Columbia, Ivy League Go Toe to Toe with Trump

The Alma Mater statue on Columbia University's campus. (Creative Commons)

The Alma Mater statue on Columbia University’s campus. (Creative Commons)

Columbia University and 16 other academic institutions filed a legal brief Monday at the U.S. District Court in Eastern New York, challenging President Trump’s recent executive order. Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger announced the filing in an email to students and faculty.

In the filing, the schools argued that the safety and security concerns that had prompted the order could be addressed “in a manner that [was] consistent with the values America has always stood for.” Those values, they said, included the free flow of ideas and people internationally.

The weeks following the order have been tense for some students at Columbia. A spokesman from its International Students and Scholars’ Office said the school had received a spike in immigration-related concerns. As a result, Associate Provost David B. Austell recommended that “foreign nationals from the countries listed [in the order] avoid all international travel for now.”

One current PhD student, Mohammadreza Bolandnazar, made national headlines when his wife, who lives with him in New York, was unable to return after visiting her parents in Iran. “We were reunited last week, here in New York,” Bolandnazar told NY City Lens. He had been considering leaving the city and his program altogether.

The amicus brief, which Bollinger said had been worked on for the past two weeks, is the combined efforts of all Ivy League schools, along with nine other institutions from across the country, including the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Each school, the brief said, “has a global mission” and “derives immeasurable benefit from … students, faculty and scholars from around the world.”

Cross-cultural understanding, it said, was integral to the schools’ ability to provide “some of the best” higher and further education programs in the world.

In a short statement in the brief, Columbia University wrote that it “seeks to attract a diverse and international faculty and student body, to support research and teaching on global issues, and to create academic relationships with many countries and regions.”

Sixteen percent of the university’s fall 2016 undergraduates were international, while 38.7 percent of its graduate students are non-resident aliens, as are 188 of its nearly 4,000 full time faculty.

This brief follows an open letter, dated February 3, from Bollinger and 47 other university presidents that called for the order to be “rectified or rescinded.”

While people on campus seemed unaware of the latest legal action, current students, staff and alumni were more forthcoming on social media. On the university’s Facebook page, for example, many had commented in thanks or congratulations.

Thomé Nicocelli, a current Master of Public Administration candidate, wrote: “Congratulations President Bollinger for the leadership — yet again — when visionary leadership is needed,” while alumni Penelope Ospina and Nancy Devine Pike both wrote “Love for my alma mater!”

Not everyone was as impressed by the university’s actions. Chris Bolton, a current undergraduate, called the brief “absolutely disgraceful.” Writing on the university’s Facebook page, he said: “What this brief lacks in coherence and legal sense, it makes up for with whining.”

Bollinger’s email suggested that this may be just the first step against the order, which has been temporarily suspended following the decision of the Court of Appeals. “There will be more to say in the days ahead,” he wrote.