College Leaders Fear Trump's Immigration Restrictions Will Hurt Innovation And Research

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Dozens of colleges and several higher-education groups have expressed strong opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking immigration from a list of majority-Muslim countries and indefinitely suspending refugees from Syria, arguing that the moves will hurt scholarship and research innovation.

Trump argued that he made the move in the name of security, but among those stopped or delayed on their travels were graduate students heading back to campus to study and professors traveling for research.

As much as the policy itself, college leaders complained about its swift and confusing implementation, enacted without a grace period Friday afternoon, and inconsistently enforced. (The Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities is keeping a running list of colleges that have expressed opposition.)

“The President’s order related to immigration is a bad idea, poorly implemented, and I hope that he will promptly revoke and rethink it,” wrote Purdue University’s president, Mitch Daniels, who was previously the Republican governor of Indiana. “If the idea is to strengthen the protection of Americans against terrorism,” he added, “there are many far better ways to achieve it.”

The order impacts visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—but many academics worry that the list of nations could expand in the future without warning. That could hurt the ability of American colleges to recruit students and researchers from a wide range of countries, according to a statement from the Association of University Professors.

“Other countries have set the goal of surpassing the United States as the global leader in higher education, research, and innovation,” the group’s statement says. “Allowing them to replace this country as the prime destination for the most talented students and researchers would cause irreparable damage, and help them to achieve their goal of global leadership.”

There's already a petition circulating online calling for a boycott of academic conferences held in the U.S.—which has been signed by hundreds of scholars

Other leaders argued that America’s leadership in technology can be traced to its open and welcoming immigration policies. “Some of our most innovative companies were founded or are led by immigrants—Google, Tesla, Microsoft, eBay, PayPal, SpaceX among others—many of whom came to the United States as students,” said Ángel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, in a statement. Sergey Brin, the Russian-born co-founder of Google, was among those at the protest at San Francisco International Airport.

A key value of higher education and academic inquiry is openness to a rich array of cultures, viewpoints, and perspectives. Those values were cited in some of the statements by college leaders, including one by Columbia University’s president, Lee C. Bollinger.

“This order undermines the nation’s continuing commitment to remain open to the exchange of people and ideas,” he says. “We join with many peers in decrying this action as discriminatory, damaging to America’s leadership in higher education, and contrary to our nation’s core values and founding principles.”

Leaders of conservative groups, meanwhile, painted the outcry by academics as a kind of discrimination against their viewpoint on immigration.

“We fear that progressive censorship of dissenting voices will now spread to include censorship of any student, professor, or visiting speaker who voices support of President Trump's executive order,” Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, a conservative-leaning group, said in an interview in The Atlantic. “Academia ought to be presumptively open to the expression of such arguments,” he added.

Some legal scholars argue that the order violates the Constitution because they say it is effectively a ban against Muslims. Though Trump denies that intent, during his campaign he promised an immigration ban targeted at Muslims.

Swift rulings by federal judges in at least four cities halted part of the original order and prevented some detained travelers from being deported.

New York’s Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, said in an interview with The New York Times that the executive order was unconstitutional, and that he was considering legal action, in part on the grounds that the policy is “damaging our state institutions,” including universities.

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