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Berkeley Refusing Students From Countries With SARS

By Dean E. Murphy

and Karen W. Arenson


The University of California, Berkeley, has taken the unusual step of turning away about 500 summer students from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore because of the large number of SARS cases reported in those countries.

University officials said on Monday that the decision was based on advice from the city’s health officer and campus health experts. Students enrolled at other campuses in the University of California system will not be affected.

“I deeply regret that we will not be accepting enrollments of students from these areas,” Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl announced in an e-mail sent Friday to faculty and staff and posted on the university's Web site.

There have been no reported cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome at Berkeley, but John F. Cummins, an associate chancellor, said that the university was not prepared to deal with the “labor intensive measures” that would be necessary if any summer students became ill and needed to be quarantined.

He said the Berkeley city health officer, Dr. Poki Namkung, strongly recommended the ban. A spokeswoman for the city's Department of Health and Human Services said Namkung was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

“If any of these students within their first 10 days of arrival became symptomatic, then the medical requirements, including the voluntary isolation, are very labor intensive and are something we would not be prepared to deal with,” Cummins said.

“The concern is that a lot of this hasn’t been really worked out yet,” he said. “We have been very fortunate in the United States not to have to deal with a large number of cases. But in trying to think this through, if we did have an outbreak here, we would be overwhelmed in very short order.”

Other American universities have not taken such dramatic steps as Berkeley, but are being vigilant about visitors from SARS-affected countries, officials said. Many are asking visitors from Asia to avoid their residence halls, at least for 10 days after they have left areas affected by SARS.

Colleges are also pulling back students from study-abroad programs in these countries and have canceled summer programs.

Victor C. Johnson, associate executive director for public policy at the Association of International Educators in Washington, said the Berkeley decision was not surprising given the concern about SARS, but he said it was doubtful that it would set off a wave of similar restrictions.

“Schools are seeing the same information and assessing it against their own situations and then making decisions, rather than following some other school’s example,” Johnson said.

In his e-mail message, Berdahl said all fees would be refunded to the affected students. Cummins said the ban would cost the university about $1.5 million in lost tuition and housing fees.

In announcing the summer policy, university officials emphasized that it would not apply to the hundreds of new students from the four countries expected to enroll this fall. They also said the ban would be dropped if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended the SARS-related travel advisories for the four countries.