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Seven Mass. universities join court brief against Trump travel ban

MIT was one of seven universities in Massachusetts that filed a brief against President Trump’s travel ban.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file

Seven Massachusetts universities including Harvard and MIT joined a chorus of schools across the country Friday in an amicus brief opposing President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, saying it hampers the free exchange of ideas and thwarts their ability to attract top talent.

“We can’t think of a university as only made up of people from the United States,” said David Bunis, senior vice president and general counsel for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, one of 31 universities signed onto the brief, filed in the federal appeals court for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia. “We are global in who we are, and it would be impossible to imagine the university without international students.”


The travel ban, issued by executive order on March 6, bars nationals from six Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen -- from entering the United States for a period of 90 days. The order excludes certain visa holders, but the amicus brief notes that many academics rely on visas that would be affected.

The order is the second attempt by the Trump administration to crack down on travel into the United States from Muslim-majority countries the administration has linked to terrorism. Trump’s first ban, signed on Jan. 27, was more expansive and was struck down in February by a court in Seattle.

The March 6 ban was halted hours before it was slated to take effect by a federal judge in Hawaii. The Fourth Circuit court in Richmond, where the universities filed their amicus brief, also ruled against the ban. Trump has appealed, and the Richmond court has a hearing set for May 8.

In addition to Harvard, MIT, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts is represented in the brief, dated March 31, by Boston University, Brandeis University, Northeastern University, and Tufts University.

“As the court considers the legal challenge to the executive order, we thought it important to have our voice heard about the significant impact the executive order has had – and will have – on colleges and universities,” said Robert W. Iuliano, senior vice president and general counsel at Harvard University, in a statement. “Harvard’s mission and academic interests are global and we are at our best when the best students and faculty from across the world join together to solve problems for the benefit of society.”


The schools draw deeply from international talent, the amicus brief argues. At MIT, for example, more than 40 percent of faculty members are international; At Princeton, 30 percent of faculty appointees are international.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, the brief states, the United States welcomed more than a million international students who represent more than 5 percent of enrollment at institutions of higher learning.

The presence of international students, faculty, and scholars at universities across the country creates environments of collaboration and understanding, where people bring different perspectives that deepen and enliven academic thought, the brief argues. Many international students educated here stay and create art, businesses, or scientific advancements; others return to their countries, bringing traditional American ideals like democratic governance and respect for human rights with them.

The brief listed a long roster of foreign leaders who were educated in the United States, including MIT alums Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel; and Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations; and Lucas Papademos, former prime minister of Greece. Since 2000, the brief argued, 40 percent of all American Nobel prize winners in chemistry, medicine, and physics have been immigrants.


International students not only contribute to American innovation, but to the economy, the brief argued, citing an estimate that international students directly contributed $32.8 billion to the United States economy and supported or contributed to the creation of 400,000 American jobs in the 2015 to 2016 academic year.

The universities already are being hurt by the ban, the brief argued, with prospective students and faculty members reconsidering their plans. Many admissions letters for fall 2017 have been sent out, and some prospective international students have chosen not to attend school in the United States for fear that they will not be able to obtain visas.

“An amicus brief provides the opportunity for institutions that are not parties to a case to present additional facts that they believe will assist the court in reaching a just result,” said Erika Geetter, BU vice president and general cousel, in a statement. “In this case, the universities were able to give many concrete examples of the ways in which the blanket ban on individuals from the specified countries had far-reaching implications for our educational missions.”

Ultimately, the brief argues, the ban undercuts efforts to create a culture of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance.

The executive order, the brief argues, signals “from the highest levels of government, that discrimination is not only acceptable but appropriate.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.