"If you are from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, please dial 8" is the recorded message you hear if you call (510) 592-9688, the telephone number of the embattled Northwestern Polytechnic University in Fremont, Calif.
It's a sign of the nervousness of NPU's administration — and its chintzy-ness.
NPU, which the venerable Times of India says is engaging in a "massive academic rip-off", is an allegedly non-profit educational institution that, as we reported earlier, made a profit of $29 million from revenues of $40 million in tuition payments in 2014. Over a period of three years, NPU reported no help from volunteers, no receipt of gifts, and no government grants — yet it has the IRS status of a 501(c)3 charity.
Most of the students are from India and, according to other segments of the Indian press, as many as a hundred would-be NPU students have been turned back at U.S. airports or prevented from boarding Air India flights to California. The immigration inspectors apparently sense that some of the incoming students are not really nonimmigrants, coming to the United States for a temporary period, and that they plan to stay.
NPU has responded by saying that their entity has not been "blacklisted by DHS", which, as of today (January 7), is technically correct. NPU is run by a Chinese family named Hsieh.
That the university is not barred from receiving foreign students, and that some of the incoming "students" were not regarded as such, are, of course two different matters, handled by separate parts of DHS. This is a nuance that neither the Indian press nor the Indian government, upset by the treatment of some of these travelers, can fathom.
But back to the phones. If you want to get in touch with someone at NPU and you do not have the direct number, the automated switchboard will send you off in various directions, but I have never been able to reach a human being by using the telephone tree. Today I tried the "dial 8" route and was connected to a pleasant person. I said I wanted to find a certain professor and was referred to the library, where I was told that they did not have a listing of the faculty members. Some library!
Inserting the "dial 8" in the telephone tree indicates that the university knows that its phone system is, to say the least, inadequate, and that they do not want DHS staff to be irritated by it should one of them call.
Another possible solution to the problem — of course — would be to dip into that $29 million surplus and spend, say, $20 an hour to hire an additional switchboard operator. That would provide much better service for everyone, not just DHS. NPU did not take that option.