Why we railed against Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der

Travel ban ig­nored the hall­marks of a healthy so­ci­ety: di­ver­sity, in­clu­sion and open­ness

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - PA­TRICK DEANE Pa­trick Deane is pres­i­dent and vice-chan­cel­lor of McMaster Univer­sity

On Jan. 27, 2017, the White House is­sued its now no­to­ri­ous Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der: Pro­tect­ing the Na­tion from For­eign Ter­ror­ist En­try into the United States. As I write this, the or­der has been blocked by the courts and the­o­ret­i­cally cit­i­zens of the seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries tar­geted by the ban are able to en­ter the United States as be­fore. A new ex­ec­u­tive or­der is said to be im­mi­nent, how­ever, so it is rea­son­able to as­sume that, in one form or an­other, dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of faith or eth­nic­ity will con­tinue to be an el­e­ment in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy un­der the present ad­min­is­tra­tion.

That the is­su­ing of the ex­ec­u­tive or­der would pro­voke protest from civil lib­er­ties and im­mi­grants’ rights or­ga­ni­za­tions was en­tirely to be ex­pected. The vol­ume of com­plaint from the univer­sity sec­tor, on the other hand, may have come as a sur­prise both to the pub­lic and to the au­thors of the or­der. The Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­si­ties is­sued a state­ment al­most im­me­di­ately, not­ing that the ban “is al­ready caus­ing dam­age and should end as quickly as pos­si­ble,” and call­ing on the ad­min­is­tra­tion, “as soon as pos­si­ble, to make clear to the world that the United States con­tin­ues to wel­come the most ta­lented in­di­vid­u­als from all coun­tries to study, teach, and carry out re­search and schol­ar­ship at our uni­ver­si­ties.” Scores of in­sti­tu­tions — in­clud­ing most of the coun­try’s lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties — also posted in­di­vid­ual state­ments ex­press­ing grave con­cern about the di­rec­tion of Amer­i­can im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der pol­icy.

Here in Canada, re­ac­tion from the aca­demic sec­tor was also im­me­di­ate and fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern: Uni­ver­si­ties Canada led the way, with in­sti­tu­tions across the coun­try sub­se­quently re­leas­ing their own dec­la­ra­tions. In­ter­est­ingly, on both sides of the bor­der these com­mu­ni­ca­tions fre­quently drew at­ten­tion to their own ex­cep­tion­al­ity. Thus, “Uni­ver­si­ties Canada does not typ­i­cally com­ment on ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion be­ing taken by an­other coun­try, but we do so to­day be­cause of the real im­ped­i­ment this new ex­ec­u­tive or­der poses to the free flow of peo­ple and ideas and to the val­ues of di­ver­sity, in­clu­sion and open­ness that are hall­marks of a strong and healthy so­ci­ety.”

That last sen­tence sum­ma­rizes very well why the ex­ec­u­tive or­der has trig­gered such a ve­he­ment re­sponse from the academy. The se­quence tells it all: the “hall­marks of a strong and healthy so­ci­ety” — di­ver­sity, in­clu­sion and open­ness — are es­sen­tial to the ef­fec­tive func­tion­ing of any and all in­sti­tu­tions in a democ­racy; but it is “the free flow of peo­ple and ideas” on which the life of any great univer­sity specif­i­cally de­pends. Parochial­ism and pro­tec­tion­ism are the en­e­mies of en­light­en­ment, progress and dis­cov­ery, and no in­sti­tu­tion can ex­pect or con­tinue to be great if it is walled off from the rest of the world. That is pre­cisely why Amer­ica’s finest uni­ver­si­ties spoke out so quickly and with such force on this is­sue.

In­clu­sion and open­ness are not merely de­sir­able con­di­tions for the pros­e­cu­tion of the aca­demic mis­sion, they are for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons es­sen­tial to it. Uni­ver­si­ties in the West came into be­ing for no other rea­son than to pro­tect the unim­peded flow of peo­ple and ideas that was un­der­stood to be a pre­req­ui­site for learn­ing and hu­man ad­vance­ment. In 12th-cen­tury Bologna, the Em­peror Fred­er­ick Bar­barossa in­ter­vened to pro­tect for­eign­ers who had come to­gether there to study; and out of that mo­ment in his­tory came both the struc­tural model for in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing as well as the in­tel­lec­tual con­cept that must un­der­pin any univer­sity wor­thy of the name — aca­demic free­dom. Im­plicit in that ge­neal­ogy is the im­por­tant point that where there is in­jus­tice, in­tol­er­ance or ex­clu­sion, there can­not be aca­demic free­dom. Uni­ver­si­ties have there­fore a fun­da­men­tal and es­sen­tial obli­ga­tion to op­pose big­otry and closed-mind­ed­ness in all its forms.

Those young learn­ers in Bologna were called “clerici va­gantes,” “wan­der­ing clergy,” and some­times they were also known as “vagabundi,” a name which should help us see more clearly the his­tor­i­cal kin­ship be­tween the stu­dents en­rolled in our uni­ver­si­ties, the aca­demics who work in them, and the world’s mi­grant pop­u­la­tions. Mo­bil­ity is what links them all: in the case of refugees the goal is home as a geo­graph­i­cal place; in the case of “clerici va­gantes,” “home” is any mi­lieu in which their cu­rios­ity and imag­i­na­tions can work un­fet­tered for the bet­ter­ment of hu­man­ity. Uni­ver­si­ties seek to be homes in that sense, but without the free traf­fic of ideas and the move­ment of peo­ple hun­gry to en­gage with the world’s prob­lems and to un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties of life, they can­not prop­erly ful­fil their mis­sion. Our uni­ver­si­ties, like our so­ci­ety, are only en­riched and strength­ened by di­ver­sity of opin­ions, aca­demic dis­ci­plines and peo­ple. In rec­og­niz­ing and cel­e­brat­ing that strength, and in re­spond­ing to those who would seek to re­strict it, we com­mit our­selves even more deeply to the mis­sion of pro­vid­ing a wel­com­ing and in­clu­sive home to schol­ars from around the globe, to pro­tect­ing the free flow of ideas and to op­pos­ing ha­tred and in­tol­er­ance in all its forms.

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