President Brodhead recently co-signed a collaborative statement together with the leaders of 47 other American universities condemning Donald Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration. The letter, drafted primarily by Princeton President Eisgruber and the University of Pennsylvania President Gutmann, denounces Trump’s order as both detrimental to American academia and “inconsistent with America’s best principles and greatest traditions.” Along with that censure, the statement ends with a strong recommendation by the 48 university leaders for President Trump “to rectify the damage done by this order.”
In our editorial last week, we urged President Brodhead to “take an assertive stance to protect the many international members of the Duke community from potential federation action.” We now applaud him along with the 47 other university signees for mobilizing their institutional powers to condemn Trump’s order—a decree that threatens the academic freedoms of America’s many international students. However, we recognize that both the language of the letter and President Brodhead’s actions leave much to be desired in terms of institutional values.
Although the letter clearly emphasizes the importance of an open immigration policy, it specifically focuses on a highly skilled, educated set of “law abiding students and scholars” who are affected by the executive order. It neglects to mention the many less educated but equally desperate refugees and immigrants fleeing war-torn or poverty stricken conditions from areas affected by the executive order. A university diploma should not be the only factor used in appraising a person’s potential value to the American experience; so called “unskilled” immigrants have made contributions to this country equivalent to those of its hallowed heroes.
Moreover, the collaborative letter attempts to portray past American immigration policy as having been benevolent and welcoming, emphasizing that “throughout its history America has been a land of opportunity and a beacon of freedom.” This mythical trope ignores a history of racially restrictive immigration policies, such as the 1924 Immigration Act, that were enacted to prevent “undesirable stocks” from entering through the gates of liberty. In fact, many of the signees of the Trump-addressed letter were college students themselves when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 finally did away with race-based quotas for immigration.
Finally, though we applaud President Brodhead for defending our institutional values through this letter, we also recognize that Duke should take a more assertive role in doing so. Brodhead, maintaining that sanctuary campuses have “no basis in the law,” has yet to declare Duke a sanctuary campus despite the actions of many of our peer schools. This cautionary mentality runs contrary to the youthful, audacious nature Duke prides itself as having—as an institution unhindered by the social norms of its older Ivy League peers. Duke should not merely take a cautionary, moderate approach in dealing with such national issues in the university setting but take an active, trailblazing role in asserting its institutional values within the national sphere. If it fails to do so, Duke will lose its moral compass as a leading research university dedicated to “knowledge in the Service of Society.”
We commend both Duke and our 47 other peer schools for collaboratively condemning President Trump’s xenophobic executive order on immigration through their cosigned letter, despite its faults. Moreover, we recognize that Duke, as the leading global research university it prides itself as, can and should do much more than simply following the trendlines of our peer schools. Duke’s historic mission statement includes a tenet that we as an institution “attain and maintain a place of real leadership in all that we do.” We should live up to it.
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