More than 200 University faculty members called University President Claire E. Sterk to designate Emory a “sanctuary campus” and institute a policy to protect the rights of undocumented students in the third set of requests in less than three months asking the University to demonstrate support for undocumented students.
The Feb. 1 petition, signed by 221 Emory faculty members, calls for the University to create a policy that would uphold undocumented students’ ability to study on campus without fear of detainment or deportation and to protect students’ information regarding their immigration status. It also asks Emory to act as a moral leader in the South — to take a stand against the deportation or detainment of undocumented students as it did against segregation in the 1960s.
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Lynne Huffer, who was involved in drafting and gathering signatures for the petition, sent the petition via email to Sterk, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Stuart Zola and Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair. Huffer declined to name the other faculty members who drafted and coordinated the petition.
Sterk received the letter by email Feb. 1, according to Associate Vice President for Media Relations Nancy Seideman. Nair replied to the letter in a Feb. 1 email, stating that he believed Sterk would respond to the petition directly and thanking the professors for their advocacy. The dean’s email included a link to a page detailing the University’s initiatives to support its undocumented students, but did not address the request for a “sanctuary campus” designation.
Huffer and Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor Eric Weeks, the Physics Department chair, told the Wheel that Sterk emailed more than 10 faculty members who had signed the petition late Thursday night to call a Friday meeting in the Robert W. Woodruff Library.
The president met with fewer than 10 faculty members to discuss how universities — including Emory — are responding to political issues such as President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on immigration, Huffer said. Sterk and the faculty members at the meeting also discussed the relationship between University administration and faculty members, as well as how the two parties could work together in a more productive, less divided manner, according to Huffer. The petition came up at the meeting, but the conversation revolved around broader issues, Huffer said.
The meeting was constructive, Huffer said, adding that some faculty members had rearranged their schedules to meet with Sterk.
Seideman told the Wheel Friday morning that the president would meet with faculty members to discuss the petition later that day. The next day, Sterk insisted that she had not done so, writing in an email to the Wheel that she regularly meets with “key members of the Emory community,” but had not called a meeting to discuss the petition.
The president confirmed Monday that she held a meeting with faculty members Friday, but said the faculty petition had only been a subtopic.
“Certainly the petition came up and was discussed, but it was not the focus of the meeting. The focus was better communication between our administration and our faculty members,” she said in a statement via Seideman.
The University administration’s response to the call for a “sanctuary campus” has been insufficient thus far, Huffer said.
“There’s some movement around legal resources but nothing really concrete,” Huffer said. “It feels more like the ‘this is what we’re going to do’ stage.”
Nair said Friday in a statement to the Wheel that the University has not adopted the designation “because of its connotation that we are willing and able to defy the law.”
A few faculty members, including Huffer, conceived and drafted the petition early January, Huffer said. She declined to name other faculty members involved, and said that the group of faculty members spoke with Emory Sanctuary Coalition, an organization that has been asking for a “sanctuary campus” designation at Emory since late January, to develop the ideas behind the petition. Huffer sent the petition to other faculty members she thought would want to sign, and it “snowballed” from there, spreading by word of mouth, she said.
“The faculty are central to what the University does,” Huffer said. “So it’s important for us to speak as a faculty.”
Faculty members’ future advocacy efforts depend on what happens next at Emory and across the nation, Huffer said.
The faculty petition came 22 days after the University’s decision to not designate itself a “sanctuary campus” despite its pledge to support its undocumented students. It follows both a Jan. 18 letter drafted by Emory Sanctuary Coalition calling on Sterk to designate the University as a “sanctuary campus” and a November 2016 petition signed by more than 1,500 students, faculty, staff and alumni requesting that Emory protect its undocumented students.
The signatures on the faculty petition accounted for about 7 percent of the University’s most recent full-time faculty count of 3,122. Of the 221 signatories, 157 were based in the College; 20 in Rollins School of Public Health; 16 in the School of Medicine; 11 in Candler School of Theology; eight in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing; and one in the Goizueta Business School. No Oxford College professors signed the petition, but Huffer said that it had not yet spread to the Oxford campus.
“Institutions like Emory who make commitments and that proclaim themselves as human communities when affected by those values must come into practice,” said Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, who signed the faculty petition. “We cannot just keep talking about inquiry and progressive forward-looking this and that when it comes to actual people’s lives … Solidarity is not just simply empty rhetoric but complete action.”
Emeritus Asa G. Candler Professor John Lucchesi also signed the petition, citing Trump’s executive order as an “absolute lack of due process” and a “completely unthought-through gesture that needed to be counteracted.”
“Emory has a vested interest in being an international university and having international connections and we … have a number of students who come from the Middle East and they should not feel threatened,” Lucchesi said.
Sterk signed a Feb. 2 letter to Trump alongside 47 other college presidents and chancellors calling on the commander-in-chief to “rectify or rescind” his Jan. 27 executive order on immigration. The executive order on immigration, the letter reads, “threatens both American higher education and the defining principles of our country.”
Michelle Lou and Alex Klugerman contributed reporting.
Correction (2/8/17 at 7:43 p.m.): The article originally stated that University President Claire E. Sterk emailed fewer than 10 faculty members to meet Friday. Sterk actually emailed more than 10 faculty members, but fewer than 10 faculty members attended the meeting.