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President Trump, the ‘Muslim ban’ and University of Leicester

Published: 2nd February, 2017

Letter sent to President and Vice-Chancellor Paul Boyle on 2 February 2017. No reply of substance was received.

Dear Professor Boyle

We are alarmed by the news currently emanating from the United States and we are sure you are too. In particular we note President Trump’s recent executive order to prevent anyone from one of seven Muslim-majority countries entering the US (the so-called Muslim-ban); his ‘gagging orders’ on scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture and the way in which his administration has overridden other branches of government, notably his sacking of acting attorney general Sally Yates).

Besides Muslims and climate scientists, it seems likely the Trump administration will target other groups over the coming days and weeks: Latinos (Mexicans have already been described as ‘rapists’and another executive order authorises construction of the border wall); African-Americans; Jews (the pointed absence of any reference to Jews on Holocaust Memorial Day is a worrying harbinger); transgender people; other scientists and academics more generally (who are likely to be vocal critics of Trump, yet can be denigrated as part of an ‘elite’).

Also of much concern to us is the failure of our prime minister, Theresa May, to make any public criticism of President Trump or his policies. In this, she seems quite out of step with the leaders of many other large countries, notably President Justin Trudeau of Canada or Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

We believe that the Trump administration’s actions require a robust response. Indeed we are hearted by the wide variety of actors, both within the US and outside, who are already expressing their opposition — state governors, CEOs, trade union, demonstrators in the streets and at airports. We were particularly heartened by the intervention of the University of Cambridge’s Vice Chancellor, himself the son of refugees, who spoke out against Trump. In a similar manner, we believe that the University of Leicester should add its weight to this groundswell of anti-Trump opposition — and indeed we believe that universities can perform an extremely important role in upholding liberal freedoms when they are under attack. We would happily work with you and the ULT to explore how we can work together to make this happen. Below we sketch out some initial ideas.

The University’s most immediate responsibility is its duty of care to its students and staff, via the formulation of guidelines.

1. Some departments run student fieldtrips to the United States. In Geography, for instance, a compulsory/core trip to New York City is forthcoming for 2nd year BA students. Many departments have ‘study abroad’ programmes in which students spend time in the US. We think departments should urgently undertake Equality Impact Assessments and revised risk assessments before continuing with these. If alternative arrangements need to be made, the University must provide support — both administrative and financial — to affected departments and students.

2. University of Leicester academics frequently attend international conferences, including conferences in the United States (or countries which might require transit via the US). It is possible some University of Leicester will be directly affected by President Trump’s travel ban (the situation is changing very quickly so it is impossible to be sure about this); many others may feel uncomfortable, unsafe even, travelling to or via the US at the moment. The University must support these colleagues.


3. There is a lively discussion concerning the merits and demerits of a wider boycott of academic conferences in the US. While we have no fixed position on this, we would hope the University of Leicester will be a place where such debate can take place. One proposal we have seen is that universities outside of the US should offer to host conferences scheduled to occur inside the US or that — given such arrangements would create problems for vulnerable US-based academics worried about their ability to re-enter the country — conferences might be held in twin locations, connected via video links. We suggest that University of Leicester considers offers itself up as a potential host university for such ‘displaced’ conferences.

4. The situation for many individual scholars is grave. The case of the Iranian scientist Samira Asgari has been widely circulated whilst countless other academics and students are in similarly distressing situations. We would like the University of Leicester to explore how it might offer sanctuary to some of these scholars — and to encourage other British universities to do likewise.

5. Finally, while some business leaders have been vocal in their opposition to Trump’s policies to date, others have come out in support. Notable amongst these has been Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of ride-hailing app Uber. Kalanick is a member of Trump’s economic advisory group; following New York taxi drivers’ refusal to collect fares from JFK airport as a protest of the ‘Muslim ban’, Kalanick insisted that Uber would not participate in this partial ‘strike’ and would even disable its normal (and controversial) ‘surge pricing’ model during this period. Many of the public responded by deleting the app from their phones. We think Uber is just one example of others to come. We would like to explore with you how the University of Leicester might develop — and publicise — protocols that ensures it does not purchase goods and services from companies linked to xenophobic or anti-intellectual policies of the Trump administration.

We are proud of our university’s and city’s commitment to diversity and multi-culturalism, as we are sure you are too. We live in times of uncertainty and upheaval, and we feel that Leicester UCU and ULT could work together on these concerns to provide reassurance to our staff and students. We look forward to hearing from you and working together.

With best wishes,
The Committee of Leicester UCU