A university president’s responsibilities are largely uncontroversial: serving as a figurehead, cozying up to major donors and representing the University’s interests. But these are not ordinary times. In signing a letter opposing President Trump’s “travel ban” alongside 47 colleagues from peer institutions, President Claire E. Sterk upheld her obligation to advocate on behalf of Emory’s best interests and, indeed, the best interests of American higher education.
Our past editorials have advocated against designating Emory a sanctuary campus, an ineffective and potentially dangerous label. This letter was a more tangible — and more importantly, indisputably lawful — statement that directly coincided with Emory’s mission and core interests, but did not give the Trump administration legal ammunition to justify retribution (e.g., cutting funding). A call to “rectify or rescind the recent executive order” and implement evidenced-based vetting is distinct from vowing to break federal law.
Education is not, and should not be, a partisan issue. In academia, the free movement of people between institutions in different countries and their ideas is fundamental to progress; conversely, isolation impedes this progress. Researchers stand on the backs of their predecessors’ findings to reach greater heights. They glean inspiration from global conferences, visiting lecturers and cross-continental collaboration with scholars. President Trump’s travel ban hinders academic dialogue and with it, Emory’s capacity as a research institution.
Had the Ninth Circuit Court not upheld the temporary restraining order against Trump’s executive action last Thursday, Emory and every other global academic institution would have suffered. From Emory’s perspective, the knowledge and experience these immigrants bring far outweigh any risks they might pose.
Sterk’s co-signing of the letter was criticized as both an unnecessary politicization of the University and an action that alienates Emory’s conservative community. But her decision was not only logical, but necessary for Emory to continue occupying a place at the helm of American higher education. Emory has achieved global recognition as an academic force over 180 years — let us not turn back now.