The University of Mary Washington is alarmed by the recent decision from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency barring international students from entering or remaining in the United States in the event that they are able to enroll only online this fall. UMW has and will continue to welcome international students as valuable members of our community. These changes to student visa policies are arbitrary and damaging to the University, our students, and our region.
While the University is and will continue to monitor the situation, ongoing developments, and current legal actions, UMW is also taking specific steps in response:
- The University, with the assistance of the Attorney General’s Office, is exploring how best to support the Harvard/MIT lawsuit challenging the forthcoming rules that bar online study for international students.
- The University’s Director of the Center for International Education, Dr. Jose A. Sainz, is closely following developments and has been in communication with and providing support to all UMW students likely to experience impact from these policy changes.
- International students may continue to avail themselves of academic and social support services such as advising, virtual access to the library, the James Farmer Multicultural Center, and the Talley Center for mental health as long as they are enrolled at UMW.
- As part of UMW’s plan to reopen this fall, and as documented in our submission to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), UMW has committed to materially supporting international students in meeting federal guidelines for self-quarantine following entry into the United States prior to the start of classes.
To start the 2020-2021 academic year, UMW intends to offer courses delivered in multiple modalities: online, hybrid, and face-to-face. The process of deciding which courses will be taught in which modality is ongoing and evolving as circumstances change. Such choices will always be made in the interest of public health, the well-being of our faculty, staff and students, and our commitment to high quality instruction.
A particularly pernicious aspect of the Department of Homeland Security’s decision is that it irresponsibly pressures institutions to make decisions about teaching modalities that have nothing to do with health or pedagogy. Institutions of higher education must remain flexible in order to best respond to trends in public health data and the wellbeing of students and employees. If circumstances warrant, courses that are currently scheduled to meet face-to-face on campus must have the ability to go online without derailing the educational attainment of international students.
Fall 2020 is clearly an exceptional one for the entire world. Higher education has repeatedly assured students and other stakeholders that this environment is an anomaly and adversity mitigated only when we share responsibility and work together as a community. Yet this ruling seems to indicate that international students are secondary contributors to American education. It is a misguided framework, and most educators will attest to their experience that international students stand equal with U.S. students in their intellectual, social, and financial impact. The richness and diversity of thought brought by a variety of cultures are crucial to a global perspective that benefits all students and this nation. Either we stand together during this pandemic or we are all fundamentally weakened and vulnerable.