The Greenville Technical College in Greenville, S.C., suspended its 104 Iranian students yesterday and told them they could not return until all the American hostages in Iran are released unharmed.
The mass suspension is apparently the first overtly punitive action taken against any of the estimated 50,000 Iranian students in this country by American colleges or universities since the U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran occurred Nov. 4.
"This is a punitive action and it's intended that way, said Robert C. Crawford, vice chairman of the state school's board of regents. "Some innocent people (Iranian students) will suffer. But there are some innocent people in the U.S. Embassy, too."
Crawford said he proposed the suspension last Friday following numerous complaints from local residents angered by the appearance on local television of two Iranian students who said they supported the embassy takeover.
"They weren't interested in having their taxes subsidize the education of these people," said Crawford, president of the floor covering division of the Dan River Inc. "You don't bite the hand that feeds you."
Crawford said his motion carried the nine-member board by a vote of 6 to 0 with two members abstaining and one absent.
"One lady [on the board] mentioned some reservations like that we'd be acting the same way as the ayatollah," Crawford said. "But I said if we did the things he was doing, we'd all be in jail."
He said that local reaction to the board's decision has been largely favorable. "From doctors to laborers, they all tell me, 'Way to go!'" he said.
Most of the few negative comments he has received personally have come from Iranian students at the college. "They say, 'We need your technology.' I say, "That's true.' Then they say, 'it's not the students who are doing this in Iran, it's Khomeini. Please don't do this. But we've made up our minds."
The student body of about 6,800 full-time students has been generally supportive of the board's decision, he said. "They're all southerners, too, and we all lean a little to the right," he said. As for the several who have told him his actions make him no better than the ayatollah he deplores, Crawford said, "To tell the truth, that Khomeini makes me look better every day."
The suspensions by the 17-year-old school provoked a muted reaction by the State Department in Washington, which has been handling negotiations for the hostages release.
"The State Department . . . would note that President Carter has appealed to the American people not to undertake any action which could conceivably affect the welfare and safety of Americans remaining hostage," the statement said. It also noted that Americans have been asked "not to do anything which would prejudice the lives and activities of ordinary Iranians in this country, many of whom are, in fact, refugees from" Iran.
Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said yesterday that the suspensions appeared to be a blatant violation of their civil rights.
He blamed the college's action on the climate he said was created by President Carter's Nov. 10 order to deport Iranian students whose visas have lapsed. That action, he said, was "a clear signal to everyone here to encourage this sort of thing. I suspect that someday we will be ashamed of the American response at home to the hostage situation just as we are now ashamed of the things that were done to Germans during World War I and to the Japanese in World War II."
Crawford said the Greenville school's action was "not intended to help the hostages. It's punitive. You can't submit to blackmail. That's all there is to it."
He said he disagreed with the civil rights arguments because "my opinion is that when someone sticks a gun to your head they lose their civil rights."
In a related matter in Washington yesterday, three Iranian students filed suit to try to halt President Carter's unprecedented program of student visa reviews that could lead to the deportation of some of the Iranian students in the United States.
Filed in the name of all Iranian students here, the suit challenges the constitutionality of the immigration regulations issued Nov. 13 to carry out the president's order to deport those students here illegally. Under that order, all Iranian students must prove by Dec. 13 that they are enrolled as full-time students and have committed no crimes of violence or face deportation proceedings.
The three students, who filed the suit in U.S. District Court here, ask that the program of reviews be halted at once.
In response to the president's crackdown, UCLA and the University of Southern California Tuesday prohibited immigration service agents from conducting on-campus interviews with Iranian students apparently because of concern about the students' rights. The two schools were described as the first major campuses in the country to ban the interviews, which are being conducted under the Nov. 13 order.