Message from American University, Washington College of Law Director of International and Comparative Legal Studies

July 21, 2020

Dear International Alumni:

Greetings from Washington D.C.! I hope you and yours are healthy and safe during these difficult times. I am writing to you in my capacity as AUWCL’s Director of International and Comparative Legal Studies (ICLS). ICLS includes our LLM program in International Legal Studies (ILSP) with over 4000 alumni worldwide, the Humphrey Fellowship program, and international dual degree and semester exchange programs. I am proud that AUWCL continues to be the place “where the world meets to study law,” and our commitment to international students is as strong as it has always been notwithstanding recent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


This year has been a challenging year for the AUWCL community, in particular for our international student community. The COVID-19 epidemic forced us to shift to remote learning and teaching mid-semester in March 2020. Our students have shown incredible resilience and perseverance to succeed, and the staff and faculty have worked tirelessly to make the online learning experience of our students as rewarding as possible. For most part, our transition to online teaching has been seamless and a positive experience. Based on this experience, AUWCL leadership is planning a hybrid format for the Fall 2020 semester that combines some in-residence courses with online courses.


Unfortunately, on July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a new rule that imposed restrictions on international students in the United States who were planning to take online classes. Specifically, it prohibited international students studying on F-1 visas to have a fully online course load in Fall 2020 while still residing in the United States. After strong and widespread opposition, thankfully, this rule was rescinded. AUWCL was dismayed at this targeting of international students as we expressed our support of the international students immediately and unequivocally.


On July 7, 2020, I wrote a note to AUWCL international students that stated: “You are so very important to us and we care deeply about your welfare. You are part of our family and we will do everything to make things work out in these strange and difficult times. We are committed to making a plan for each of you that is tailor made for your individual needs.” Following AU President Burwell’s denouncement of the ICE policy, AUWCL Acting Dean Robert Dinerstein issued a statement on behalf of the law school, opposing the policy and reaffirming the values of international students for AUWCL, AU, and the U.S. higher education community at large. Dean Dinerstein concluded his statement with the following words: “WCL stands with our international students.” In addition to AU and AUWCL leadership, multitude of AUWCL student groups consisting mainly of domestic J.D. students rose up in support of our international students.


As a daughter of a former international student, who came to the United States to attend college and subsequently served in the U.S. War Department during World War II, I know firsthand the true impact of international students on international legal education at host institutions. I know the value-added international students bring to host institutions as well as our country.


The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, once again, a fundamental truth: Humankind is ONE. We are all interrelated and interconnected, and through cooperation, collaboration and coordination we together overcome the challenges of COVID-19. In these times of national fragmentation, AUWCL’s international programs and faculty continue to take leadership and bring people together for innovative solutions to global challenges. AUWCL faculty are also committed to promoting and preserving an international rule of law that respects the inherent dignity of all peoples. Our monthly ICLS newsletter available on our website provides news on important initiatives and accomplishments of our faculty, alumni and international programs that seek to address the many challenges faced by the international community, including those posed by COVID-19.


I look forward to seeing many of you virtually or in person in the near future. Please stay safe and healthy. Please also keep us abreast of your progresses and achievements, and send your information to Carri Connor at cconnor@wcl.american.edu so that it could be included in our next newsletter. You all personify why international legal education is important. Together, we can overcome all challenges.

Padideh Ala’i
Professor of Law
Director of International & Comparative Law Program