The AJC has an extraordinary story about five University of Georgia professors who have started a program to teach a weekly seminar course to students who can’t attend one of the state’s premier campuses because of a controversial new policy on immigrant students or because of cuts to state scholarship programs.
The professors call their program Freedom University and they are offering the courses on their own time. Their volunteer effort is no different than the many churches in Georgia that offer aid and classes to immigrant families. It is purely volunteer and does not involve the universities where the professors teach, so there are no taxpayer dollars involved in these classes for children of undocumented parents.
As result of a new state policy adopted last year, illegal immigrants are banned from any University System of Georgia campus that turned away academically qualified students for the past two years. (The campuses are UGA, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Georgia College & State University and the Medical College of Georgia.)
Although the campuses are not overwhelmed by illegal immigrants, the regents adopted the policy to placate legislators and reassure taxpayers that illegal students weren’t taking spots. Those students may attend the system’s other 30 colleges, but must pay out-of-state tuition, which is about three times as expensive.
According to the story in the AJC:
“This is not a substitute for letting these students into UGA, Georgia State or the other schools,” said Pam Voekel, a history professor at UGA and one of the program’s initiators. “It is designed for people who, right now, don’t have another option.”
“What we’re hoping is that people in decision-making positions will reconsider the policy,” said Reinaldo Roman, another of the organizing professors. “It goes counter to our aims. We have invested enormous resources in these young people. It makes sense to give them a chance at an education.”
For now the course will simply serve to expose the students to a college environment and challenge them intellectually. It will not likely count for credit should the students be accepted at another school, but the professors said they’re seeking accreditation so credits would be transferable at some point in the future.
The five founding professors all work for UGA, but they stress that the program has no connection to the institution. UGA referred a request for comment to the Board of Regents. Regents spokesman John Millsaps said faculty members are generally free to do whatever they want with their free time as long as it doesn’t interfere with their responsibilities as employees of the university system. But he said he didn’t know about enough about the program to comment on this specific case.
Once the professors hatched their plan — which was suggested by an illegal immigrant community member who works with a lot of illegal immigrant teens — they reached out to professors at prestigious schools nationwide to sit on a national board of advisers. One of them is Pulitzer Prize winning author and MIT professor Junot Diaz, who calls policies barring illegal immigrants from state schools cruel and divisive. He said he’s ready to help Freedom University succeed.
“Whatever they ask of me. I’ll do everything and anything I can,” he wrote in an email. “This clearly is going to be a long fight.”
With professors donating their time and a local Latino community outreach center offering a space for free, the program has few costs. They’ve started an Amazon.com wish list asking people to donate textbooks for students and gas cards for volunteers who will drive students to and from class.
Dressed in a black fleece jacket and tan cargo shorts and carrying a black backpack during a protest rally Tuesday at UGA against the policy, 25-year-old Karl Kings looked like he could be headed to class. However, Kings says he’s an illegal immigrant who was brought to the U.S. when he was a year old from a country in Asia that he declined to identify.
“Pretty much, I would be a Georgia boy except I wasn’t born here,” he said. “I grew up here my whole life.”
After graduating from high school in suburban Atlanta in 2004, he dreamed of going to college but couldn’t afford to pay out-of-state tuition. He’s gotten by doing odd jobs, but has had to turn down some more stable or challenging job offers because they required proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. He was filling out an application for Freedom University at the end of the rally this week.
–FROM MAUREEN DOWNEY, AJC GET SCHOOLED BLOG