• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.

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Guest Post: Speaking Out for DACA

When the chips are down, higher ed leadership stands with their students.

September 6, 2017
 
 

While John is on vacation, he’s asked me to fill in here at Just Visiting. I’m Susan Schorn, the Writing Program Coordinator in the School of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of, among other things, Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly. 

I suspect John will have something to say about President Trump’s cancellation of the  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program when he returns next week. Yet I can’t let yesterday's news pass unremarked. And no one else is, either. We're hearing a lot about the importance of DACA, and some of the most full-throated support is coming from leaders in higher education. For instance, here’s an excerpt from an email the president of my own institution, Gregory Fenves, sent within hours of the White House's announcement:

In November of last year, I joined hundreds of other university presidents in signing a letter to President-elect Trump asking that DACA be maintained. And I will continue to join higher education leaders in urging the U.S. Congress to quickly pass long-term legislation to support those whom DACA has enabled — young immigrants who have spent most of their lives in the U.S.

Some of those young immigrants are UT students and they are vital members of our campus community. Each one of them is valued. Each one of them contributes to the UT experience. . . .

At The University of Texas we are defined and elevated by our students. They come from many backgrounds and experiences to learn, to benefit from the diversity of the campus, to be ambitious and to serve. UT brings people together. We don’t benefit by shutting people out.   

Our Chancellor, William H. McRaven, issued a similar statement, which reads in part,

These students consider themselves to be Americans and Texans, proud of the state they see as their home. They, like others, have served our nation with distinction in their academic pursuits, in our nation’s military, and as productive members of society. This service should be applauded and honored. Our nation should recognize the potential in these students, granting them the opportunity to pursue their education and enter the workforce in this country.

I’m gratified (and relieved) to be part of an institution whose leadership supports its students with such speed and conviction. Indeed, while today's educational administrators have a depressing tendency to focus on buzzwords at the expense of students, they have redeemed themselves, in my eyes, with their response to this craven political move.

From University of California President Janet Napolitano:  "These youth need our protection and encouragement, and it is incumbent upon Congress to approve legislation that removes the uncertainty caused by President Trump’s misguided decision.” 

From Rutgers University President Robert Barchi: “Rescinding this protection, after they have voluntarily identified themselves, is diametrically opposed to any sense of fairness, let alone compassion for their situation.” (Rutgers successfully advocated for the New Jersey DREAM Act, which will protect students in lieu of DACA.)

From Farnam Jahanian, Interim President at Carnegie Mellon:  "While CMU does not have a large population directly covered by DACA, an action like this that would deny even one of our students a CMU education and membership in our community is deeply distressing. And the potential fate of the children and young adults covered by DACA, who have so much to offer, is morally troubling to all of us. So let us take this occasion to restate: A diverse and inclusive community is the foundation for excellence in learning, research, creativity and human development. . . ."

From Peter Salovey, President of Yale:

"For the students affected by this order, I want you to know unequivocally that Yale stands with you. You are an integral part of our community, and we remain committed to protecting your welfare and ensuring that you are able to participate fully in university life. . . . As the grandson of immigrants who came to the United States with dreams of a better life, I take this issue personally. We will not come together as a country if we play on fears or exploit the issue of immigration for political advantage. The hard work, creativity, and vibrancy of immigrants make this country stronger, more dynamic, and more innovative. I look forward to our work together as we build a better Yale and more inclusive nation.”

The list of statements supporting DACA recipients goes on and on: 

Rice University

Tufts 

Princeton 

University of Nebraska

University of Oregon

University of Virginia 

University of Colorado

Harvard 

This near-unanimity, and the language in these statements, is wonderful to see. The leaders of America’s institutions of learning all condemn DACA's repeal as unethical. The celebrate diversity and inclusion. Most call for a speedy and fair legislative solution to the repeal. They speak directly to DACA students, assuring them they are valued and will be protected. And they declare that DACA students are important contributors to our schools and our communities. The data back them up on this: 

  • DACA beneficiaries age 25+ with a college degree:  35.5%
  • All Americans age 25+ with a college degree:  33.4%

It’s gratifying to see our educational institutions—the repositories of so much knowledge, the source of so much potential—assert what we know to be both true and morally right in this moment. It’s a welcome contrast to the lies being spun around the repeal. Lies like those told by Attorney General Sessions, that DACA caused "a surge of unaccompanied minors”—untrue, according to the libertarian Cato Institute. Or that DACA has “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”  (In fact, according to Cato, ending DACA "will cost employers $2 billion and the federal government $60 billion.”)

The arguments against DACA are so self-evidently false that even House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders were against its termination.  It’s now up to these legislators to decide whether they will take action to uphold the principals they have espoused, in support of the facts they know to be true. Given their past tendency to march in lockstep with the leader of their party, I'm not especially hopeful.

Perhaps Speaker Ryan will hark back to his days as an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Last year the school's president called upon Senators to pass the bipartisan BRIDGE act to protect DACA students:

DACA students on our campuses have enriched the learning environment and brought extraordinary talent to our state. They have provided leadership in numerous disciplines from education to science and technology, and are actively serving their local communities and economies. These students have been raised and educated in the United States and have proven to be an important asset to our society.

The Inter-University Council is a strong advocate of the BRIDGE Act because it provides hope to our students and sends a clear and compelling message of support to our community. We look forward to working closely with you, members of the United States Senate, and other policy makers who will stand up for and favor a fair policy treating these students with the respect that they have earned.

It's time to see if our elected officials recognize any value at all in higher education—including their own.

[NB: I tried to find out if Jeff Sessions’ alma mater, Huntingdon College, had weighed in on the DACA repeal, but all I could find through Google was coverage of the warning they recently received from their accreditor for not having enough full-time faculty.]

 

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