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Keep the Doors of American Universities Wide Open

A Letter from the President of the New School

Universities are among the United States’ greatest assets. Students from around the world seek out our institutions of higher education for the open exchange of ideas, scholarship and creativity that prepare them to contribute to a global society and economy. For generations, ambitious scholars and entrepreneurs have come to study and work in the U.S. because of our nation’s commitment to tolerance and forward-thinking, as well as diverse viewpoints. More than ever, we live in a world that rewards innovation and flexibility — the ability to see things differently and do things differently. Our future depends on the continued infusion of global knowledge and perspectives into our universities.

With one signature, President Trump threatened the fundamental premise upon which America’s excellent universities, and indeed our country, has been built. The recent Executive Order banning entry into the United States by refugees, immigrants and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations is antithetical to the core values of inclusion and openness that make our institutions of higher education among the very best in the world. Although a federal court has ruled to block the Executive Order nationwide, the Justice Department has appealed the lower court’s order in what promises to be a protracted legal battle.

Regardless of the legal outcome, we cannot ignore the dangerous message inherent in the ban that immigrants are not welcome in our country. The Executive Order was also terribly timed, raising anxieties in students and potential students in many countries, just as they are deciding where to attend university this coming fall. How do universities assure them that it is highly desirable to study in the U.S., and that we welcome them as much for what they will gain as for what they will contribute?

The New School’s extensive international community — nearly a third of our student population — is a major strength. At The New School we teach students to take on the most “wicked” problems our society faces and fearlessly create positive change. To do this, students must embrace risk and confront differences. A variety of cultural, political, ethnic, racial, and religious perspectives — and diversity in all its forms — add immeasurably to the level of our scholarship, creativity, and ability to engage effectively with the most complex issues

This is not new for us. In 1933, The New School founded the University in Exile, a safe haven for more than 180 international scholars and their families who were facing persecution in fascist Europe. That courageous and bold stance not only had a profound influence on U.S. scholarship, it also galvanized the core values that continue to define our university today. These exiled scholars, this influx of new people and new ideas, helped to transform the social sciences and philosophy in this country. They presented theoretical and methodological approaches to their fields that previously had been poorly represented in American universities.

That is why The New School’s doors remain open to students, scholars, creative thinkers and professionals from around the world, including those from the seven banned nations. They are a significant and valued part of our community, and we will continue to ensure a safe and inclusive academic environment.

We share in the commitment to protect our national security. But we must do so while continuing to safeguard intellectual, academic and personal freedom. To do otherwise is incompatible with our nation’s core principles. The higher education community must continue to band together to protect our country’s universities, demonstrate our collective strength and show the world that immigrants are welcome here. It is critical to the United States’ interests and to our status as an economic, political, cultural and educational leader of the free world.

This was originally published by The Huffington Post.

David Van Zandt

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