17 top global universities vs the Trump immigration ban

This month 17 American universities joined a court challenge to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. Their brief revealed the extraordinary extent of – and dependence on – internationalisation at many of the world’s top-ranked institutions.

The amici – friends of the court – institutions are: Harvard, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT, Princeton, Chicago, Yale, Pennsylvania, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Cornell, Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, Brown, Emory, Vanderbilt and Dartmouth College.

The nub of the universities’ opposition to the Trump executive order is that it endangers their global missions and “immeasurable benefit from the contributions of diverse students, faculty and scholars from around the world".

“Because amici seek to educate future leaders from nearly every continent, attract the world’s best scholars, faculty and students, and work across international borders, they rely on the ability to welcome international students, faculty and scholars into their communities,” says the brief. The order threatens that ability and “creates significant hardship”.

John Cramer, director of media relations at Princeton University, told University World News this was not the first time that numerous universities had jointly filed an amicus brief.

“They do so when there is an issue before the courts that they believe will have a significant impact on their ability to achieve their missions and where they have expertise or perspectives that they believe will be useful to the court in adjudicating the case.”


On 27 January, Trump signed Executive Order 13769, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. Among other things it suspended, for 90 days, entry into the US of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The order applies to people with categories of visas most commonly relied on by students and academics from around the world. It also suspended for 120 days the Refugee Admissions Program, and suspended indefinitely refugees from Syria.

On 13 February Case 1:17-cv-00480-CBA, Document 76-1 was filed in a New York district court, as part of the lawsuit of Hameed Khalid Darweesh et al and the people of the state of New York versus Donald Trump.

Darweesh is an Iraqi immigrant who for a decade risked his life supporting the American military and government – but was nevertheless detained for 19 hours at a New York airport after Trump signed the order. He was freed only after interventions by lawyers and Democratic party politicians.

Despite the order’s limit to seven countries, “its damaging effects have already been widely felt by American universities”, the brief says. Scores of students, faculty and scholars were stranded abroad, while many others were unable to leave the US to travel home or elsewhere for field research, academic meetings or personal reasons.

High-ranking officials suggested the order could be extended to other countries, heightening institutional anxiety and casting doubt on the prospect of studying or working in America.

All this, argues the brief, in the absence of any evidence that the universities' lawfully-present students, faculty and scholars – all of whom have already been “thoroughly vetted” by government – pose any threat to the safety or security of the US or campuses.

International dependence

The brief goes on to outline the “truly global” outlooks and missions of the 17 universities which describe, for instance, service to the world and to humanity, improving lives and livelihoods worldwide, and the importance of local and global partners, of international engagement and faculty and students, and of diversity and multicultural knowledge.

They talk about the importance of research and teaching on global issues, of global citizenship, of worldwide transfer of beneficial knowledge, and of the responsibility to tackle global challenges through research and to produce leaders who make a difference globally.

In the 2015-16 academic year, American universities welcomed more than one million international students, who now account for more than 5% of all higher education students.

Each amici university hosts a large number of international students, faculty and scholars – including from the seven countries. “From Iran alone, more than 3,000 students have received PhDs from American universities in the past three years,” the brief says.

Last autumn, Columbia University enrolled 1,416 international undergraduates – 16% of all undergraduates – while 7,571 (38.7%) of 19,549 students in graduate and professional schools were non-resident aliens.

At Duke, 10% of 6,449 undergraduate students are international, as are a whopping 47% of 8,383 graduate students. At Yale, 11% of undergraduates are international, as is 20% of the overall student population.

In 2016-17, 640 or 12.2% of Princeton’s undergraduates are international, as are 1,168 or 42% of graduate students. At Pennsylvania there were 4,859 international students at all levels last autumn, including 13% of first years and more than a quarter of graduate students – and 11% of Penn’s undergraduate international students are from the Middle East or Africa.

“As of October 2016, Stanford University enrolled 4,164 international students, comprising 24% of the student population. This includes 37 undergraduates and 198 graduate students from the Middle East and North Africa.”

Carnegie Mellon’s international student enrolment in the US is 41% – 136 students from the Middle East – while at Chicago 12% of undergraduates are international and 31% of graduate and professional school students.

At Cornell, international students comprised 10% of undergraduates, 48% of graduate students and 30% of professional school students in autumn 2015. Dartmouth counts 9% of its undergraduate students and 29.4% of graduate students as international.

Northwestern is home to 5,363 international students. In 2014-15, more than 10% of Harvard graduates were non-resident aliens, as were 35% of graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Last autumn, Vanderbilt's undergraduate population was 7.6% international students, and 23.2% of graduate students were international.

At MIT, 40% of graduate students and 10% of undergraduate students are international. Last autumn, 3,289 international students were enrolled in MIT degree programmes. At Stanford, nearly 9% of undergraduates and 33.5% of graduate students are international.

International faculty and scholars

The universities said they benefited immensely from a significant number of international faculty and scholars, including many who were lawful permanent residents.

“At Princeton, an astonishing 343 (or 30%) of 1,152 faculty appointees are international,” says the brief. In addition, 50% of Princeton’s academic professionals – 550 of 1,102 researchers, postdoctoral fellows, specialists and professional librarians – and 50% of visiting faculty and researchers (221 of 441) are international.

Chicago counts as international 24% of faculty and other academic appointees, as well as 65% of postdoctoral researchers and 10% of staff members. Columbia employs nearly 4,000 full-time faculty, of whom 188 (4.7%) are non-residents, and at Penn the proportion is 1.3%. Almost 1,000 or 8% of Columbia’s non-instructional staff are non-resident aliens.

At Cornell, 5.1% of faculty are international as are 26.4% of other academic employees and postdocs. Brown counts more than 3% of its faculty as international.

At Yale there are 4,462 international students, faculty and scholars. Yale’s faculty is 10% international, as is around 65% of its postdoctoral research. Northwestern is home to 1,534 international scholars, in positions from postdoctoral scholars to researchers and faculty.

Carnegie Mellon counts 14.8% of its faculty as international, and 5% of Emory’s more than 2,000 full-time instructional staff, and 34% of full-time research staff, are non-resident aliens. At Duke, 8% of faculty are international.

Benefits to the US and world

The brief explains the rich and important benefits diversity brings to campuses, well known to universities worldwide – promoting free exchange of ideas, encouraging people to consider issues from different perspectives, and deepening understanding of pluralistic global society.

“Opportunities for cross-cultural understanding are integral to amici’s ability to provide some of the best undergraduate and graduate educational programmes in the world.”

Further, many international students and scholars study, teach and research in fields underpopulated by Americans – in 2015-16 more than one-third of international students studied engineering, maths or computer science.

International students, faculty and scholars also “make significant scientific, technological, social and political contributions to the US and the world”, the brief argues.

One estimate is that international students directly contributed US$32.8 billion to the American economy and supported or contributed to the creation of 400,000 American jobs in 2015-16.

Many who choose to stay in the US become leading innovators, entrepreneurs, artists and thought-leaders. One study found that more than one third of US innovators were foreign-born and another 10% had at least one foreign-born parent.

Another analysis found that migrants had started half – 44 of 87 – of US start-up companies valued at US$1 billion or more, and were key members of management or product development teams in over 70% of those companies.

Since 2000, 40% of all American Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, medicine and physics have been immigrants – and in 2016, all six American winners of the Nobel Prize in economics and scientific fields were immigrants.

Many international students and academics return home with favourable attitudes to and contacts in America, and with the tools to improve conditions on the ground, which “promotes the economies of developing nations, and may help to stymie radicalisation”.

Some international students, faculty and scholars become leaders in their home countries. The brief mentions just a few from the 17 universities, including the current leaders of Israel, Latvia and Peru, the former presidents or prime ministers of Finland, Greece, Mexico and Yemen, and Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations.

Given these significant contributions, the amici universities have invested significant time and resources in attracting the world’s most exceptional individuals, including by establishing specific programmes, centres and schools.

They have created physical footprints globally, such as the Penn Wharton China Center, Carnegie Mellon’s campuses in Qatar and Rwanda, and Cornell’s Global Initiative, Nilgiris Field Learning Center in India and its Syria Project. There is also the Yale Center Beijing and MIT Sloan Management School’s ‘Action Learning Labs’ in China, India and Israel.

The universities also offer "varied and popular” study abroad programmes. At Cornell, 37% of graduating seniors have participated, at Dartmouth the proportion for BA students is 43% and at Duke it is 47%. And at Stanford nearly half of each graduating class studies abroad at one of the university’s 11 overseas campuses.

‘Chilling’ implications

The brief points out that universities are constrained by, and dependent on, American immigration and visa policies. The Executive Order had “serious and chilling implications” for students, faculty and scholars, dividing families, impairing the ability of American universities to attract top international talent, and inhibiting the free exchange of ideas.

“Because of these effects, the Executive Order has drawn staggering opposition from the academic world.

“More than 42,000 scholars – including 62 Nobel laureates, 813 members of the national academies of sciences, engineering and arts, and 105 recipients of prestigious awards like the Fields Medal and Pulitzer Prize – have explained their opposition,” says the brief, outlining why:

First, the Executive Order excluded people in universities who had the misfortune of travelling abroad when it went into effect. “Talented, law-abiding members of academic communities left the US with valid visas, visiting families, conducting field research and attending conferences and meetings in furtherance of their studies.

“All planned to return here following their travels abroad. Instead, they found themselves suddenly stranded and separated from their families, homes, studies and work.” That caused anguish and uncertainty and also disrupted their studies and the work of colleagues, “leaving research projects half-finished, dissertations half-written, and courses without an instructor”.

Second, in addition to keeping individuals out of America the order effectively forced others to remain, as affected people risk not being able to return.

“These individuals are now deterred from conducting field research, attending academic conferences, or participating in international meetings in foreign nations.” There is also a personal toll, as affected individuals must cancel any plans to visit family and friends abroad, “or risk losing a job, a degree, or years of hard work and research”.

Third, the order hurts universities by deterring international students, faculty and scholars from studying in the US. If people could not freely leave the country, “they will inevitably study elsewhere”.

Moreover, the brief says, “if a valid visa may be revoked at any moment based simply on a person’s country of origin, the Executive Order alters the perceived cost-benefit analysis of studying or teaching here” – even for people from countries unaffected by this order.

Fourth, the Executive Order would impede successful academic collaboration. American universities host thousands of conferences and symposia each year, that are “essential to addressing problems that are global in scope” but which the order threatens by prohibiting some academics from visiting the US and risking a backlash.

These effects are already being felt. “A petition circulating online has drawn thousands of signatures from scholars in the US and abroad pledging not to attend international conferences in the US while the travel ban persists. Thus, the Executive Order threatens collaboration well beyond scholars from and institutions in the seven affected countries.”

The brief concludes that the 17 universities take the safety and security of their campuses and the nation extremely seriously. However, “safety and security concerns can be addressed in a manner that is consistent with the values America has always stood for, including the free flow of ideas and people across borders and the welcoming of immigrants to our universities”.

* University World News learned that the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and defendants’ motion to dismiss had been stayed so long as an injunction secured in Washington state remained in effect. There was a hearing scheduled for Friday on a motion by the plaintiffs, relating to the alleged removal of some individuals after the case was filed.