Interrupting tales of loons and bears for more urgent matters…. Many Trinity students didn’t sleep well last night and frankly neither did I. I lay awake thinking about the utter cruelty and political cynicism of the decision that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced yesterday, Monday, to revoke the F1 visas of our international students if they take courses only online in Fall 2020. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when schools everywhere and colleges in particular have agonized over details about how to operate safely, the Trump Administration (ICE is doing Trump’s bidding here, have no doubt) throws a bomb into the middle of plans, using our immigrant students as some kind of pawns yet again; our DACA students already know the deep pain of so much cruelty. I’m not sure who first said that, “The cruelty is the point,” but the statement is apt.
Perhaps it was merely coincidental (or not) that also on Monday Harvard University announced that its fall semester would be online, and many other prominent universities also made similar announcements. One theory is that Trump is using our international students to try to force universities to be “open” in the fall, meaning conducting face-to-face classes. He is desperate to get the economy pumped up again as an election strategy. Death by coronavirus seems to be an acceptable risk for this administration’s thirst for power.
Also probably not a coincidence, today Trump held a meeting with certain governors and school representatives demanding that K-12 schools be opened in the fall — he tweeted the message in all caps — and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos immediately tweeted agreement. Secretary of Health and Human Services Azar reportedly said at the meeting that teachers should be like healthcare workers, specifically,”Health care workers don’t get infected because they take appropriate precautions. They engage in social distancing, wear facial covering….This can work. You can do all of this, there’s no reason schools have to be in any way any different.” He did not mention the scores of doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals who have become sick and even died due to working with Covid-19 patients.
Sure, everyone wants schools to be open, even as we want higher ed to be open, but the pandemic is still rampant and deadly, and every institution must make very careful plans appropriate for its own size, capacity, student body, resources, jurisdiction and willingness of the community to participate. Responsible leadership does not order schools to reopen in an all-caps tweet. Ignoring the dangers is an outrageous abandonment of the basic responsibility of leadership to protect the people.
So, the administration today is pushing two disgracefully irresponsible messages: the pandemic is no big deal, get over it; and, if US universities want to enroll international students this fall then classes may not be online. These messages are extremely harmful, rooted in political selfishness and a corrupt manipulation of vital public goods (health, education) for some kind of political gain. What that gain can be is hard to understand right now. Denying the deadliness of the pandemic is a true scandal of leadership failure. Denying a safe education for international students, interrupting their academic progress and possibly forcing them to make premature departures from the U.S. with no guarantee of return, further diminishes the stature of the U.S. globally while causing untold hardship and needless stress for more than a million college students.
At Trinity, we are looking at options and will do everything we can to take good care of our international students. We have many options for the fall and we will figure all of this out in ways that help students. We are working with advocacy groups to see if there are legislative or legal solutions.
We have a serious obligation to make sure that we care for the health and welfare of everyone on campus. We are going to great lengths to do so, and will continue to make sure that our decisions are rooted in the best medical advice and healthcare directions,
In the end, however, there is only one real solution for an administration that has made cruel, inhumane, immoral actions against immigrants and many other people — the president stoked the fires of white supremacy during the 4th of July weekend of all times — and that solution must be the voice of the people heard loudly and clearly at the ballot box in November.