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USC professors want campus to take more aggressive stance against Trump immigration policies

A student rides his skateboard past an entrance to the University of Southern California (USC) campus in Los Angeles on April 11, 2012.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
In this file photo a student rides his skateboard past an entrance to the University of Southern California.

Hundreds of University of Southern California professors are petitioning university administrators to take a stronger role helping immigrant and foreign students, faculty and employees fight Trump administration immigration policies.

In a letter sent on Friday night, the group asked that the campus take seven steps, including establishing an emergency fund to help immigrant and foreign students affected by Trump’s immigration orders.

The group also wants a student center that would help USC students who are not legally in the U.S. Another proposal would create the position of “special assistant” to oversee the university’s response to Trump policies that affect students, faculty, and employees.

“I would love USC to take a leadership position on these issues," said USC law school professor Ariela Gross, one of the organizers of the group calling itself USC Faculty Resistance. "I do think that these are things that many universities are thinking about and taking action on."

The effort is being led by professors Gross, William Tierney, Manuel Pastor and Jody Vallejo.

“The message that [Trump] is sending is that foreigners are not welcome in this country and that for American higher education in general and for my own university in particular, that’s a devastating message,” Tierney said.

The group said it is pushing the university to take action after seeing other universities declare themselves sanctuary campuses and set aside legal and financial help for undocumented students. In February, leaders of 48 universities and colleges across the country – including Yale, Stanford, and U.C. Irvine –  sent a letter to President Trump asking him to rescind his travel ban because it would hurt higher education’s efforts to attract talented students and researchers from abroad.

“We appreciate the faculty members’ thoughtful input on these timely issues,” USC Provost Michael Quick said in a written statement.

“We will consider their recommendations, many of which are already underway or under consideration,” he said.

USC did not say if the administration supported the February letter.

The university is helping students and others through a legal advice clinic and is working to provide housing for students who are fearful to return home overseas during academic breaks. USC, Quick said, is filing legal documents to support other universities’ efforts.

The faculty’s seven recommendations are expected to be discussed in a newly created immigration task force.

USC hasn’t declared itself a sanctuary campus. Trump supporters in Congress are putting pressure on schools that have taken that stand. A bill authored by San Diego-area Congressman Duncan Hunter would penalize colleges that don’t cooperate with federal officials.

“Universities are always worried about risk management concerns,” said Jennifer Eagan, president of the California Faculty Association, which represents instructors at the California State University (CSU) system. Last November, her group submitted a similar list of recommendations to her university administration. CSU has yet to adopt the recommendations.

“I think it takes administrators [at] those institutions to be really brave and put their students first over and above other financial concerns or political concerns that they think might affect the university," Eagan said. 

She praised the USC faculty effort and said convincing USC administrators to take the steps may be an uphill battle because administration may not want to upset conservative donors.

“It’s absolutely true that some of our donors and some of our alums are conservative. It’s also true that some of our alums and donors are not conservative. Stephen Spielberg is on our board of trustees. George Lucas has been a major donor to the School of Cinematic Arts,” Tierney said.

USC has changed for the better, Tierney said, in the last two decades, and a lot of that has to do with diversity of the student body and the faculty, which includes many immigrants and foreigners.

USC Faculty Resistance recommendations:

  1. Create and fund a DREAM/Immigrant Student Services Center that advises documented and undocumented students. The center should include staff trained in mental health services, and a physical space where immigrant and international students can build community and obtain support in navigating the challenges associated with their status.
  2. Create an emergency fund to support students, faculty, and staff affected by current and future immigration executive orders. These funds will help with legal fees, airline tickets, representation while abroad, DACA renewal fees, and other expenses incurred due to changes in immigration law.
  3. Extend summer housing options to DACA and international students afraid to return home or who lose their status and to other students targeted by new executive actions on the basis of race, religion, citizenship, or national origin.
  4. Protect the educational access and degree attainment of undocumented and immigrant students affected by current and future actions. Loss of DACA status may invalidate our students’ ability to work and collect financial aid. We urge the creation of special funds that can offer “stipends” for our undocumented students, which they can receive in exchange for performing research under the guidance of faculty members or other meaningful educational projects.
  5. Appoint a tenured professor to serve as “Special Assistant to the Provost for Immigration and International Affairs.” This person can serve as a point of contact for affected groups; coordinate and implement the various efforts on campus to support immigrant and international students.
  6. Devise a naturalization program that provides comprehensive resources and assistance to immigrant students, staff, contract workers, and faculty who are lawful permanent residents, and international faculty and postdoctoral scholars, to become citizens in an expeditious fashion. The University should provide English and citizenship classes, and financial assistance to cover naturalization fees, in addition to the legal support for naturalization efforts we are already offering through the Immigrant Legal Advice Project.
  7. Take the lead on filing amicus briefs and join the more than a dozen universities (including all eight Ivy League institutions) that have already filed a legal challenge to the travel ban.