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In Uncertain Political Times, Faust Steps Up Advocacy

By Andrew M. Duehren and Daphne C. Thompson, Crimson Staff Writers

University President Drew G. Faust is “ramping up” advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., where she will make the case for protecting undocumented immigrants and safeguarding science research funding after Donald Trump’s unexpected ascension to the presidency.

Faust will travel to Washington early next year to meet with federal lawmakers, moving up a trip previously scheduled for April, she said in an interview last Thursday. In the weeks since the election, Faust has spoken with members of Congress and officials in the Department of Homeland Security on how best to defend undocumented students as she has faced student and faculty demands for the University to designate Harvard a “sanctuary campus.”

Over the course of his campaign, Trump proposed a number of anti-immigrant policies, including building a wall on the country’s southern border and repealing protections for young undocumented people.

University President Drew G. Faust.
University President Drew G. Faust. By Helen Y. Wu

In particular, Faust has met with Illinois Senator Richard J. “Dick” Durbin—a Democrat who helped an undocumented Harvard undergraduate attain deferred action status in 2010—to discuss a bipartisan bill that, if passed, could protect hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people from deportation. The Bridge Act, sponsored by Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey O. Graham, is an updated version of the DREAM Act, an immigration reform bill that has been stalled in Congress since 2001.

Faust said she has also met with Harvard alumni in the Department of Homeland Security to discuss how changes to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA, could affect undocumented students. Through DACA, young immigrants temporarily receive deferred action from deportation and are eligible to work in the United States. Trump has suggested that he would repeal DACA and aim to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

Faust has been working with influential alumni in the legal world, including William F. Lee ’72—the Harvard Corporation’s senior fellow—to identify Harvard-educated lawyers who may take on pro bono work helping undocumented students, she said.

One action Faust will not take, though, is declaring Harvard a “sanctuary campus”—a label some campuses have adopted to signal their dedication to helping undocumented students. At a Faculty meeting last week, Faust argued the term offers no concrete protections and may put undocumented students in greater danger.

“I think it kind of puts a bullseye on our students and draws attention to them in a way that is risky, without in any way enhancing the protections that are offered to them, and also may encourage retribution without commensurate gain,” Faust said in the interview, pointing to a bill introduced by a Republican Representative that would crack down on universities serving as “sanctuaries.” Should the bill pass, campuses that refused to comply with lawful requests from federal immigration authorities would lose all federal funding.

At the same time, Harvard will take a number of steps to protect undocumented students that are consistent with most definitions of a “sanctuary campus.” The Harvard University Police Department will not ask about the immigration status of Harvard affiliates or enforce federal immigration laws, HUPD Chief Francis D. Riley wrote in an email in November, and existing University policies forbid law enforcement officials seeking to deport affiliates from entering campus without a warrant.

“It’s not the vague set of undefined promises that I think is implied by the word ‘sanctuary,’” Faust said of the actions she has taken. “I’d like to be very specific about what students can expect.”

Still, some undocumented students said they were disappointed that Faust chose not to use the term, even if they were optimistic about the protections she has offered to them.

At the Faculty meeting, Faust delivered a statement reflecting on the “eruptions of frightening expressions of hatred, bias, and violence” across the country and on campus since the election, and more broadly on the “significant challenges” to Harvard and its values posed by the Trump administration.

Beyond the threats facing undocumented students, Faust also said she is troubled by the President-elect’s proposals to tax sizeable university endowments, a plan that would likely include Harvard. The University’s operations are fueled by an endowment of $35.7 billion, the largest in higher education. In April, responding to a Congressional inquiry, Faust submitted a detailed public document advocating tax exemption for endowments.

Faust also said she is concerned about further cuts to federal research funding, particularly in the area of climate change and the environment. Trump tapped E. Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and climate change denialist, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency last week.

Faust’s remarks to the Faculty were received with sustained applause.

“There are a lot of questions and I thought there were some questions the Faculty might not be aware of that they should,” Faust said in the interview Thursday. “I think the question about endowments, the issues of federal funding for science, how we are thinking about that, I wanted them to be educated citizens and also speak to anxieties.”

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.

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