Students and faculty received an email from the Office of Provost David Wu on March 30th explaining the university’s policy on complying with United States export controls and economic sanctions. According to the email, Mason is currently updating its procedures and training programs to help researchers understand the legal impacts of these policies.
The new training program comes in the form of a webinar and can be found on MyMason under the “Organizations” tab. According to Shannon MacMichael, Director of Export Compliance and Secure Research at Mason, the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative previously provided the export control training programs.
“We decided to develop our own training program after feedback from faculty that CITI did not provide enough practical guidance regarding export compliance,” said MacMichael.
The Office of Research Integrity and Assurance defines export controls as federal laws that restrict the exportation of technology, equipment, and information “for reasons of foreign policy and national security.” For Mason students and faculty, the export controls and sanctions limit to whom and with whom researchers can collaborate or share information.
The Department of State, Department of Treasury and Department of Commerce issue the main export control regulations that universities must adhere to. They control the exportation of military technologies or assets to any countries or organizations that the U.S. is boycotting or has trade sanctions and embargos against, such as Cuba, Iran and North Korea.
Students and faculty who travel abroad must also follow certain regulations when visiting comprehensively sanctioned countries, and must be wary of sharing information with a sanctioned foreign entity or individual. For some presentations, university researchers may need to acquire a special license from the ORIA.
According to the Provost’s email, failure to comply with the regulations can result in expulsion, termination, fines, or imprisonment for the individual, and permanent damage to Mason’s reputation.
The only university professor ever indicted for violating the U.S.’s Arms Export Control Act is John Reece Roth, a physicist and former professor at the University of Tennessee. Roth was convicted in 2008 for allowing Chinese and Iranian graduate students to access his research with the U.S. Air Force about drone technology. He also visited China with sensitive information on his laptop. In 2012, Roth began his four-year prison sentence.
Provost Wu’s email comes at a time when universities across the nation are making headlines by revisiting their policies about banning Iranian students from various science and engineering programs. The universities, such as University of Massachusetts and Virginia Commonwealth University, stated that the bans were established in attempts to comply with U.S. efforts to deter Iran’s nuclear program.
Although Mason has not made any changes to its policies toward students from sanctioned countries, some believe that the inherently discriminatory federal export control regulations are unjust.
“Since terrorism is literally the use of force for political purposes, by definition, sanctions would be terrorism,” said Giuseppe Germinario, a sophomore economics major.
Germinario believes that, in theory, the use of sanctions as a political tool is justifiable. The university, as a publicly funded institution, is following federal law. The results, however, can often have implications far beyond the promotion of U.S. foreign policy.
“Say there is economic development research that could help the people of one of the countries being affected [by the sanctions],” Germinario said. “They can’t use it and it’s just going to sustain poverty. It reinforces the control of foreign powers.”
Photo Credit: Amy Rose