Give the UC-Berkeley Fulbright Applicants a Chance

Last October, Federal Express failed to pick up UC-Berkeley’s graduate student Fulbright applications because of a software glitch. They were therefore one day late in arriving at the Department of Education, which has decided not to read the Berkeley applications.

I think this is grossly unfair to the students involved. Most universities, Harvard included, have a screening process for big grants like the Fulbright. Universities must nominate candidates. That means that students have to get all their materials to the university fellowship office by a date substantially in advance of the Fulbright’s late October deadline. The university then sends fully approved, nominated applications to the Department of Education. That means the university is responsible for mailing apps, not individual students.

The Department of Education has argued that UC-Berkeley should have used US Mail instead of FedEx, and would not acknowledge documentation from FedEx explaining that the error was theirs, not the university’s. All to no avail. Students who were nominated by Berkeley and had no control over the mailing of their apps are now being penalized by the Fulbright committee.

Now, I am as big an advocate as the next person for personal responsibility, but in this case students had already met their obligations and were expecting the university to forward their applications in an appropriate amount of time. The Department of Education can complain all it likes about UC-Berkeley’s responsibilities and FedEx’s responsibilities, but the students did what they were told to do. This situation is not of their making, and they should not be penalized for it.

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