Moral Clarity and Communications Excellence From Princeton’s President

The public message from Christopher L. Eisgruber on the ICE policy change.

July 9, 2020

It is rarely the case that you run across a public statement from a higher education leader of such moral clarity and unflinching directness that your breath is taken away.

The recent public statement on the ICE policy change for international students by Princeton's president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, is an exception.

What Eisgruber is saying is fully aligned with what many of us in higher ed are thinking and saying.

His letter is so well crafted, so direct and free of jargon and equivocation, that I feel compelled to reprint it in full and share it with all of you.

To members of the Princeton community:

On Monday of this week, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a precipitous, unexpected change in policy affecting international students at Princeton and throughout the country. The announcement indicated that international students on F-1 visas would be required to leave the United States if they were taking classes entirely online. It raised questions about whether international students who are in their home countries would be permitted to pursue remote online programs from American universities that were offering in-person or hybrid instruction.

While we are already examining multiple possible responses to ICE's announcement, its sudden and incomplete character makes our task even more difficult. Understanding the details will be crucial as we develop ongoing responses. ICE has issued a statement and a series of FAQs, but as of this morning, it had published neither any formal legal rule nor even a draft of one.

ICE's disruptive and ill-defined policy changes, which appeared without warning or prior discussion, come in the midst of a public health crisis that has required Princeton and other universities to do much of their teaching remotely. They also come during a period when the United States has interrupted visa processing and closed its borders to many countries, making it impossible for many international students to reach the United States to receive in-person instruction when it is available.

The announced changes are heartless, senseless, and damaging: they needlessly put international students at risk without serving any legitimate policy objective.

Princeton stands firmly with our international students, who are crucial to the mission and quality of this University and, indeed, to the vitality and creativity of our country. We are filing an amicus brief in the lawsuit that Harvard and MIT brought against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE earlier today. We are also exploring other legal and policy options, as well as other University actions that might solve the problems created by ICE's announcement.

Not only is this policy misguided and unnecessary, the manner in which ICE announced its actions has been wholly irresponsible, adding to the anxiety of students and families already grappling with the realities of a global pandemic. We will continue to communicate with our international students and our community as more information becomes available and as we take further steps to challenge and mitigate the impact of this policy.

ICE's announcement is policymaking at its worst: cruel, opaque, and arbitrary. Princeton will fight vigorously and work relentlessly to support our international students and to defeat this unjust and ill-considered policy.

Christopher L. Eisgruber

July 8, 2020

In the years to come, we will look back on Eisgruber's open letter as a model for all of us as we seek to communicate clearly, effectively and authentically with our communities.

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Joshua Kim

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