Keeping our community intact: a follow up

To:  University Community
From:  Ralph Kuncl, President and Brent Geraty, General Counsel
Date:  December 16, 2016
Subject:  Keeping our community intact: a follow up

We write to follow up on last month’s statement acknowledging the feelings of vulnerability among some in our community.  Specifically, we want to address the many questions about what the University can do should our undocumented students’ status become threatened by changes in federal actions or guidance.  As you may know, this is part of the larger questions that institutions of many kinds across the nation are wrestling with:  colleges and universities, cities, other government and nongovernmental organizations, nonprofit organizations, and churches.

We still feel it is wise to be patient and to watch carefully what unfolds.  At the same time, we should anticipate multiple scenarios.  Thus, after signing on early to the college and university presidential “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and Our Undocumented Immigrant Students” (now with nearly 600 signatories), we have moved ahead on the promise to look at how certain scenarios could play out at the University, and what the meaning and implications would be of becoming a “sanctuary campus.”  Colleges and universities already are considered to be “sensitive sites,” a phrase used by historic immigration practices (although historic practices may, of course, change).  We are not advocating sanctuary status, but rather a continuation of our current practices of privacy and confidentiality.

At a recent Faculty Assembly, people asked, essentially, “What exactly does the University currently do for, or about, undocumented students or employees, and what would we do if faced with new federal executive orders or changed federal guidance?”  Following is a “Frequently Asked Questions”-style look at these questions and scenarios.

Q.:  How many undocumented students attend the University?
A.:  We do not know a specific number.  International students who come to the University must have a valid visa, but we do not inquire about the immigration status of students who graduate from American high schools.  Based on self-disclosure, we estimate there may be more than ten undocumented students in the College of Arts & Sciences and likely a larger number in the graduate and professional schools.

Q.:  Can a student’s immigration status, if known, be disclosed by the University?
A.:  The University protects student privacy under existing federal and state laws, most notably the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  Under FERPA, the University cannot disclose personally-identifiable information from educational records without a student’s consent.  As a result, we would decline requests from the federal government to identify undocumented students.  Our departments of Admissions, Financial Aid, the Registrar, the Health Center, Counseling, and Public Safety already do not ask students about their legal or immigration status, because it is not required to do so and would be an unnecessary intrusion to ask – just like many other privately held identities.  There is an exception to FERPA that permits disclosure of otherwise private information pursuant to a judicial order or lawfully-issued subpoena.  If the University is presented with a judicial order to turn over otherwise private information, we will comply with the order.  If the University is presented with a lawfully-issued subpoena, we will make a judgment about whether we should comply with the subpoena, or we might seek to quash the subpoena through court actions.  The University would seek to quash the subpoena if it was apparent that the federal government was on a “fishing expedition.”  Unless the law required the University not to do so, we would publicize the fact that we had moved to quash a subpoena seeking information about undocumented students.

Q.:  Is the University planning to do anything to ensure that employees understand their obligations to protect student privacy?
A.:  Employees who work with or encounter educational records should already be aware of their obligations.  Nonetheless, the University is about to roll out an updated FERPA training for faculty, administrators, and staff who work with protected student information.

Q.:  I am a Redlands employee.  What should I do if I receive an inquiry, subpoena, or warrant seeking information about a University student?
A.:  All inquiries should be declined unless the student has consented to the disclosure.  If there is uncertainty about whether consent has been granted, or if there is a court order, warrant, or subpoena, the matter should be forwarded to the General Counsel’s office: 909-748-8076; brent_geraty@redlands.edu.

Q.:  What would the University do to protect undocumented University employees?
A.:  The University does not hire undocumented employees.  Prior to beginning work, all employees must provide documentation of their United States citizenship or work authorization.  Student employees also must provide evidence of work authorization prior to acquiring a student job.  The only undocumented individuals employed by the University in any capacity are those undocumented students who have registered with DACA and received work authorization.

Q.:  What might our cooperative relationship with local law enforcement (e.g., Redlands Police Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department) mean for the security of undocumented individuals in our community?
A.:  The University enjoys a mutually supportive relationship with local law enforcement agencies.  Law enforcement helps our Public Safety officers to protect the campus, and cooperation from the University, in turn, helps law enforcement solve and deter crime.  This is formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the Redlands Police Department, which we will review to clarify that our cooperation does not extend to immigration enforcement practices.

Q.:  I am an undocumented student.  Should I continue with my plan to study abroad?
A.:  Given the uncertainty over what steps the new federal administration might take, the University recommends that all undocumented students who are abroad return to the United States prior to January 20, 2017.  Undocumented students considering future study abroad opportunities will want to wait before making any decisions or leaving the country.  This counsel is consistent with the advice of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) and the California State University system, among others.

Q.:  By protecting undocumented students, isn’t the University promoting/rewarding illegal behavior?
A.:  The University supports the rule of law and believes that the United States’ commitment to the rule of law is a particular strength of its democracy.  The University will comply with all its legal obligations and will encourage others to comply with theirs.  Undocumented students are in the United States primarily because of the choices and decisions that someone else made (parents, grandparents, or guardians).  We believe that it would be unjust to punish undocumented students for choices and decisions in which they had no agency.  We further believe that each undocumented student should have the right to pursue an education and a life dedicated to service and community – both hallmarks of the University of Redlands.

Q.:  Will the University of Redlands become a “sanctuary campus”?  What would that mean?
A.:  The University does not have any current plan to designate itself as a “sanctuary campus.”  Our plan reflects the fact that the “sanctuary” designation is a self-defined construct and does not have a uniform meaning or legal status.  While not giving itself a label, the University is behaving, and will behave, in a manner that protects the privacy and dignity of its students, employees, and members of the community.  We are also following the issue closely and, as things develop, we can always retain the flexibility to decide on some different course.

Q.:  What is the University doing to demonstrate its care and concern for undocumented students?
A.:  We have identified a number of things we are doing, or will do, for undocumented students:

  • The University will continue its admissions and financial aid practices that are “blind” to immigration status, just as they are blind to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and a host of other legally-protected characteristics.
  • The University’s commitment to its legal obligations and to student privacy means that student information will not be given out, absent a legal obligation to do so.
  • The Office of Campus Diversity and Inclusion already has connected undocumented students to resources through East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, an organization providing support and legal services to individuals escaping war, intolerance, and persecution.
  • The University has arranged for an immigration attorney to come to campus in early January, 2017 to provide a free consultation to any undocumented or international student who feels the need to seek legal counsel (more details will be released soon).
  • The University is willing to pay the DACA renewal fees ($465) for any current University student who renewed, or will renew, between November 8, 2016 and January 20, 2017.
  • If the new federal administration revokes or modifies the DACA program by executive order, the University will examine undocumented students’ needs on an individual basis.

The bottom line – and our continuing pledge to the community – is that we will oppose disruption of our students’ education or invasion of their privacy wherever we can.  The Faculty Senate and other bodies are considering issuing statements about solidarity and support of students’ rights.  During the break, and as the nation makes a leadership transition, we will be monitoring developments closely.  Following the break, the Provost, various center leaders, and faculty will be bringing the community together for a series of forums on elections, immigration, and policy developments.  Until then, we wish all members of this special Redlands community a good end to the term and a peaceful, restful break.

Warmly,

Ralph and Brent