Columbia tells academics to suspend travel plans

Columbia tells academics to suspend travel plans


norman lebrecht

January 29, 2017

Trump’s order has already impacted on academic freedom. Here’s a cautious assessment from the President of Columbia University.

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

With the executive order issued by President Trump barring admission to the United States of Syrian refugees and imposing a 90-day ban on all immigrant and nonimmigrant entry from seven Muslim-majority nations, the fear so many have had about federal policies being changed in ways that could affect our community has become disturbingly real.

The public controversy and legal debate over the President’s order is intense. Among the many strong petitions and compelling statements that have been issued is one from the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which Columbia is a member. We join with many peers in decrying this action as discriminatory, damaging to America’s leadership in higher education, and contrary to our nation’s core values and founding principles.

At a practical level, we are advising community members and visiting scholars from the designated countries to suspend plans for international travel. At the moment, we do not know of any Columbia students, faculty, or staff from the seven designated countries who are currently abroad. In the meantime, we urge anyone seeking further guidance to contact our International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO).

At a more fundamental level, this order undermines the nation’s continuing commitment to remain open to the exchange of people and ideas. We must not underestimate the scale of its impact. An estimated 17,000 international students in the U.S. are from the seven nations covered by the entry ban. Scholars planning to travel to the United States for meetings and conferences at our colleges and universities will effectively be barred from attending. If this order stands, there is the certainty of a profound impact on our University community, which is committed to welcoming students, faculty, and staff from around the world, as well as across the nation.

As I have said on many occasions, it is critically important that the University, as such, not take stands on ideological or political issues. Yet it is also true that the University, as an institution in the society, must step forward to object when policies and state action conflict with its fundamental values, and especially when they bespeak purposes and a mentality that are at odds with our basic mission. This is such a case.

It is important to remind ourselves that the United States has not, except in episodes of national shame, excluded individuals from elsewhere in the world because of their religious or political beliefs. We have learned that generalized fears of threats to our security do not justify exceptions to our founding ideals. There are many powerful and self-evident reasons not to abandon these core values, but among them is the fact that invidious discrimination often adds fuel to deeply harmful stereotypes and hostility affecting our own citizens.

It is with regret that I have to send this communication.


Lee C. Bollinger



  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    The bad moon has risen.

  • Marg says:

    The mind boggles! Even long standing residents with Green Cards have been barred from returningat this stage.

  • Daniel F. says:

    American universities are interested in the give and take only of politically correct ideas. To cast doubt on the morality of affirmative action, certainly an arguable position in the free market place, would brand you a racist and serious compromise your career prospects. With that said as a caveat, President Bollinger’s points are well-taken. The lunatics are running the asylum over here.

  • Holly Golightly says:

    “Free and open to the exchange of ideas”. Absolutely hilarious! I agree with Daniel F!!!

    • John Greenwood says:

      Yes! Universities are admirably open to the free exchange of officially sanctioned “politically correct” ideas.

      • Holly Golightly says:

        It’s very easy to earn a professorship in Group Think. Dissent strictly forbidden. Millions feel this way – not just myself.

  • Robert von Bahr says:

    How can you say that this is a “cautious assessment”?

    It is one of the most incredibly well-written, totally damning statements, made by a superbly intelligent man, I have read in years.

    It is totally crushing the present policies in its understated language, and therefore all the more damningly effective than the usage of all the capitals and exclamation marks in the world.

    Bravo, Prof. Bollinger! Do open a bottle of your namesakes over here.

    Robert von Bahr, CEO, BIS Records