The Algerian Embassy, acting on behalf of the Iranian government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has asked foreign-student advisers at U.S. colleges to provide the embassy with "a listing of all Iranian students in your institution, with their major fields of study and their addresses, particularly those who will be graduating soon."
In response, the president of the American Council on Education, an umbrella group representing 1,500 colleges, has sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to his membership pointing out that federal privacy laws bar the release of the information requested. Several colleges and universities contacted yesterday said the request would be denied.
Last year 35,860 Iranian students were enrolled in U.S. colleges, according to the Institute for International Education. There are more Iranians enrolled in U.S. institutions than students from any other country, but the number has dropped considerably since 1979, when the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown. An estimated 51,300 Iranians were studying here at that time.
"From what I know, the request is clearly in violation of the Buckley amendment" guaranteeing privacy of student records, said Richard Berendzen, president of The American University here. "We don't give that kind of information out, regardless of whether employers, state or federal agencies, or even students' mothers and fathers are requesting it. He added:
"The language of the request seems designed to sound benign and friendly, but you can easily imagine there could be hidden agendas here which could be sinister."
In its letter, the Iranian Interests Section of the Algerian Embassy wrote: "The list . . . facilitates the financial aid needed for their educational expenditures, their round-trip tickets to visit their families, and location of their future careers. They will also be informed of the availability of jobs and their locales."
The Algerian Embassy represents the Iranian government's interests in this country.
Several foreign-student advisers said yesterday that the request, while broad, is not unique. "Over a period of time we have had requests similar to that, though not exactly the same," said Elena Garate, acting head of the international students' office at the University of Southern California.
The Iranian government asks its students to provide it with a variety of information, Garate said. Iranians, she said, are required to be in particular fields of study, such as engineering, must register with the government of Iran and have to provide it with transcripts showing that they are maintaining a 2.5 grade average out of a possible 4.0.