September 19, 2016

Students Criticize Economics Department’s Removal of Curricular Practical Training

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In the first policy change of its kind, Cornell’s economics department has decided to discontinue access to Curricular Practical Training work authorization for international students in the major, prompting confusion and backlash.

CPT visas are issued for planned independent studies and internships that many students participate in over summer break, according to the department’s website.

Last Thursday, the Student Assembly tabled a resolution submitted by Akhilesh Issur ’17, international student liaison at large — which asked the S.A. to request that the economics department restore its CPT authorization. Issur said he believes the department’s current policy marginalizes international students by restricting their opportunity to study or work at an internship in the United States.

“We international students rely a lot on the CPT to get work experience often essential to find a job after we graduate,” he said.

The decision to terminate the independent study courses was made by the economics faculty, according to Prof. Larry Blume, economics and information science.

“The decision to discontinue independent study courses for CPT’s was made by the economics department faculty last spring,” Blume said. “All significant decisions concerning our undergraduate curriculum are made by a vote of the faculty.”

Prof. Chris Schaffer, biomedical engineering and associate dean of faculty, noted that the faculty in the economics department had “concerns with the way they were doing things at the time and wanted to make a change.”

“Decisions about curriculum are very much in the hands of the faculty and this decision is one that affects majors in economics, so it is a decision made by the faculty of the department of economics,” Schaffer said.

Without the CPT, students will be forced to request Optional Practical Training visas, which impose significant financial and time constraints upon students, according to Issur. In many cases, visas do not arrive by the start of students’ internships. The renewal process can also be complicated and narrow the window when international students can search for jobs in the United States after graduation.

“It would reduce [international students’] chances of getting a job after graduation and make it impossible in several cases, because most jobs require a one year contract before taking on the lead of sponsoring international students,” Issur said in an email to the economics director of undergraduate studies.

Economics major Imtisal Qadir ’18 agreed, stressing that discontinuing CPT would have severe consequences for international students striving to find employment in the United States after they graduate Cornell, jeopardizing their ability to secure work.

“The economics department is very knowingly disregarding the career aspirations and prospects of its international students and making them practically unemployable within the United States after they graduate,” he said.

Issur added that several international students are currently considering switching majors or declaring a second major that still provides CPT.

In an email to Issur from Prof. Stephen Coate, the director of undergraduate studies for economics, the professor cited multiple reasons for discontinuing CPT, saying the department’s faculty were “highly uncomfortable” with the fact that students were using the program to complete internships unrelated to their studies at Cornell.

“The fact of the matter is that these summer internships are not integral to our major or part of our program,” Coate said in the email. “We are simply inventing a course and claiming that the internship is required for it. We feel that this is abusing the system and we are highly uncomfortable facilitating this abuse.”

Addressing concerns that CPT provides international students with an unfair advantage over domestic students, Schaffer proposed that the department create a full course, “rather than an ad hoc independent study,” to compensate for the fact that the program is not available to U.S. citizens.

“A real course … might better handle awarding academic credit for a kind of reflection on the concepts of your field as they were applied in the internship,” he said, referring to a proposal mentioned in the S.A. resolution.

This solution could be “a nice, one-credit, pass or fail class that can be available to domestic or international students,” he added. “International students would have to do it in order to be eligible for CPT, and other students could do it if they would like.”

The S.A. is expected to address the tabled resolution again at its meeting this Thursday, inviting economics faculty members to attend.

Shaikh Talha Khurram ’19 contributed reporting to this story.