Two Pennsylvania University Presidents Hypocritically Endorse DACA, While Rejecting Sanctuary Campus Status

While the sanctuary campus movement gathers momentum, leadership at two Pennsylvania higher education institutions — Bucknell University and Pennsylvania State University — have chosen to hedge their bets by playing both sides of the issue.

On the one hand, their presidents petitioned the incoming Trump administration to maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, in order to appease student activists, progressive faculty and undocumented immigrants.

On the other hand, Bucknell’s President John Bravman and Penn State’s President Eric Barron declined sanctuary status in anticipation of Trump’s likely revocation of DACA and the Pennsylvania Legislature’s passage of law to punish sanctuary campuses.

Should political progressives and immigration activists call these higher education leaders out for their hypocrisy? Or is this just how university presidents are expected to behave?

The Sanctuary Campus Movement

In November 2016, around the country, college and university students staged mass protests, demanding that campus leaders make their schools sanctuaries to undocumented immigrant students. According to Eleanor Bader, it began as a grassroots campaign and transformed into a national movement:

… college faculty, staff and students are mobilizing, marching and drafting letters and petitions to demand that school administrators do something to protect students who are vulnerable because of immigration status. Already, meetings with community activists, religious leaders and legislators have taken place to strategize about how best to proceed. Those involved are debating tactics ranging from contacting the Trump administration to planning a nationwide strike to highlight the valuable work of immigrants.

At Vanderbilt University, where the struggle continues, the students submitted a list of demands to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos:

1. Cut ties with all law enforcement agencies that collaborate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)

2. Refuse law enforcement agencies who collaborate with ICE access to any Vanderbilt properties or information.

3. Institute a policy prohibiting campus police from inquiring about immigration status, enforcing immigration laws, or participating with ICE/CBP in actions.

4. Refuse to cooperate with any “registration” system that seeks to target or surveil Muslims

5. Publicly declare Vanderbilt a Sanctuary Campus.

According to Carla Javier and Jorge Rivas of Fusion, students at 100 colleges and universities petitioned their administrations to become sanctuary campuses. While many campus leaders have rejected the petitions and declined sanctuary status, a growing number have taken the courageous step of accepting the designation. The sanctuary designation typically includes pledges to support DACA, bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering campus, and refusing to cooperate with federal authorities in apprehending students for deportation. The current list of sanctuary campuses includes Portland State, Reed College, Wesleyan, Santa Fe Community College, University of Pennsylvania, Connecticut College, Drake University, Swarthmore College, as well as twenty other schools.

Bucknell and Penn State Presidents Support Trump-Threatened DACA

In June 2012, the Obama administration introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. Those who entered the US without documentation prior to their 16th birthday and before June 2007 receive a two-year, renewable deferment from deportation and work permits.

The case for granting undocumented students access to higher education was initially made by Thomas Rouge and Angela Iza in a 2005 law review. No federal law prohibits the enrollment of undocumented individuals in college and university programs. At the time, most states did not regulate the matter on the assumption that the undocumented could not afford tuition. So higher education institutions were left to decide whether to enroll undocumented immigrants. With DACA’s adoption, many so-called Dreamers were not only saved from deportation, but also allowed to work, as well as pay tuition in pursuit of their higher education goals.

States soon entered the picture. Angela Adams and Kerry Boyne explain: “Separately, states have implemented a variety of laws and policies in an attempt to clarify eligibility of undocumented and DACA recipients for enrollment in postsecondary education and resident tuition rates.” Twenty-one states passed legislation or adopted policies permitting undocumented and DACA students to enroll in college and university programs, as well as receive in-state tuition. Four states — Georgia, Alabama, New York and Arizona — have sought to stop the practice through legislation or ballot initiative.

Anticipating that Trump would end DACA, 624 college and university presidents petitioned the new administration “to uphold and continue DACA” in November 2016. Bucknell President Bravman and Penn State President Barron are among the signatories. In his Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general, Jeff Sessions shared President Trump’s plan to end DACA and deport undocumented immigrant students.

Bravman and Barron Reject Sanctuary Campus Designation

The presidents of Bucknell and Penn State universities have decided not to join the sanctuary campus movement for a variety of reasons.

In an email to the Bucknell campus community, President Bravman explained the reasoning behind his decision:

Although some schools have adopted the label, which on its face may be reassuring, the term “sanctuary campus” lacks a universal definition and offers no legal protection. A common theme underlying the term seems to be a representation that a self-described “sanctuary” institution will prohibit immigration authorities from entering campus unless required to do so by a court-issued warrant. In practice, however, such a prohibition is not feasible. By their very nature, university campuses are open environments where students, faculty, staff and visitors come and go freely.

While university campuses are open to students, faculty and staff, campus visitors are often treated differently. Typically they must be invited. Most campuses have their own police force and even gated entryways to ensure that uninvited guests do not enter or disturb the peace. So Bravman’s last statement is false. College and university campuses are not “[b]y their very nature … [places] where … visitors come and go freely.”

Immigration authorities seeking to deport students would not fit the description of invited guests. Their regular presence on campuses would potentially disrupt research, teaching and learning. A long line of case precedent also demonstrates that immigration “detainers” violate the Fourth Amendment right of DACA and undocumented immigrants to be free from warrantless arrests unless there is probable cause.

Likewise, in an extended announcement that begins by citing Penn State’s endorsement of DACA, President Barron rejects sanctuary status on the grounds that its meaning is too vague and it implies that the university would have to engage in civil disobedience.

Some have advocated “sanctuary” campuses. However, this is an ambiguous term that is subject to multiple interpretations and has no legal validity. If used, it could imply that our university has the authority to exempt our campus from federal immigration laws, when in fact no university has that authority. It also implies incorrectly a university is able to provide special protections to undocumented individuals beyond the law. That also is not the case.

Eric Barron is not an expert in the law. He is a former climate scientist turned Penn State Dean, Florida State University president and now president of Penn State. In order to make this statement, he must have been unaware of the precedential Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision of Galarza v. Szalczyk, a Pennsylvania case involving a Latino man improperly detained by ICE, which casts doubt on the constitutionality of the detainers commonly employed by federal authorities to apprehend “aliens subject to deportation.”

Jerry Knowles’ Bill to Defund Sanctuary Campuses

In a note posted by Republican and Pennsylvania State Rep. Jerry Knowles to his Facebook page, he shares his plan to sponsor a bill that would defund any colleges or universities that accept this designation: “Major institutions of higher learning across the nation have announced the adoption of campus-wide sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants, including Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania, both located in southeastern Pennsylvania. My bill would prohibit any sanctuary campuses from receiving state funding until such time as those policies are rescinded.”

He continues:

This is a controversial issue, but the bill is simple. Institutions that comply with federal law will receive state funding as normal. Those who decide not to follow the law would not receive state funding. We cannot select which laws we want to follow and obey, and which laws we want to ignore and break.

Rather than admit that they were threatened with a loss of state funding, the presidents of Bucknell and Penn State offered insincere reasons for their decision to decline sanctuary status. In addition, they used the petition to sustain DACA as a shield to repel allegations that they did not truly care for the interests of their DACA and undocumented immigrant students.

End Higher Ed Hypocrisy, Speak Truth to Power

One possible defense of Barron’s and Bravman’s hypocritical stance on the immigration issue is that it would be imprudent for them to take a principled stance. As university presidents, they are expected to please all stakeholders. I don’t believe that this excuse passes muster and I’ll explain why.

After Donald Trump issued his recent executive order to ban green-card holders, immigrants and refugees from seven majority Muslim countries for 90 days, university and college presidents across the country responded. Most offered words of support to those affected students on their campuses.

In his open letter to Trump, Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, called the ban “cowardly and cruel.” In an interview with Rick Seltzer of Inside Higher Ed, he explained why he spoke truth to power: “I just had to ask myself, if I look back in 10 years, will I be at peace with the way I reacted?”

Unsurprisingly, Presidents Bravman and Barron reacted in a comparatively muted fashion. They reassured their respective university communities and expressed support for Muslim students who could not enter or exit the country, but unlike Rosenberg, they never challenged or criticized President Trump’s action. Similar to their position on becoming sanctuary campuses, they failed to take principled stands on the issue.

Adrea Cope, journalist at the The Daily Collegian and Penn State student, voiced a concern she shared with other students. President Barron had not done “enough to ease the minds of so many students who are surely being affected” by the ban. Then she highlighted the hypocrisy in Barron’s position: “Penn State is a university that champions diversity — just a few months ago, they released their “All In” initiative which aimed to publicize the respect and support they alleged that they provide for students of all ethnicities, genders or religious beliefs. [ … ] If Penn State is a place that supposedly champions diversity, why did President Barron not condemn Trump’s executive order?”

In a similar vein, wouldn’t accepting sanctuary campus status have aligned better with Bucknell and Penn State’s strategic mission to promote and defend diversity? Why, then, didn’t Presidents Barron and Bravman speak truth to power and declare their campuses sanctuaries for DACA and undocumented students?

Did both of these university presidents fear retaliation from President Trump? Were they worried that the Pennsylvania State Legislature would deprive their institutions of vital state funding? Were they more concerned about upsetting wealthy, powerful politicians, alumni and trustees than protecting the interests of the university’s most important stakeholders: the students?

Let’s hold these university presidents accountable, push them to take principled stands on the immigration issue and put an end to higher ed leadership hypocrisy.