Colleges across the United States are withdrawing students from study abroad programs in Russia, ending research partnerships and cutting financial ties amid a global wave of condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine.
At the same time, colleges have pledged to support Russian students on their campuses, opposing calls by some in Congress to expel them from the country as a sanction against their homeland.
The moves are mostly symbolic — American colleges have little power to sway Russia or squeeze its finances, and academic exchange between the nations has historically been scant. But the suggestion that some or all Russian students should forego the opportunity to study here has drawn new attention to the role of universities in global conflict.
Last school year, US colleges welcomed nearly 5,000 Russian students, less than 1% of all international students. International education advocates say losing these students would expose them to Western ideals, and they say Russians who choose to study in America are already more likely to want to change at home.
“Leaders need to distinguish between Putin and Russians who want a better life,” said Jill Welch, senior adviser to the Presidents Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of university presidents. “Firing someone would not shorten any one-day war.”
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Many universities have called for compassion for Russian students who, like those in Ukraine, may fear for the safety of family members or face sudden financial hardship.
In a message to students, the president of Columbia University said students in both countries face “a bewildering and uncertain path.”
At the University of Washington, President Ana Mari Cauce said the campus supports Ukraine, but “must also be careful not to let the actions of the authoritarian Russian government affect our treatment of Russian students, scholars, and community members.” who have no role in its policies.”
Some members of Congress have lobbied for visa restrictions against Russian students. Speaking on CNN last month, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, said the United States should consider “expelling all Russian students from the United States” as a way to elicit backlash against Vladimir Putin in Russia.
The idea received little support in Washington, but the White House later suggested that its separate sanctions against Russian oligarchs were partly aimed at blocking access to American universities.
“What we’re talking about here is seizing their assets, seizing their yachts and making it harder for them to send their children to western colleges and universities,” said press secretary Jen PSAKI last week discussing sanctions.
College leaders are not fighting the idea that the oligarchs and their children should lose access to American education. But broader action against Russian students would echo American discrimination against Japanese and German immigrants during World War II, supporters say.
“In our country, we don’t punish children for the crimes of their parents,” said Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities and former president of Case Western Reserve University. “You have to think carefully about the consequences of targeting people because of their country of origin.”
For many colleges, the top priority has been pulling out American students studying in Russia or Ukraine, though few have made it there. A total of 1,400 Americans studied in these countries in 2018, and overall study abroad numbers have plummeted during the pandemic.
Middlebury College in Vermont suspended a study abroad program in Russia in late February for security reasons, urging all 12 students to return home. Among them was Zavier Ridgley, who was studying in Moscow when he was told to quickly book a flight home.
The 22-year-old said he respected the decision but was disappointed. A senior at Tulane University, he had been trying to get into the Middlebury program since 2019, but it had been delayed by the pandemic.
“The month I’ve been here has been nothing short of the opportunity of a lifetime, and to see it cut short so abruptly is truly terribly sad,” said Ridgley, who has since returned home.
Other schools have joined in banning student travel to Russia, and some, including Dartmouth College, have canceled upcoming study abroad programs. A growing number of people are also severing financial and academic ties as a rebuke to Putin, but the US response has been more scattered compared to Europe, where countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark ordered colleges to freeze academic exchanges with Russia.
Shortly after the invasion began, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced it was ending its partnership with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, a research university it helped found near Moscow in 2011. MIT officials called it a rejection of “unacceptable military actions against Ukraine.”
After Colorado Governor Jared Polis urged universities to reduce their investments with Russia last week, the University of Colorado said it was divesting all assets in the country, including $3.5 million. dollars in mutual funds.
Several other states have also asked colleges to withdraw their investments, including Virginia, Ohio and Arizona.
The presidents of Arizona’s public universities informed the state on Monday that they were ending financial and academic ties with Russia in response to an order from the state’s board of trustees. Arizona State University has announced it will part ways with a business training center in Moscow affiliated with its business school.
Other colleges are reviewing contracts or financial donations from Russian sources, but some had no intention of returning the money or ending the deals.
Stanford University received $1.6 million under a contract with an undisclosed Russian source in December 2020, according to US Department of Education records. A university spokesperson said it was a deal for online business courses and that Stanford was in “full compliance” with US sanctions.
Last year, Rutgers University announced a new contract with Russia. The school said it was an agreement with the Russian State University of Humanities in Moscow for research and information exchange until November 2023. Officials said the agreement was currently inactive.
AP reporter Lisa Rathke contributed to this report from Marshfield, Vermont.