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Florida raises obstacles to learning about China

Written by on Sunday, January 28, 2024

New College tells students, professors to discuss any China plans with counsel.

By Florence Fahringer

Original Air Date: Jan. 26, 2024

Host: The state and campus administrators are sending New College students and professors who want to engage in China signals that they now have to do so at their own expense and risk, including that of violating a new state directive. WSLR News reporter Florence Fahringer has the details.

Florence Fahringer: It’s no secret: Florida Republicans do not like China. The most infamous manifestation of their distaste for the Communist country might be the law they passed last year, barring Chinese nationals from buying land in Florida near military installations. Another policy in the same vein didn’t make as many rounds, but its effects are being felt here in Sarasota — specifically, in New College. 

This Florida statute takes its form as a regulation by the Board of Governors, the institution that runs public universities in Florida. Its name? Regulation 9.012: Foreign Influence. It’s full of definitions, one of these defining the term “foreign country of concern.” According to Florida Statutes, foreign countries of concern are Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and China. After the definitions, the regulation continues with a laundry list of restrictions in interacting with these “countries of concern” and their principals; principals being the country’s government, its political parties, its businesses, its organizations, and/or its nationals. 

This selection of countries harkens back to the Bush-era  “axis of evil”; most  of them are subject to federal sanctions, making international academic relationships dodgy as is — it is difficult to imagine, for example, an exchange program between New College and a North Korean university. Restricting academic activities abroad by adding to federal penalties is nothing new for Florida legislators. New College is among the public universities in the state that since the early 2000’s have seen interaction with neighboring Cuba become near-impossible. But now, Florida has added China to the axis of evil. That country contains a seventh of the entire global population, and is the second largest economy in the world. Many of these countries’ inclusion in this list can be seen as redundant, parroting national policy, but China’s inclusion marks a significant break from the foreign policy of the rest of the nation. 

The regulation generated shockwaves across Florida at the end of last year, and some of New College’s bigger siblings subsequently aired their grievances. The University of Florida admonished the policy, with faculty signing a petition warning their administration about how this would negatively affect the university’s quality of research and education. A whopping forty percent of their international graduate students hail from China, and once they’ve graduated they’re often offered positions at U F. Not only does this policy put into jeopardy the economic incentives for prospective Chinese students to choose a university in Florida, it dashes their ability to do so wholesale. 

The end of last year is also when the New College administration made known the manner in which they were interpreting the regulation. An email sent by New College Communications to faculty members stated that, in accordance with the regulation, public universities in Florida no longer permit study abroad programs hosted in foreign countries of concern. The wording seems unambiguous — “no longer permit” — but the reality of this interpretation seems to not be as straightforward as such simple wording might suggest. New College students are still allowed to study abroad in China, but such programs will no longer count towards any college credits at New College. 

For such an already restrictive regulation, New College’s interpretation of it seems to take some liberties. No where in the regulation does it say that studying abroad in these countries of concern is “no longer permitted;” though the regulation certainly makes it more difficult to study abroad in these countries. There is also no mention of the college credits deal the administration has seemingly hashed out with the faculty.

In the end, these laws and regulations just create more bureaucratic hurdles for public universities, making interactions with these countries of concern increasingly unlikely. The result for programs like New College’s Chinese Language and Culture Area of Concentration, is that linguistic and cultural immersion is virtually off limits for New College students. 

This is Florence Fahringer, reporting for WSLR News. 

After Florence filed this report, she received an emailed statement from New College spokesman Nathan March. Here’s what he said: “We just had a dozen or so students study abroad in Ecuador for an ISP this month. I am also aware of students that studied in Spain and Germany in recent semesters.

Anyone saying study abroad is no longer permitted at New College is blatantly lying. 

In accordance with State University System Board of Governors regulation 9.012, Foreign Influence, and section 288.860, Florida Statutes, public universities in Florida no longer permit study abroad programs hosted in foreign countries of concern.

Foreign countries of concern are: the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Cuba, the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro, or the Syrian Arab Republic.

There are several other applications of this regulation and strict processes for seeking exceptions. If you conduct any New College business, including but not limited to purchasing, travel, research, or student exchange programs that may be connected to any of these nations, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.”

 

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