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Apparently, the bureaucracy of the United States government considers having a bit of expertise on “Pomp and Circumstance” as a threat to our national security.

Musicologist Nalini Ghuman can’t find out why. Meanwhile, she is barred from entering the United States.

Nalini Ghuman, an up-and-coming musicologist and expert on the British composer Edward Elgar, was stopped at the San Francisco airport in August last year and, without explanation, told that she was no longer allowed to enter the United States.

Her case has become a cause célèbre among musicologists and the subject of a protest campaign by the American Musicological Society and by academic leaders like Leon Botstein, president of Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where Ghuman was to have participated last month in the Bard Music Festival, showcasing Elgar’s music.

But the door has remained closed to Ghuman, an assistant professor at Mills College in Oakland, California, who is British and who had lived, studied and worked in the United States for 10 years before her abrupt exclusion.

The mystery of her case shows how difficult, if not impossible, it is to defend against such a decision once the secretive government process has been set in motion….

The American Musicological Society [the premiere organization of music history scholars in the United States] issued a call for action under the signature of the president of the society:

Letter to the membership from Charles Atkinson,
President of the American Musicological Society

30 April 2007

Dear Colleagues,

As I reported in the President’s Message in the February 2007 issue of the AMS Newsletter, one of our members, a citizen of the United Kingdom, was detained without explanation at the San Francisco airport this past August upon returning to the U.S. to resume her teaching position here in the United States.  Her visa was summarily revoked, and she was forced to return to the U.K.  When she was unable to return to the U.S. in order to give a paper at the Annual Meeting of our Society, the AMS Board of Directors sent a letter to the U.S. State Department, to the U.S. Consulate in London, and to the appropriate legislative representatives in Washington, expressing our profound consternation and anxiety over her treatment and our desire that her situation be resolved as soon as possible.  In the President’s Message I did not mention her name, Nalini Ghuman, or her academic affiliation, Mills College, because she felt that this was a simple misunderstanding that could be resolved quickly out of the public eye.  It has now been more than eight months since the incident at the San Francisco airport, and there has been no apparent movement toward resolution….

Statement Concerning Dr. Nalini Ghuman
Assistant Professor of Music
Mills College
Oakland, California

In August 2006, British citizen Dr. Nalini Ghuman was detained for 8 hours at San Francisco airport after returning from a month-long research visit to the UK.  Professor Ghuman had previously held F1 student visas since September 1996 while earning a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.  She has been employed as an Assistant Professor of Music at Mills College since 2003, and was in possession of an H1B visa, issued in London, valid until 31 May 2008.

Instead of being allowed to return to her home in Oakland to start her fourth year at Mills, Dr. Ghuman had her visa revoked and was denied re-entry to the country where she has lived, studied, and worked for 10 years.  A distinguished music graduate of Oxford University and of Kings College, London, Dr. Ghuman is completing her book focused on the influence of India on English music in the early twentieth century.

Bay Area legislators have received dozens of letters protesting Dr Ghuman’s exclusion from the USA, and Mills College has written to the Department of State urging their office to correct a grave error by restoring Dr Ghuman’s visa immediately so that she can return to her teaching position without further loss to her students and harm to her career as a classical music scholar.  Dr. Ghuman’s students at Mills have already waited over eight months for her to be allowed to return to her teaching duties.  This semester she is teaching her seminar on music in fin-de-siècle France via professional video-link from the University of Wales and maintains full contact with her students.  The government action denying her entry to the U.S. prevented her from presenting her professional work at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in November 2006.  In response to this the Board of Directors of the AMS, the largest international association dealing with music as a branch of learning and scholarship, officially protested her exclusion in a letter to the Department of State.

Despite numerous requests from herself and from prominent legislators, Dr. Ghuman has never received an explanation for her exclusion from the U.S. or for the continuing delay on her application for a replacement visa.  According to a recent communication received by Senator Richard Durbin, her application is still awaiting security clearance at the Department of State in Washington, D.C.  Dr. Ghuman has been informed by her Member of Parliament’s office that the U.S. London Embassy is convinced that mistaken identity is the issue in her case.  They state that they are, however, finding it impossible to get through to the State Department and are frustrated by the lack of response from Washington.  They have told her MP’s office to keep up their attempts to contact the State Department.

At Mills, faculty members in the Music Department are bewildered by Dr. Ghuman’s exclusion from the U.S., which is keeping her from her role as a passionate advocate of classical music as part of a liberal arts education.  According to department head David Bernstein, Dr. Ghuman came to Mills more than three years ago with great potential as both a scholar and as a teacher.  Her continuing exclusion from the U.S. has created uncertainty in the Music Department for her students and faculty colleagues.

Mary-Ann Milford, Provost and Dean of Faculty at Mills, says that Dr. Ghumans absence this year has been a great loss to both her department and the College because she performed a broad scope of duties as the Colleges classical musicologist.  According to Mills President Janet L. Holmgren, the arbitrary and inexplicable exclusion of Dr. Ghuman has been a personal tragedy for her and a cause of distress to Mills and to American higher education.

Our tax dollars at work.

A blog entry by a former student at UC berkeley puts the situation in more approachable terms:

nalini ghuman
Were any of you in University Chorus when Paul Flight was the conductor? (Marika was on leave then). I know he conducted it Fall 2000 and Spring 2001 (my first two semesters in u chorus), and he conducted it for a while again later, I can’t remember what year. Anyway, remember Nalini, the grad student (then) who did the accompaniment? Now she’s a professor at Mills. There is a big article in the new york times about her today. She was barred from coming back to the country last August…

….It’s so weird. I had no idea. She was so cool! And like so warm and so awesome at the piano and stuff. It’s so weird to see a former instructor making international news like this. WTF America??????????????????????????


Meanwhile, dubya’s administration can’t find a six foot five inch guy attached to a dialysis machine. I feel safer already…