Columbia University President On New ICE Regulations Regarding International Students

Jul 9, 2020
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

More now on this week's announcement from the Trump administration that international students won't be allowed to stay in the U.S. unless they take classes in person this fall.

Yesterday, we heard from Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, who says she is filing suit to fight this. And today we're going to talk with the president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger. Columbia has almost 12,000 international students, and Bollinger is calling the administration's decision, quote, "deeply misguided." President Bollinger, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LEE BOLLINGER: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Why deeply misguided?

BOLLINGER: Well, I think one has to start with understanding the important role that international students play on American universities. They are part of the heart of what makes up the great success of these institutions. So when you start to restrict them and not give them visas because your programs are online, which are really almost a necessity for some institutions now because of the pandemic, it strikes at the heart of American universities.

KELLY: Let's focus on your university specifically. I saw this week you announced the plan for how Columbia will reopen in September - 60% of undergrads on campus, most classes online or some hybrid arrangement. Is it possible, though, to permit your international students to do - I don't know - one seminar a week in person and so you would technically meet the requirement of not being completely online?

BOLLINGER: So we don't know yet. But it does seem as if you adjust your educational model and have some in-person - again, we don't know how much it will be required - but it does seem that you can avoid it. Even if you can, there's still a problem of, do we really want to make it so difficult for international students to be in the United States?

KELLY: I've heard you say, we don't know; we don't know how this is going to work. Is that part of the challenge here, is that there are unknowns about quite how this will play out? And we're in July. I mean, you're talking about students who have to make international travel plans or not in just the next few weeks.

BOLLINGER: So that's completely true. This seems like a policy that was really directed at punishing universities that decided to go online, as if to force them to be in person. And that's really problematic.

KELLY: We're obviously having a conversation about policy. I want not to get lost in the mix a point that you touched on, which is what you see is the impact of this on America's standing as a global leader in higher education - as a magnet that has attracted the best and brightest foreign students from around the world, brought them to the United States. Maybe they've stayed, or maybe they've gone back home having experienced American education and culture and values.

BOLLINGER: So the American system of higher education is the best in the world, and it is one of the great success stories of America. Over the course of the last century and into this one, the research labs, the work that has been done at American universities has transformed modern life. And the way they have operated is to bring the best talent from around the world to be part of our academic work. I mean, we have 33,000 students at Columbia. Twelve thousand of them are international students. Every year, we are sending them back to the world to do great things, and they are staying in the United States to do great things. And in the meantime, we are all enriched by this kind of flow of talent and intellect. And so it's really important.

KELLY: Lee Bollinger, he is president of Columbia University. President Bollinger, thank you very much.

BOLLINGER: Thank you very much for having me.

KELLY: And a note that we reached out to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement asking them to explain the new policy - neither has agreed to do so. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.