MARLBORO—Kevin Quigley already had been planning to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in a higher-education conference and to talk with Vermont’s congressional delegation.
But the Marlboro College president said the tone of his meeting with lawmakers changed dramatically after President Donald Trump issued a controversial order on Jan. 27 limiting immigration from primarily Muslim countries.
“We had an agenda of things we wanted to talk about, but frankly, with the executive order that happened, that became item No. 1,” he said.
Quigley isn’t the only Windham County college administrator who is worried: He and the presidents of Landmark College in Putney and the School for International Training in Brattleboro are speaking out about Trump’s order, expressing concern about its potential impacts on faculty, staff, and current and future students.
They also argue that the president’s action is an assault on their colleges’ ideals.
“This really undercuts not only what we’re trying do here, but it’s also completely contrary to our principles of openness, diversity, and inclusion,” Quigley said.
He added: “I think this is an issue that has an enormous impact on American higher education.”
The colleges are reacting to an executive order blocking citizens of seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The order’s stated intent is “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry.”
Though the president has objected to portrayal of the order as a “Muslim ban,” the affected countries have Muslim majorities and Trump has in the past expressed support for such a ban.
The order also stops refugees from entering the U.S for 120 days, during which time federal officials are supposed to “determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”
Additionally, the order indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from entering the country.
Trump’s action led to chaos and protests as travelers from the affected countries were detained at airports in the U.S. and abroad.
In Vermont, the executive order has abruptly halted a plan to bring more Syrian refugees to Rutland. And top officials including Republican Gov. Phil Scott, Democratic Attorney General TJ Donovan, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., declared that they would push back against provisions of the president’s order.
There also is concern reverberating throughout the state’s higher-education community. While it appears that no staff or students from Landmark, Marlboro, or SIT were immediately affected by the order, the presidents of those schools aren’t staying silent.
Sophia Howlett, who took over as SIT’s president in January, said administrators are “working to ensure the continued security of our students and staff, including our graduate students in Vermont and Washington, D.C., and our undergraduate students currently in or preparing to leave for study-abroad program locations around the world.”
SIT has its roots in international academics: Its parent organization is called World Learning Inc., and its study abroad program has a presence in more than 30 countries. Howlett, in a statement issued Jan. 31, said Trump’s order “runs counter to our philosophy of education.”
“Our students learn from each other, our international faculty [and] other cultures to become engaged and responsible global citizens,” Howlett wrote. “This is only possible when our campuses and student groups are diverse and inclusive.”
She added that “SIT will continue to uphold these values.”
Landmark College President Peter Eden said administrators “have been keeping a close watch” on the ramifications of Trump’s executive order.
“Our greatest concern is the effect this may have on our current [and future] international students, their well-being and their ability to continue to engage in their education,” Eden wrote in a memo distributed to staff, students and their parents, and alumni. “Our primary focus will be to support our students and others who may be affected by these changes.”
Marlboro is doing the same. In a Jan. 31 letter addressed to the “Marlboro College community,” Quigley wrote that the school “protects the privacy of our students, and we will not voluntarily share with legal authorities sensitive information such as immigration status.”
In a subsequent interview, Quigley said international students make up a relatively small portion of Marlboro’s enrollment — about 5 percent. “That’s going to grow, I hope, but this really has a chilling effect,” he said of Trump’s order.
In a larger sense, Marlboro administrators argue that an immigration ban is in direct opposition to the college’s commitment to “develop citizens who will be effective in the task of making American democracy succeed.”
“If you think about a liberal arts education, it’s designed to help people be engaged citizens,” Quigley said. “To do that, you have to be exposed to a diversity of thoughts and ideas and approaches.”
In addition to talking about the issue with Vermont’s congressional delegation and the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges, Quigley said he’s also establishing a task force on campus that will include faculty, staff, students, and possibly some alumni.
The task force’s focus, Quigley said, will be on one question: “How can we preserve and protect our purpose in a rapidly changing environment that’s becoming increasingly restrictive and prejudicial?”
Until they have some of those answers, however, area college presidents are doing their best to reassure their students.
“We want everyone to remember that you belong here at Landmark College,” Eden’s letter says. “More importantly, who you are, where you come from, what you believe, and your view of the world make our community stronger and better.”