The University Record, October 15, 2001

Events of Sept. 11 bring new focus to Congress

By Mike Waring,
Executive Director of Federal Relations,
and Cindy Bank, Federal Relations Officer

The events of Sept. 11 have had a profound effect on the congressional agenda for the immediate future.

Expected fights over budget issues were minimized earlier this month when President Bush and Congress agreed on overall spending limits for Fiscal Year 2002. That agreement calls for $686 billion in total spending, including the $40 billion already approved to help New York and Washington recover. Another $18 billion was added for defense needs and additional billions were approved for K–12 education. Discussions continue on an economic stimulus package designed to revive the struggling economy.

Another fallout of the terrorist attacks is a new focus in Congress on international visitors who live and work in the United States. That focus also includes international students, attending the U-M and many other universities.

The House and Senate actively are working on anti-terrorism legislation that will have an impact on how universities track or report on the status of international students.

Such legislation is likely to focus on several aspects of interest to higher education.

Immigration

One proposal—put forth by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)—in its original form called for a six-month moratorium on all student visas. The higher education community is working with the senator to find alternative ways to improve the issuance and tracking of student visas with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. [Feinstein has since said she will hold off on the proposed six-month moratorium.]

Student Records

Some have raised privacy concerns about proposals that would give law enforcement officials new powers to request information about foreign students. Under current law, universities cannot give out information about students without their consent, except for law enforcement purposes or to protect the health or safety of the students or others or if subpoenaed by

authorities.

Bioterrorism

The threat of biological or chemical attacks has spurred Congress to look at new and stricter rules governing the legal possession of biological and chemical agents. University associations and scientific societies, including the American Society for Microbiology, are working to protect legitimate research on such agents.

Cyber-terrorism

Wiretapping laws that do not reflect the new wave of electronic communications may be modified so that law enforcement can track potential terrorist communications. As Internet service providers, universities like the U-M will be watching such legislation closely to minimize any adverse impact.

Action on this anti-terrorism legislation is expected this month. The Washington office is monitoring each of these initiatives and is working in close consultation with the campus to provide feedback on the impact and consequences of these proposals.

For more information about this legislation, contact the Washington, D.C., U-M office, (202) 554-0578, or send e-mail to mwaring@umich.edu or bankc@umich.edu.