Scholars traveling to UCLA from the Islamic world have faced few problems since Sept. 11, 2001. But others within the Islamic studies community maintain that obtaining visas for Islamic scholars has become more difficult in recent years.
Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association, a national organization, recalls three scholars invited to the association's annual conference who were not able to obtain visas.
"One scholar from the West Bank (who) had been here many times before ... was denied a visa," Newhall said.
The Iranian Studies Association is having similar troubles, Newhall said.
"They had invited about 30 scholars from Iran, and only three of those 30 got visas."
In a recent case, a professor who was supposed to be teaching a class on Arab calligraphy has had his visa delayed for a month. The embassy had him come back every week. He showed up Tuesday only to find that his visa had not been stamped due to confusion regarding his last name, Newhall said.
The scholars are not told why they are denied a visa, which can "cause bad will," she said.
While maintaining that "the free exchange of ideas has been tremendously affected," Newhall acknowledges the care with which the consulates must treat each case.
"(Scholars) must meet the same requirements as any other visa applicant," said Department of State spokesman Lou Fintor.
After applying to enter the country, an applicant has an interview for a visa at an embassy, where their name is entered into a database monitored by several agencies. If the Department of State approves the visa, the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of ensuring that the applicant meets requirements while within the United States, Fintor said.
Difficulties facing Islamic scholars were brought to light this past summer when controversial figure Tariq Ramadan had his visa revoked just before he was to take a teaching post at Notre Dame University. The American Association of University Professors reported his political beliefs and writings as the reason for the revocation. The AAUP and the MESA protested the government's actions.
Ramadan, grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, had his work visa revoked by the Department of Homeland Security two weeks before he was set to move to the United States.
A section of the Patriot Act which denies entry to foreigners who use "position of prominence ... to endorse or espouse terrorist activity" has been referenced in relation to Ramadan, though the State Department will not say if it applies to Ramadan's specific case.
UCLA officials say the Islamic studies community has been more fortunate here.
Steve Joudi, program manager of the Center for Near East Studies, has not witnessed any such trouble in his quest to secure the visit of about five to 10 Islamic scholars per year. Joudi gets prior approval from the Department of Education, giving them 30 days notice and the exact itinerary of the visitors.
"I haven't had any problems. ... So far, so good," Joudi said.
Barbara Gaerlan, assistant director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, said her department has not had any trouble due to the fact that they have very little money to bring scholars over. The increase in security precautions "coincided with budget cuts at UCLA," Gaerlan said.