified for the scholarships program. UC Irvine admits an average of 30,000 students per year. While the scholarships program would presumably cover a portion of the cost of tuition and housing, it was not clear how this funding would be split between the program and the university.
The bill cites other schools already participating in the program, including Illinois Institute of Technology, Bryn Mawr College, and Michigan State University. The University of Southern California also recently signed onto the program, detailed in an Oct. 9 report by the Washington Post.
An online petition called Books Not Bombs has amassed over 11,000 signatures from students at a growing list of colleges. The UCI petition, started by Sara Boukai, has gathered 151 out of 200 necessary signatures as of publication.
The University of California system has already been active in participating in these petitions. In September, Books Not Bombs created a campaign video at UC Berkeley, which has the largest number of signatures on its petition.
UC Irvine has been home to multiple controversies regarding displays of anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian protests. A May assault by members of Students for Justice in Palestine resulted in academic sanctions amounting to an “educational program.” Another protest in May disrupted a Holocaust Remembrance Day memorial service.
The Syria Scholarships program, launched in 2014, offers up to $50,000 to students of Syrian citizenship who have been displaced on account of the ongoing civil war. Students must speak English and “have clear academic, professional, and personal goals.” Additionally, they “should demonstrate civic engagement and the desire to help rebuild their home country.”
The Institute for International Education is a nonprofit organization founded in 1919 which allows opportunities for students internationally, particularly giving preference to students from developing nations who would otherwise not be allowed academic opportunities in their home country. IIE notably offered American students study-abroad opportunities in Europe following WWII, and reciprocated by allowing Eastern European students to relocate to the United States during the Cold War.
In an Oct. 20 statement from the UC Irvine College Republicans, the club harshly denounced the resolution. “We cannot allow political correctness to overshadow reality,” the statement read. “While it would be ideal that our system allows us to help all those in want, such is not possible if a fair, merit-based, financially stable system is to be upheld.”