Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton sent the following message by email to faculty, staff, and students in Middlebury and Monterey on Wednesday, February 1, 2017.
To the Middlebury community:
This has been a distressing week for the greater Middlebury community, as it has been for many Americans. As an institution of higher learning, Middlebury holds dear the value of the free exchange of ideas, the principle of open discourse, and the importance of bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to study, teach, and work in a free and open society. It is central to who we are.
That is why the new administration’s decision last week to issue an executive order blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States startled our conscience as a global community of educators and learners. It strikes at the heart of our deepest values as a community and as a nation. For us, education promotes dignity and respect. But this action encourages neither. And on a practical level, the impact on us at Middlebury has been significant already, and threatens to become worse.
Middlebury is deeply committed to global education and has been for more than 100 years. We have formal operations in 17 countries outside the United States and educational partnerships in many more. Nearly half of our third-year class at Middlebury College studies abroad each year. More than 30 percent of the students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and 10 percent at the College are international students in this country on student visas. We have numerous faculty members at all of our schools who are citizens of other nations or who have immigrated to the United States to pursue their passion for teaching and research.
We do not, as a matter of policy and principle, discriminate by citizenship, nationality, or religion when accepting students for admission or faculty and staff for hiring.
We currently have four enrolled students—three at the Institute and one at the College—who are citizens of one of the seven countries singled out in the executive order’s travel restriction. Three are from Syria and one is from Sudan. At the time the order was signed, one of our faculty colleagues at the College, professor of religion Ata Anzali, was on leave in his hometown of Tabriz, Iran, with his wife and their 12- and 9-year-old daughters. Despite the family’s status as permanent U.S. residents (and the younger daughter’s status as a U.S. citizen), Ata was faced with the terrible choice of attempting to come back to his home in the U.S. ahead of schedule and perhaps being cut off from relatives in Iran for years, or to remain through the duration of his leave and face an even more uncertain prospect of return. As I send this, he is about to attempt the trip home to Middlebury. It is beyond ironic that Ata’s scholarship is dedicated to fostering greater understanding between religions.
We have no way of knowing at this stage exactly how many individuals or academic programs will be impacted by the executive order, but I am concerned about it affecting the willingness of international students to continue to travel to the United States and of all of our students to take advantage of study-abroad opportunities and internships at a time when our nation is engaged in a profound ideological conflict with other nations. Each year some 1,500 students study at the Middlebury Language Schools, usually in preparation for international study or work. Many students at the Middlebury Institute plan for careers outside the United States.
The Middlebury community will stand up for and work to support any of our members who are impacted by the travel restrictions, just as we are for our students who are living with the uncertainty over this administration’s intentions regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which permits undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 to remain in the country.
Any Middlebury student or member of the faculty and staff, regardless of location, who has questions or concerns about their ability to travel to and from any of our schools should contact Kathy Foley, director of International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS). In addition to the support Middlebury can offer directly, over the last several days a number of campus organizations have stepped forward to support our community in a variety of other ways. We have created and will maintain a webpage on the ISSS site with list of events and resources in both Middlebury and Monterey. Given the fluidity of the situation and the many unknowns, we will update this page often. If you have information you would like to include, please contact Baishakhi Taylor at the College, or Ryan Kasmier at the Institute.
Middlebury has joined with other colleges and universities in vigorously opposing the new travel restrictions and any effort to weaken or eliminate DACA protections for students. And we will continue to make our views known through our federal, state, and local elected representatives in Vermont and California.
For everyone in Vermont, I also want to bring your attention to a rally of solidarity that will be held on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 4 p.m. outside McCullough Student Center. It is being organized by the Muslim Students Association and I encourage you to attend if you are able.
I am proud of the forceful way our community has responded in spirit and through concrete effort to the government’s actions. I have heard from many of you in recent days who are concerned about those most affected, and it is comforting and encouraging to hear and read your words of support—from our campus, from our sites abroad, and from parents and alumni everywhere. It matters to all of us, and especially to those among us who are members of the Islamic faith and who feel particularly vulnerable at this time. We are all Middlebury.
Laurie L. Patton