NBC Hypes 'Growing Backlash' Against College Refusing to Teach Nuclear Physics to Iranians

Introducing a segment on Wednesday's NBC Today that portrayed Iranian citizens studying at a U.S. college as victims of prejudice, co-host Savannah Guthrie proclaimed: "And now we move to the growing backlash over a new policy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Iranian nationals are being banned from studying certain science and engineering courses there."

In the report that followed, correspondent Pete Williams explained: "The university says it's following a 2012 federal law that blocks Iranian nationals from getting a visa to study in the U.S. if they plan to work in the 'nuclear or energy fields.' Part of sanctions intended to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."

Soundbites were included of random unidentified UMASS students condemning the policy. One man declared: "This is 100% not okay. That's basically like – that's racism....They're prejudging the people that want to study sciences and just assuming that they're going to use it for something negative. And that's not okay, it's limiting." A young woman fretted: "I just think it's discriminating and it, like, takes away their opportunities."

Williams lamented: "A former student says Iranians on campus now feel marginalized, quote, 'We always felt like an integral part of the university community. Now we're just kind of confused.'"

After reading a statement from the university describing the policy as a matter of "adherence to federal law," Williams touted the Obama administration arguing the opposite: "While the university cites a U.S. visa policy, a State Department official tells NBC News, 'U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering. Each application is reviewed case-by-case. We will reach out to UMASS Amherst to discuss this specific decision.'"

Apparently the combined pressure of the Obama State Department and NBC News prevailed, UMASS reversed its decision by Wednesday afternoon.

At no point did Williams mention the administration's ongoing efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear weapons program or the President's demand that Congress refrain from placing new sanctions on the authoritarian regime.

Here is a full transcript of the February 18 report:

 7:15 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And now we move to the growing backlash over a new policy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Iranian nationals are being banned from studying certain science and engineering courses there. NBC's Pete Williams has this story for us. Pete, good morning to you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: UMASS Bans Iranians From Science Classes; Backlash Grows Over New Policy in Certain Programs]

PETE WILLIAMS: Savannah, good morning. This is a new admissions policy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The school says it's forced by federal law to turn away students from Iran for some graduate, engineering, and science programs.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [UMASS STUDENT]: This is 100% not okay. That's basically like – that's racism.

WILLIAMS: The university says it's following a 2012 federal law that blocks Iranian nationals from getting a visa to study in the U.S. if they plan to work in the "nuclear or energy fields." Part of sanctions intended to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

MAN: They're prejudging the people that want to study sciences and just assuming that they're going to use it for something negative. And that's not okay, it's limiting.

WILLIAMS: Opponents are making their views known on a Facebook page with more than 3,000 followers, but the university is standing by its decision, saying in a statement, "We recognize that our adherence to federal law may create difficulties for our students from Iran and regard this as unfortunate...We have no choice but to institute policies and procedures to ensure that we're in full compliance with all applicable laws."

While the university cites a U.S. visa policy, a State Department official tells NBC News, "U.S. law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering. Each application is reviewed case-by-case. We will reach out to UMASS Amherst to discuss this specific decision."

A former student says Iranians on campus now feel marginalized, quote, "We always felt like an integral part of the university community. Now we're just kind of confused."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [UMASS STUDENT]: I just think it's discriminating and it, like, takes away their opportunities.

WILLIAMS: A school official says the university believes many other schools have the same policy. The difference, he says, is that UMASS Amherst has made its version of it public. Savannah.

GUTHRIE: Alright, Pete Williams in Washington, thanks so much.

NB Daily Higher Education Iran NBC Today Video Pete Williams Savannah Guthrie

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