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Mills professor barred from the U.S., the campus fights for her return

Stephan Babuljak

When Mills music professor Nalini Ghuman was barred from re-entering the U.S., the campus administration rallied for her rights.

Students asked why the College did not release information campus-wide until a year after the incident.

A Sept. 17 article from the New York Times reported the incident details.

On Aug. 8, 2006, Ghuman and her fianc‚ returned to San Francisco after a research trip to Ghuman’s native Britain. Armed immigration officers destroyed her visa and defaced her passport, which was due to expire in May 2008. The officers also searched her luggage.

After being questioned, airport officers told Ghuman she had to take the next flight to London or immediately be transferred to a detention center in California.
None of the officers explained why she could not enter the country. A year later, Ghuman still does not know.

According to the New York Times, “The State Department would not discuss the case, citing the confidentiality of individual visa records.”

“I just think [Ghuman’s situation is] really messed up,” said junior Camille Kent. “They don’t really know why, and that’s even more messed up because that is something she should be told.”

Vice President for Operations Ren‚e Jadushlever sent a press release to Mills students on Sept. 19. Many students were angered because they were not informed about her situation until it made national news.

Students who attended classes taught by Ghuman said that the lack of information caused them to assume that she did not want to come back.

“At the end of my first semester here, [Ghuman] said, ‘See you all next semester,’ and when we found out she wasn’t coming back, we thought it was for personal reasons. Like she wasn’t ready to come back,” junior Rebecca Frank said.

The students who were recently informed about Ghuman’s circumstances were shocked at what they learned.

“I go back and forth from Egypt all the time, and I’ve never had any trouble,” said senior Linda Abdallah. “This is most unusual and something should be done about it.”

According to President Janet Holmgren, Mills faculty and staff spent over a year attempting to help Ghuman in her time of need.

“I think her situation is outrageous, and we’re following every way to get her back to Mills,” Holmgren said.

In a Sept. 19 press release, Jadushlever said that the college has been working with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Mills alumna, in order to resolve Ghuman’s problem.

“As an institution of higher education, we urge the protection of academic freedom and first amendment rights, and hope that the current media attention will expedite a just resolution to this matter,” Jadushlever said.

David Bernstein, the head of the Music department at Mills, said that he and others in the department have written letters to the State Department on Ghuman’s behalf.

Bernstein also contacted the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Washington Office and asked for help. He said that Ghuman’s case was forwarded to Jonathan Knight, the Director of the AAUP’s Committee A (Academic Freedom and Tenure), and Rachel Levinson, Associate Counsel to the AAUP’s Legal Department.

The Campanil has yet to contact the AAUP.
“I can say that the college has been very supportive to the both of us, and I look forward to also saying more in the coming weeks,” said Ghuman’s fianc‚ Paul Flight.
Professor Ghuman was unavailable for comment, but expressed interest in speaking with The Campanil in the future.

Ghuman has been working with Mills lawyers to find out why her visa was revoked. The campus lawyers declined to comment, saying that they cannot release information without Ghuman’s authorization.

“We’ve been careful to protect Ghuman’s privacy,” President Holmgren said.

Students speculated on the possible causes for Ghuman’s inability to return.

“Since they aren’t telling her why, the only assumption people are probably going to make is because she is a woman of color,” Kent said.

“It goes to show how deep the institution [of racism] goes because she is a professor at a prestigious women’s college. It just shows no one is safe,” said junior Trevina Caldwell.

Ghuman’s political affiliations were not made public and were not named as a possible factor in her situation.

Classes Ghuman taught included Women and Music Module, Classic and Romantic Music and The Mills Performance Collective.

Frank, who described herself as a recreational flute player, felt that the Performance Collective was less organized since Ghuman’s absence. She opted not to retake the class, but hopes that the Collective will improve once the transition period ends.

Abdallah agreed on Ghuman’s importance: “She is a … wonderful teacher and by her not being here, the music department is missing a really big key component.”

Students said that they plan to help Ghuman and hope that Mills will provide updates.
Students can find sample letters at the American Musicological Society website:
Abdallah remains optimistic about the situation: “I really do hope I get to see her before I graduate in the Spring 2008.”