No coun­try for con­fer­ees

US a no-go area for events, says UK scholar halted over visit to Su­dan

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

A Bri­tish aca­demic who was de­nied en­try to the US be­cause she had con­ducted field­work in Su­dan has claimed that the US has be­come a no-go area for host­ing sci­en­tific meet­ings.

Katie Man­ning, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist at King’s Col­lege Lon­don, was due to give a ple­nary speech at the Cul­tural Evo­lu­tion So­ci­ety’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Ari­zona this week, but she can­not now at­tend be­cause her ap­pli­ca­tion for an Elec­tronic Sys­tem for Travel Au­tho­riza­tion (ESTA) was re­jected.

Dr Man­ning told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that she was de­nied en­try on the ba­sis that she had trav­elled to Su­dan to con­duct field­work in 2014.

She said that she had been to the US nu­mer­ous times since the Su­dan trip, but the US has tight­ened its pol­icy around al­low­ing en­try to vis­i­tors who have trav­elled to six ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries cov­ered by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “travel ban”.

“Hav­ing looked into it sub­se­quently, I believe that if you have been there on mil­i­tary ser­vice or as a jour­nal­ist, then your ESTA is likely to be granted,” she said. How­ever, Dr Man­ning con­tin­ued, there was no op­tion to de­clare that she had trav­elled to the coun­try as an aca­demic and there was no way to ap­peal the de­ci­sion.

“A lot of th­ese coun­tries are the cor­ner­stone of early civil­i­sa­tion… It’s not that sur­pris­ing that an African ar­chae­ol­o­gist vis­its some of th­ese coun­tries,” she said. “The in­abil­ity to add any fur­ther de­tail to me just seems ut­terly lu­di­crous.”

Dr Man­ning added that vis­i­tors who are de­nied an ESTA may ap­ply for a full visa, but the process can take sev­eral weeks.

“Con­sid­er­ing that I didn’t book my flights un­til two months be­fore the trip, this is the sort of plan­ning that is un­re­al­is­tic in any aca­demic work life and any aca­demic sched­ule. Of­ten, you don’t agree to give talks un­til a cou­ple of months be­fore,” she said.

“This whole process is mak­ing at­ten­dance at any sci­en­tific meet­ings in the States in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult.”

Based on feed­back she re­ceived af­ter shar­ing her sit­u­a­tion on Twit­ter, she said that there was a “grow­ing tide of peo­ple recog­nis­ing that sci­en­tific meet­ings just can’t be held in the States”.

Robert Boyd, pro­fes­sor in the School of Hu­man Evo­lu­tion and So­cial Change at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity and a mem­ber of the Cul­tural Evo­lu­tion So­ci­ety, told THE that Dr Man­ning was now due to

de­liver her speech by video, even though “this is a poor sub­sti­tute for be­ing able to in­ter­act with her here in Tempe”.

“Meet­ings play an im­por­tant role in sci­ence be­cause they al­low in­ves­ti­ga­tors nor­mally spread across the world to chat, brain­storm, cre­ate new friend­ships and re­new older ones. Visa re­stric­tions will make such meet­ings much more dif­fi­cult, and so dam­age sci­ence as a whole,” he said.

“I will not be di­rectly in­volved in or­gan­is­ing the next meet­ing in 2020, but I am cur­rently a mem­ber of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the so­ci­ety and plan to ar­gue that fur­ther meet­ings of the so­ci­ety should be sched­uled out­side the US un­til my coun­try fixes its visa sys­tem.”

Eric Huy­secom, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ar­chae­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Geneva and pres­i­dent of the So­ci­ety of African Ar­chae­ol­o­gists, said that the so­ci­ety’s bi­en­nial con­fer­ence, which took place in June, was moved from New York to Toronto be­cause it was “no longer pos­si­ble to or­gan­ise an African­ist in­ter­na­tional con­gress in the US”.

“This would au­to­mat­i­cally im­ply the ex­clu­sion of some of our African col­leagues from coun­tries de­clared non grata by the US, or even all Western or African col­leagues work­ing in th­ese same coun­tries, as well as the boy­cott of all col­leagues who would be in sol­i­dar­ity,” he said.

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