International students and faculty at North Carolina colleges and universities are being advised not to leave U.S. soil, as higher education leaders try to ease fears about President Donald Trump’s 90-day travel ban for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Since the executive order was signed Friday, university presidents have tried to reassure international scholars and students that they are welcome and valued members of the community. Campus staffs have been flooded with inquiries from citizens of the seven countries about what they should do.
Mohsen Kadivar, a research professor in religious studies at Duke University and a native of Iran, was in Germany for a fellowship when Trump signed the order, which restricts immigration from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
In an email, he explained that his family had expected to visit him soon in Berlin, but that’s on hold because he’s not sure they could get back in to the United States. His fellowship ends in July.
He said the past few days have been stressful, but he has been in close contact with Duke officials to determine the safest time to try to return. About the president’s order, Kadivar wrote, “He is building Wall around U.S. and American values.”
Duke President Richard Brodhead is among the leaders who have registered their distaste for the action that led to chaos at U.S. airports during the weekend. He and Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth called Trump’s order “confusing and disturbing,” while vowing not to release confidential student information to law enforcement without a subpoena.
The topic is expected to come up Tuesday when a delegation of seven college presidents from North Carolina meet with members of Congress in a previously scheduled advocacy event led by the private higher education organization in the state. The leaders are from Campbell, Elon, Greensboro, Mars Hill, Meredith, Montreat and Saint Augustine’s.
Elon University President Leo Lambert emailed his campus Sunday, saying the new immigration limit has “spurred deep concern.”
“As a leader in international education and as a compassionate campus community dedicated to welcoming peoples of all faiths and cultures from more than 50 nations, we are monitoring this unfolding situation very carefully,” Lambert wrote.
He said he and his colleagues will meet the state’s senators and congressional representatives to voice their views on U.S. immigration and how the policies affect higher education.
Lambert, the grandson of immigrants, also asked the Elon community to offer international students words of encouragement, support and respect, and “hold high the light of generosity and compassion and drive out fear.”
Despite the worry in higher education circles, a new poll showed that a majority of U.S. voters approve of Trump’s order.
A Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey found that 56 percent of likely voters favor a temporary block on residents of the seven countries entering the United States until the government improves its screening process for likely terrorists. Thirty-two percent oppose the temporary ban, and 11 percent were undecided. The poll was conducted before widespread protests and had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.
On Sunday, as protests clogged U.S. airports, the Trump administration pushed back on the notion that the restrictions amounted to a “Muslim ban.”
“This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” Trump said in a statement posted on Facebook on Sunday. “There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”
Public university leaders took a careful approach in their statements, outlining the steps they’re taking to support students and faculty.
N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson wrote that the university is “strengthened by the talent, insight and culture that international students, faculty and staff bring to our campuses.”
He said there are 170 students, visiting scholars and employees from the seven countries, but university officials were not aware that any were traveling abroad.
A UNC-Chapel Hill spokeswoman said one person may have been affected, but declined to elaborate because of privacy concerns.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt wrote, “In the last 24 hours, we have been hearing from many people at Carolina who are confused, frightened and unsure of what to do. Those same sentiments are being expressed at universities all over the country.”
She said UNC has more than 3,000 international students and scholars representing more than 100 countries, all of whom are “essential to our vibrant Carolina community.”
There are more than 17,000 students in the U.S from the seven countries listed in Trump’s order, according to Inside Higher Ed.
By Monday afternoon, nearly 9,000 faculty across the nation had signed an online petition saying the executive order is discriminatory, detrimental to national interests and burdensome to university communities. Signers included 44 Nobel laureates.
Even some Republican leaders in higher education criticized the executive order. Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, former Republican governor of Indiana, called it “a bad idea, poorly implemented.” He said he hoped it would be revoked.
dMary Sue Coleman, former president of the University of Michigan and now president of the Association of American Universities, issued a statement Saturday warning that the order puts U.S. universities at a competitive disadvantage in attracting the best students and faculty from around the world.
“Other countries have set the goal of surpassing the United States as the global leader in higher education, research, and innovation,” Coleman said. “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.”