This announcement was recently posted on the website of the graduate school of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst:

The University has determined that recent governmental sanctions pose a significant challenge to its ability to provide a full program of education and research for Iranian students in certain disciplines and programs. Because we must ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, the University has determined that it will no longer admit Iranian national students to specific programs in the College of Engineering (i.e., Chemical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) and in the College of Natural Sciences (i.e., Physics, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Polymer Science & Engineering) effective February 1, 2015.

The full announcement and reasoning—namely, that the university is trying to act in accordance with all the twists and turns of the US sanctions regime—behind this new policy can be found here.

I’m waiting to hear back from some experts on the US sanctions policy as to whether the University is fairly grappling with constraints imposed by the US government or just going rogue.

But while I wait to hear back, I can’t help being reminded of the shitshow we saw when American Studies Association voted for an academic boycott of Israel.

You’ll recall that many self-proclaimed defenders of academic freedom at the time made a lot of noise about the threat that the boycott posed to academic exchange and international conversation. Even though nothing in the ASA vote precluded the exchange of individual scholars or students between the United States and Israel and the organization took great pains to stress that they were calling for institutional boycotts rather than a boycott of individuals.

Well, we don’t need to reprise that argument here. Because now we very clearly have a public university, claiming to act in accordance with US policy, officially banning Iranian national students from applying to entire graduate schools.

Will those putative defenders of academic freedom from the BDS fight speak out against this policy—and speak out far more forcefully than they did then— since this policy really does threaten academic freedom in the way they imagined the academic boycott did?

Or will they defend the university’s decision on the grounds of national security or the need for universities to act in accordance with US law? If they take that path, they’d be admitting a point many of suspected all along: that academic freedom really is not their highest value at all.

What will those defenders of academic freedom say—and, more important, do—now?

While we wait and see what they do, it’s very important that we get word of this policy out. Someone emailed me about it tonight, and I looked all over the internet and could not find a single mention of it. Do other universities have similar policies? Let’s try and gather information and make sure that people in the media and academia and civil liberties organizations know about this.

Updated (February 13, 12 pm)

So I’ve spoken with a few sanctions experts. More on that in a minute. First, some other updates. [click to continue…]