Retired Sacramento faculty not allowed to sponsor international students

Daisy Aguilar

Sacramento State retired professors are currently prohibited from serving as a designated sponsor for international students, but it is unclear to some faculty whether an actual policy exists.

Tracey Culbertson, coordinator of the international students and scholars for the Office of Global Education, said there is no policy, but guidelines establish who can be a designated faculty sponsor for visiting international students and scholars.

In order to be a liason, faculty must be employed full-time for the duration the visiting scholar is in the program, according to the International Scholar Program Application Process, Hosting Responsibilities and Application Approval form.

The form also states retired professors are not qualified because they are part-time and are unable to provide full assistance to the scholar.

“Retired professors are not available to those privileges,” Culbertson said.

International scholars are paired with an academic department that is related to the prospective scholars’ research and then matched with a designated faculty liaison who is responsible for assisting, mentoring and collaborating with the scholar.

Thomas Knutson, professor emeritus of communication studies at Sac State, was recently denied permission by the Office of Global Education to serve as a designated faculty liaison due to his status as a retired professor.

Knutson taught at Sac State for more than 30 years and has worked with more than 100 international scholars from Thailand.

“To be denied the opportunity to continue helping CSUS with international projects strikes me as absolutely without reason,“ Knutson said.

The issue has also been raised to Charles Gossett, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

“We are aware that some faculty have raised the issue concerning who can sponsor visiting scholars and we are currently reviewing the policy,” Gossett said.

Other faculty and professors believe retired professors should be allowed to continue working closely with international scholars.

Retired economics professor Robert Curry sponsored international scholars when he taught at Sac State and said he is familiar with the policy.

“I support retired professors being able to sponsor international scholars, but it must be carefully overseen by the department,” Curry said.

Jack Godwin, chief international officer of the Office of Global Education, said Knutson was denied because of certain guidelines in sponsoring a scholar.

Those guidelines include having a professor on campus throughout an entire academic year and having an educational relevance to what the scholar is studying, Godwin said.

In order for international scholars to conduct research at Sac State, they must first submit documents to determine if their research can be accommodated.

The documents are then sent to Academic Affairs and the appropriate academic department for a full review.

If the academic department accepts the scholar’s application, scholars are given a form, which certifies admission into a program and the scholar has demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the U.S.

Scholars can then apply for a J1 Visa, a program established by the U.S. Department of State to allow interactions between U.S. students and foreigners to create a better understanding of cultures.

Steve Buss, chair of the communication studies department, said he has heard of a policy but is confused whether it actually exists.

“I have not seen it in any document,” Buss said.

He said he believes it is a loss of resources if retired professors are not allowed to continue serving as designated faculty liaisons.

The title emeritus professor is given to professors over the age of 50 who have taught at Sac State for more than five years and are retired by the president, according to the University Policy Manual.

Aside from being a professor emeritus, Knutson is part of the Faculty Early Retirement Program, which allows educators to retire and continue to work part-time.

Buss was assigned as the designated faculty liaison for the last international scholar Knutson originally tried to sponsor.

Knutson said he is confused on why he was told there was a school policy.

“I have searched to locate any policy, rule or regulation speaking to this issue without success,” Knutson said. “I’ve contacted CSUS administrators who have been unable to provide this information.”

Buss said retired faculty should be able to do anything they want.

“From a chair’s point of view, I don’t understand why a [Faculty Early Retirement Program member] doesn’t have that choice,” Buss said.

While Gossett is reviewing the issue, he said he wants to avoid any policies that may discourage faculty members from serving as liaison sponsors to international students.

“Both domestic and international visiting scholars are an important addition to our campus community and enhance the learning environment for our students,” Gossett said.