COVID-Related Appointments Abroad: Summer 2021
COVID-19 continues to challenge our work, travel, and everyday lives. For the past year, a number of faculty, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates have been unable to come to Michigan requiring many to work abroad. A number of units wished to support such individuals financially while they worked or studied abroad. In response, the University sought to screen and process appointments abroad for more than 200 individuals spread across more than sixty countries, accommodating them to the extent possible under law, funder regulations, and internal MSU policies.
We are still facing some of the same problems as we have over the past year. Some of our colleagues are still having difficulty getting to the United States. We are now ready to implement an updated ad hoc screening process to review unit requests to support overseas appointments of individuals in Summer 21. Although exceptions may sometimes occur for demonstrated cause, the Summer 21 screening will implement the same following default expectations:
Graduate and undergraduate students who are able to reside in the vicinity of the MSU campus during Summer 21 are strongly encouraged to do so. A request for undergraduate employment, graduate study (with or without tuition waivers), TA appointment, or RA appointment to occur abroad during Summer 21 will require specific justification and will be approved on an exception basis only for cause. Federal sanctions now in place against the Crimean region, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria result in a strong presumption of denial for study, research, teaching, or other employment requests in those locales, or for their citizens’ appointments anywhere outside of the United States. Because sanctions are imposed differently on different countries, the specific facts of each request – including software and other tools to be used remotely -- will impact the permissibility of any possible exceptions. In general, individuals who were physically located at MSU in SS21 will not be candidates for new COVID-related appointment abroad in Summer 21, absent a significant and non-discretionary change in circumstances. Putting aside issues of export controls and trade sanctions, each country of COVID-related appointment outside of the United States complicates MSU compliance with a large and nationally diverse set of taxation and employment laws. Therefore, it is the institutional intent to limit total participation in COVID-related appointments abroad, en route to elimination by Fall Semester of 2021 of an appointment program created on a purely ad hoc basis to assist with pandemic exigencies.
Through two methods, MSU will seek to ensure that those individuals appointed abroad for Summer 21 avoid difficulties with the export control, trade sanctions, and other regulatory obligations the institution must meet.
ECTS hopes to conserve time in those units re-appointing individuals for whom appointments abroad were approved in SS21. In such cases, there is no need to resubmit the previous form to ECTS if there have been no changes in the scope of work, tools used (e.g., software), or country in which work was performed SS21. The previously approved form should be transmitted directly to Human Resources, along with an e-mail stating that "The attached Spring Semester 2021 "appointment abroad" screening form is re-submitted for Summer Semester 2021. I attest that (i) the course and/or research information provided on the form, (ii) the locale of proposed appointment abroad, (iii) the software and remote computer access to be utilized, (iv) the course instructor or research preceptor information, and (v) the most recent university/employer/military service information were correct for Spring Semester 2021 and are believed to remain correct for Summer Semester 2021. I understand that any inaccuracies herein may subject the individual appointed abroad, unit staff, and/or the University to serious sanctions, and that the appointing unit remains responsible for promptly reporting to ECTS all later additions or modifications to the information now being provided."
In some COVID-related re-appointment abroad cases, some information will change between SS21 and Summer 21, properly triggering a new ECTS review. (For example, TA’s in upper division classes will typically be assisting different courses – possibly using different controlled software in Summer 21. Similarly, students may be switching from TA to RA or vice versa between FS20 and SS21, changing research projects within their group, or even changing research preceptors. Such changes necessitate new ECTS reviews.) More likely, a form will need to be completed by a new applicant.
When screening information changes for either those individuals to be newly appointed abroad "for cause", or for whom continuation of appointment abroad can be justified because of a change in status, please use the attached form to transmit the new SS21 data. The forms submitted to S21appts@msu.edu will be initially screened in ECTS, in cooperation with the many other administrative units affected by unconventional teaching and research abroad.
As noted in the original FS20 screening process, it must be remembered that the Fundamental Research Exclusion (FRE) "safe harbor" from export control – something that all major American universities rely upon for conducting and openly publishing fundamental research (other than certain encryption and those projects restricted by funders) – is only available for work undertaken within the United States. Thus, for example, NSF-funded research work on fingerprint identification that could be conducted freely on our campus would be captured by export control regulations if conducted abroad. In the case of teaching, normal catalog courses are exempted from export control, even if occurring abroad. However, certain commercial tools (such as advanced software and other information technology tools) still remain controlled when used within those courses. These research and teaching considerations necessitate the screening of new or modified appointments. Where warranted, the envisioned appointment request screening will result in recommendations or requirements for additional training, to minimize the likelihood of misunderstandings resulting in regulatory violations.
Please contact us at S21appts@msu.edu if you have any questions.