Vanderbilt AAUP Statement on ICE International Student Policy

July 10, 2020

On July 6, 2020, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students taking a full online course load will not be issued visas or, if they are currently in the US, will face deportation. The Vanderbilt University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter denounces this policy. The policy exemplifies both the Trump administration’s racist, xenophobic approach to immigrants and refugees, as well as  its failures to address the COVID-19 pandemic. We stand with the more than 30,000 faculty nationwide (as of this writing) who have signed the Open Letter Against the Student Ban, which rejects university complicity with the ICE policy.

In our “Petition to the Vanderbilt University Administration for a More Just, Equitable, and Safe Response to COVID-19,” which is currently circulating for signatures, we demand that the University take action informed by structural and collective responsibility, rather than placing the onus on individual professors to opt in or out of online teaching. Vanderbilt must do everything in its power to prevent the deportation of international students and to protect public health and safety on campus: our university must reject any logic that sets one of these essential goals against the other. Unfortunately, the ICE edict compounds dangers already posed by Vanderbilt policies to the health of non-resident and resident students. 

We demand that Vanderbilt University:

  1. Join together with other institutions to oppose ICE’s policy through lobbying, advocacy, and legal challenges. Vanderbilt must use its leverage as a preeminent research university and collaborate with other higher education institutions to pressure ICE to reinstate its March 13 guidance enabling online classes to count towards a full course of study, extending this temporary provision for the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. Two major universities have filed a lawsuit in Federal Court challenging the change in policy, and at least 45 others have filed amicus briefs as of July 10. Vanderbilt should pursue the most assertive legal action possible to protect its international students. 
  2. Give priority to international students (undergraduate and graduate) in the selection of face-to-face classes during fall registration and future semesters in which ICE’s policy is in place. While the default online teaching proposal may increase the number of online classes, the university can protect international students through policy improvements. Before finalizing the fall 2020 course schedule, the administration can privilege international students in enrollment for face-to-face courses, and expand online course offerings for other students to ensure the correct number of seats. This solution protects instructors from teaching on campus against their will while providing international students access to the correct number of courses. Even more importantly, this systemic solution will affirm an institutional commitment to protecting international students rather than placing responsibility on individual faculty. 

Our petition, which was drafted and began circulating before ICE’s announcement, advocates for changes to university policy for both types of international students affected by ICE’s most recent policies. The Petition’s request for default online teaching, with the option for any faculty member to choose to teach on campus, allows for some face-to-face classes while emphasizing safety, equity, consistent pedagogy, and quality scholarship. In addition, the Petition’s other demands directly address Vanderbilt’s policies that have damaging implications for international students.

  1. For international students still abroad, the Petition demands that they be able to study, research, and teach while remaining in good standing and receiving stipend payments, financial assistance, and benefits. Many of these students are not able to return to the US due to travel restrictions. Current Vanderbilt policies ask them to put their lives at risk to return, or risk being forced to take leave. The new ICE rule would similarly ask these students to risk their lives to receive education, and deny immunocompromised or high-risk international students the ability to access online teaching.
  2. For international graduate students in the US, the Petition demands that they must be able to choose on-campus teaching and courses, according to their own health needs.

Adoption of default online teaching would significantly aid the university in grappling with the consequences of this ICE policy in the interests of international students. The immediate implementation of online default and rapid identification of instructors planning to teach face-to-face would free up administrative resources currently being used to process faculty accommodations requests and outfit classrooms, and enhance the university’s capacity to secure international students slots in face-to-face classes as soon as possible.

As instructors devoted to equitable and rigorous education, we stand in solidarity with our international undergraduate, professional, and graduate students. We refuse the false choice between deportation and exposure to COVID-19. We are committed to working with the university administration, faculty staff, and targeted students in a manner that maximizes everyone’s safety.

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