UC-Berkeley to Ease Ban on Students From SARS-Affected Regions

Officials at the University of California, Berkeley (search), said Saturday they would ease their ban on some students from SARS-affected areas of Asia who have signed up to attend summer school.

Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl said the school will now welcome about 80 students from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong who have enrolled in core academic classes which begin May 27. Severe acute respiratory syndrome has killed hundreds of people those countries.

But the school will maintain its ban on nearly 600 students who had enrolled in English as a second language classes through a UC extension program. Though that ban could still be lifted, the school is refunding payments received from those students.

"Our plan was modified to provide as much opportunity as we can to students that we value and to make certain that we do so in accordance with (federal health) guidelines," Berdahl told reporters Saturday.

Since announcing the ban a week ago, the school has come under scrutiny for what critics dubbed an overreaction. Chinese for Affirmative Action (search), a civil rights group, called on Berdahl to reconsider, saying the ban was discriminatory and too broad.

Berkeley's ban went further than other U.S. universities, which have struggled over accommodating students from countries where the little-understood disease is still spreading. Other schools have canceled Asian summer study programs, advised researchers to shelve cooperative projects with Chinese scholars and asked Asian students to abandon plans to return home after final exams.

SARS (search) has killed more than 500 people and infected 7,200 others worldwide. Hardest hit have been mainland China and Hong Kong, which between them have reported 447 deaths.

There have been no cases of SARS at UC Berkeley, which has about 700 undergraduate and graduate students now enrolled on campus from the Asian regions hit hardest by SARS. The school anticipates fewer than 100 new students from those areas this fall.

In a separate development, a consortium of 27 universities nationwide has canceled its summer study program in China because of SARS, officials said.

Carmelo Urza, head of the University Studies Abroad Consortium based at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he was concerned by an enrollment drop in the program set to begin June 1 in Chengdu.

Only about nine students signed up to study in Chengdu this summer, compared with the more than 30 students that typically take part in the program there, Urza said. The consortium has about 1,850 students studying this year in 19 countries.