Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were on campus at the University of Central Arkansas early this week to visit the school’s international programs office, the university said Thursday.
According to Jeff Pitchford, vice president of university and government relations, the agents were investigating the enrollment status of an international student who may have dropped out of school.
"What we can tell from the visit is that the field agents were following up on an international student that left during the semester," Pitchford said.
He said students in international programs have student visas that correlate with the students’ enrollment at the university.
Pitchford said he was unsure if the ICE agents were at the university with the intent to also investigate allegations surrounding the international programs office’s former director, Alex Chen, who was reassigned as a professor earlier this month.
Interim president Tom Courtway sent a letter to trustees earlier this month stating several complaints had been made in recent weeks regarding the Office of International Programs, "in particular about Dr. Alex Chen."
A state newspaper article on Wednesday stated Courtway notified U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of allegations that some international students at the university have worked more than their student visas permitted.
An internal review of the program was initiated at the same time that Chen’s job title was removed and he returned to his former position as a professor.
Pitchford said Thursday when he was asked if the agents’ visit had anything to do with the internal review, he said that he was "sure the immigration officials read the newspaper along with everyone else."
Numerous articles have been written and published about Chen, former president Allen Meadors’ friend and former co-worker, since he was scrutinized for his part in a university-paid trip that was routed through Cancun, Mexico.
The letter Courtway sent to trustees to notify them of Chen’s change of title came after state and local articles that linked Chen to a two-day stay at Cancun with Meadors.
The two, according to Meadors, found cheaper flights in the area of Cancun on a return trip from university business.
Another investigation is ongoing at UCA.
Allen Meadors, who resigned in September, is the subject of a federal investigation along with any at the school who may have been involved in possible improprieties surrounding the presentation of an Aramark food vendor contract as a gift, rather than an offer contingent upon contract renewal, to trustees.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)