Universities Canada, on behalf of its 97 member institutions, has expressed its “deep concern” about President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travellers from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from entering the United States for 90 days.
The organization stated on Jan. 29 that the U.S. action affects research partnerships, international studies, academic conference participation and more. It added: “Canada’s universities continue to welcome students, faculty and staff from around the world, including those seeking refuge from violence and hardship. They strengthen Canada’s university communities, bringing new knowledge, talent and skills to higher education, research and innovation – to the benefit of all Canadians.”
Individual universities and the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences have issued similar statements on the travel ban, which also suspends refugee admissions into the U.S. and has sparked protests over the weekend and into Monday.
“By Sunday morning we were getting serious inquiries from our members about what we could do” as a member organization, said Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada. He said the last time he remembers getting such a torrent of feedback from members was when the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea and whose body washed ashore, went viral.
“We don’t typically make comments about political situations and policy decisions from other countries,” Mr. Davidson said. “What really catalyzed our decision to act was that the impact of the executive order was real, immediate and profound. Real in that there were international researchers and students on Canadian campuses that were trying to travel to the States on the weekend, and they were turned away.”
There have been several media reports of such cases, including a Toronto resident and MIT researcher who has postponed plans to visit family in Canada next month; a PhD student at Simon Fraser University who will no longer be visiting his brother in New York; and a husband and wife studying at the University of Winnipeg who were not allowed to board a flight to California on Saturday.
Mehrdad Hariri, president of the Canadian Science Policy Centre and a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, said that Trump’s executive order would “have a huge impact on the scientific research community,” whose success is built upon “collaboration, exchange of ideas and networking.” Dr. Hariri himself had planned to attend a scientific conference in Boston next month, but is being cautious. Though news broke of Canadian dual citizens being exempted, “That remains to be proven at the gates,” he said, recalling his experiences post-9/11. “When you go to the airport, you have to wait and see how this policy is implemented.”
Already, universities are looking at how to help in light of the travel ban, which is being widely discussed on Twitter with the hashtag #MuslimBan. University of British Columbia president Santa Ono has set up a task force with a starting budget of $250,000 to determine how to assist those affected. University of Toronto president Meric Gertler has encouraged faculty and students concerned about travel restrictions to call support lines, as has Elizabeth Cannon, president of the University of Calgary. In addition to its public pronouncement, Universities Canada has been in touch with the Prime Minister’s office and various federal departments “to share information and to provide real examples of what the impacts are” of the travel ban, Mr. Davidson said.
Shortly after it was announced, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Universities issued statements critical of the executive order. The European University Association, representing 850 members in 47 countries, has called on President Trump to “recall or reformulate this executive order to avoid any threat to the free flow of people and knowledge and for the new administration to acknowledge the overall importance of global mobility and openness for society as a whole.”