Seventy years ago this September I began my junior year at UCLA, rooming with two graduate students from mainland China. Before the end of that academic year, both of my roommates were forced by the now in power communist government to make a choice: return to China now, or never. One returned to China. The other chose to remain in the United States permanently.

That order by the Chinese communists terminated, for several decades, a lengthy period of Chinese attendance at American colleges, particularly here in California. Although this state’s anti-Chinese attitude, written into law in the late nineteenth century, had attempted to block Chinese immigration to California, its institutions of higher education welcomed young Chinese who came to study but accepted the fact that when they earned their degrees they would have to go home.

Now the Trump Administration, prodded by Stephen Miller, an ultra-reactionary advisor from Southern California, is considering an order comparable to the one the communists issued seventy years ago. Under the proposal from Miller, who seems to have a fetish for supporting presidential executive orders that restrict non-whites from entering the country, all students from communistic mainland China would be barred from our colleges.

The justification? Those foreign students from China might have access to sensitive technological information currently forbidden to the Chinese. Allowing Chinese students to see or work with this protected material would endanger national security. Were that a legitimate concern, there would be no reason to bar undergraduates in any field since they would not be studying at a level that could place them in contact with restricted material. While that might be a convincing argument for banning Chinese graduate students in the sciences, it hardly justifies blocking entry of graduate students in social sciences, language arts, the performing arts or a variety of other fields.

The Red Scare argument against Chinese students has also been raised as a reason for denying them enrollment in our colleges. Visions of small cells of Chinese communist students, meeting secretly on or off campus to plot who knows what, have apparently wormed their way into the thinking of those on the far right who would block all Chinese students from coming here.

One theory as to why Trump and Miller are considering the ban on Chinese students is that sending home the 350,000 students already here would financially and intellectually punish colleges, which have been generally anti-Trump since his inauguration. With state and federal funds harder to come by under Trump, colleges enjoy the bounty of full tuition paid by foreign students, of which the Chinese are a major group. About 4,000 Chinese attend UCLA currently.

While Miller’s proposal may have been originally rejected in 2018, it has apparently resurfaced. A student ban now would serve as one more weapon in the escalating trade war with China.

The loss of Chinese students, however, would have more than a financial effect on our universities. They, like all foreign students, offer their American classmates a global education, both in and outside the classroom. In 1948 two of my roommates were an Israeli and a Palestinian!

I don’t know when Ho-Chow Chu or Chien Wenjen arrived in the U, S., or whether they already had undergraduate degrees before they entered UCLA. When I knew them, Chu was already well on his way to a Ph. D. in meteorology. Wenjen studied for a similar degree in mathematics.

As the deadline approached, Chu faced a dilemma unlike any that American students ever had to encounter. It was obvious that he was reluctant to leave UCLA, but he had family in China and would never see them again if he chose to stay here. Wenjen made his decision early. He would remain.

I came back to our room one day and Chu was gone. We recognized that any communication between us and him would jeopardize Chu and his family. None of us corresponded with him. Through the research by fellow Cal Poly Pomona history professor Zuoyue Wang, we now know how Chu fared in his homeland. He became a prominent meteorologist in China, although he apparently suffered during the Cultural Revolution.

Wenjen obtained his Ph. D. from UCLA and eventually joined the faculty in the mathematics department at what is now Cal State Long Beach, reaching the rank of full professor. He authored numerous technical papers in his field.

Seventy years ago, their communist government interrupted their academic progress. Today, the Trump Administration would like to be the culprit.