By Coleen Walsh
Harvard Gazette/Harvard Staff Writer
Harvard President Larry Bacow traveled to the nation’s capital this week to meet with members of Congress to discuss a range of University priorities and concerns, including the uncertainties federal immigration policy has created for faculty and students at Harvard and at universities across the nation. In a related move, Bacow also sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan last week calling on them to expedite the visa and immigration process for foreign students and researchers.
Bacow’s visit comes almost exactly a year after his first visit to Washington, D.C., as Harvard’s 29th president. His itinerary on this trip included meetings with Sen. Ted Cruz, J.D. ’95 (R-Texas); Sen. Pat Toomey ’84 (R-Pa.); Senate Armed Services Ranking Member Jack Reed, M.P.P. ’73, J.D. ’82 (D-R.I.); Sen. Dan Sullivan ’87 (R-Alaska); Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.); Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.); and House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.).
In his conversations with lawmakers Bacow discussed Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which gives limited-term protection from deportation to emigrants from countries embroiled in armed conflict or dealing with natural disaster; the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that protects from deportation immigrants brought to the U.S. as children; the newly mandated federal endowment tax, a 2017 law calling for an excise tax of 1.4 percent on investment income at private colleges and universities with at least 500 tuition-paying students and endowments worth at least $500,000 per student; and federal funding for research universities.
In his letter, Bacow urged Pompeo and McAleenan to find ways to make the process of receiving student and academic visas speedier and more predictable. Visa delays, wrote Bacow, “are making these scholars’ attendance and engagement in the university unpredictable and anxiety-ridden. Students report difficulties getting initial visas — from delays to denials. Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigration processes such as family visas, renewal of status, or clearance for international travel,” hindering their work and, in some instances, their medical residencies.
Bacow also noted that increased scrutiny around a few countries has contributed to heightened student and faculty anxiety. “Academic science is open and collaborative,” his letter continued. “While we support appropriate measures to safeguard valuable intellectual property, national defense, and sensitive, emerging technologies, singling out one country and its citizens is incompatible with the culture and mission of higher education and our national ideals.”
He reminded them that the work done at Harvard and other universities has driven “innovation that has helped shape the economy, fostered new industries, and improved health and well-being both in the United States and around the world.”
Bacow’s recent letter echoes one he sent to Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in March calling for the chamber’s party leaders to find a solution that would enable a path toward citizenship for DACA recipients, and for the lawmakers to act to protect individuals with TPS.
Bacow’s meetings followed weekend raids carried out by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that targeted undocumented immigrants. While not as extensive as many had feared, the raids signaled the White House’s willingness to crack down on immigration amid calls from lawmakers for a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. The meetings also came after the recent release of Treasury Department guidelines for the tax on private colleges and universities.
As part of his trip, Bacow met with students and alumni and continued to make the case for public service. On Monday night he attended a reception celebrating civic work, hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (IOP) and including participants in the Summer in Washington Program, which connects Harvard undergraduates with those working in politics and public service in D.C. This summer 225 IOP interns are working in 30 states and nine countries.
“The Institute of Politics underscores the reason that Harvard exists,” Bacow told the group. “I think this is a responsibility which we all bear, and that the world has never needed committed, active, engaged citizens more than now. I would suggest that this is not a time for good people to be sitting on the sidelines. This is a time in which good people need to roll up their sleeves and get involved.”
In his remarks at last year’s IOP D.C. event, Bacow signaled he would be an advocate for public service during his presidency, and he reiterated those sentiments in his inaugural address last fall, saying he would create opportunities “so we can guarantee every undergraduate who wants one a public-service internship of some kind — an opportunity to see the world more expansively, and to discover their own powers to repair that world.”
This year, in response to Bacow’s call, the IOP increased its director’s summer intern program by 25 percent and plans to expand it further in 2020.
Harvard also recently launched the Service Starts with Summer Program, a new initiative sponsored by Harvard College and the Phillips Brooks House Association that offers incoming first-years the opportunity to pursue service projects during the summer months. This year more than 70 students from the U.S. and abroad are taking part in projects ranging from working at food banks to helping refugees to protecting the environment.
(Reprinted with permission from the Harvard Gazette.)