SARS Forces Yenching To Postpone Fellowships

The Harvard-Yenching Institute will postpone its fellowships for travel to China in light of concerns about the spread of SARS, the institute announced Wednesday.

Meanwhile, with thousands of alumni and proud Harvard parents preparing to arrive in Cambridge for Commencement and reunion activities, the University has requested that people from China, Hong Kong or Taiwan who plan to stay in University housing observe a 10-day waiting period between the time they leave their country and the time they check into University housing.

The Yenching decision comes nearly three weeks after Harvard banned all University-funded travel to regions affected by the respiratory illness, including China. At the time, Yenching officials said they were waiting to determine whether conditions would improve to allow travel.

Last month, Ronald Suleski, the Yenching Institute’s staff assistant, wrote in an e-mail that the institute would keep a close watch on the policies set by Harvard and by the other research centers that deal with Asia when deciding on their own policy.

“It is a question of trying to determine what the most accurate information is, and also what the real desires of our ‘clients’ (the students and scholars) are,” he wrote.

Associate Director of the Institute Edward J. Baker said yesterday that in order for students to go to China in August, the Institute would have to start the paperwork now, but that it is too early to determine whether or not SARS will still be a concern then.

“The SARS epidemic is still raging in China,” he said.

In the meantime, the Institute is encouraging students to go to Korea, where SARS has not claimed any victims, Baker said.

Students who had received the fellowships to travel to China in the fall will have the option to go in the spring or fall of 2004, he said.

“They won’t have to compete in the spring,” he said. “We will help them.”

Students, however, will have to resubmit their application materials by today at the latest, Elaine Witham, the visiting scholars coordinator for the institute, wrote in an e-mail to grant recipients.

Although some students said they were disappointed, they said that they are glad that the institute will allow them to use the grant to travel to China in the future.

“It threw me for a loop,” said Wendy Y. Guey ’04. “I was disappointed; but they’re letting us defer it.”

Guey said that she is planning to postpone her research in China, but she “may look into going to Korea.”

Grace E. Fu ’03 said that though she had planned to go to China after graduation, she will now do something else for the coming year.

“It’s actually turned out okay,” Fu said. “I wouldn’t want to be in China at this moment. I don’t think it is safe enough and I’m glad they decided to cancel it and resume it next year.”

The Yenching’s decision is the latest in a series of SARS-related restrictions at the University. Although the University has lifted its ban on travel to Toronto, Singapore, and Vietnam, the moratorium is still in effect for travel to mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

And the SARS policy has implications for those traveling in the other direction as well.

When they arrive at Harvard housing locations, alumni from SARS-affected regions will be required to show airline ticket stubs, passports or visas to demonstrate that they have met the 10-day wait requirement.

Those who do not meet the requirement will not be allowed to reside in University-sponsored housing, but will be issued refunds.

The same criteria will apply to summer school students.

While seemingly strict, Harvard’s policy with regard to commencement visitors is significantly more permissive than some institutions’.

Case Western Reserve University, the University of Rochester, and Washington University in St. Louis have asked people from SARS affected areas not to attend their graduation ceremonies.

—Staff writer Yailett Fernandez can be reached at yfernand@fas.harvard.edu.