A Lansing high school field trip to Michigan State University’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory was just cancelled* and the school is blaming this on the Bureau of Industry and Security.  According to the school, the field trip was cancelled when the school received the permission slip from NSCL and saw this:

“I also certify that this minor is not a citizen/resident of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan or Syria.”

The school district superintendent said that she believed that the restriction violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on national origin.

Let’s start with that. They apparently don’t teach civics in Lansing. National origin and citizenship are different things. You can discriminate based on citizenship status but not on national origin. A naturalized U.S. citizen cannot be treated differently because he or she was born in Cuba or China or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

But going a little further, what’s up with this restriction? The NSCL apparently told the school that the restriction comes from the Bureau of Industry and Security. This means, given the singling out of nationals from AT countries, that something in the lab must be classified under one of the 990 series of ECCNs which are controlled only for AT reasons, and NSCL is concerned about giving access to that equipment by nationals of AT countries.

Indeed, the minor permission form that caused the brouhaha can be found here and does indeed have the quoted language. But the Tour Certification Form, also required by NSCL to be signed by the tour group, has this curious language:

I have made the members of the party aware that certain technology in FRIB/NSCL falls under fundamental research exclusions from export control within the MSU setting of a domestic research university, but is subject to control elsewhere.

If the concern is access to series 990 equipment, the fundamental research exclusion is irrelevant. Additionally, the notion that information that is fundamental research if disclosed at the university, but is not if it is disclosed elsewhere is just wrong. Once it is fundamental research, it is released from controls everywhere and to everyone. The information does not stop being fundamental research once it leaves the campus.

But more fundamentally, even if the lab equipment is controlled, would the NSCL be transferring technology to a bunch of high school kids that visited the lab? Remember that technology is defined as information required for the development, production or use of the equipment. Certainly, nothing that kids would see on a field trip would permit them to develop or produce the equipment. Nor would it likely help them to use the equipment given that “use” is defined as operation, installation (including on-site installation), maintenance (checking), repair, overhaul and refurbishing. Unless the high school kids could figure out how to operate the equipment after seeing it, there’s no way that they would be able to install, maintain, repair, overhaul or refurbish it.

So, I say, let the kids go — even if they are Cuban exchange students. Just make sure you don’t tell them how to install, maintain, repair, overhaul and refurbish the cyclotron (or whatever equipment is causing the concern) while they are there.