Dear Hofstra Community:
As we begin a new semester, and as the new administration takes office in Washington D.C., I write to assure you of our University’s continued commitment to our core values of tolerance, inclusiveness and respect for all members of our community.
First, let me state that without reservation or exception, there is no space for intolerance or prejudice at Hofstra University. A university must be a place where learning and scholarship can take place freely, and that free exchange requires an environment of dignity and respect for all. Even in our disagreements, civil exchange of ideas is paramount. Our core values, our mission statement, the work we do both inside the classroom and out, all point to our shared dedication to an education that respects and celebrates our differences. Ensuring the dignity and privacy of each one of our students is part of our mission, but also what is required of us by law, including the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. And while no initiative or action has been launched at the federal level, I understand the anxiety many of our community feel during this transition, and take this opportunity to reiterate our policies and procedures, which already strongly protect the privacy of individual members of our community. Hofstra University’s administration is committed to doing all it can to nurture and protect all students, including immigrant members of our community, documented or not.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy has considered colleges and universities as “sensitive locations” – places, along with churches, schools and hospitals, where enforcement actions, including surveillance, should not occur outside of extraordinary circumstances. This is a recognition of the exceptional albeit undefined place that education has within our democracy, and federal acknowledgement, at least for now, that the free exchange of ideas and scholarship must occur in a space that is safe for us all.
Our campus is private and while it is open to the community, any person on campus who is not a member of the Hofstra community is here as a guest, and is guided by the University’s guidelines and procedures, including those we reference below.
As one who is dedicated to the study of constitutional law as well as higher education administration, my priority has always been the free and open exchange of ideas in a civil and tolerant society. I support all of our students and faculty and the laws, regulations and orders which allow them to live, work and study without fear of harassment or intimidation, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Many of you have written to express your opinions and to suggest that our University take various actions, and I have received the petition advocating certain policies. I share your concerns about potential changes in law and policy. I want to share with you some of the initiatives we have undertaken and respond to some of your recommendations:
• Before the fall semester ended, I joined the almost 600 college presidents who have signed on to the “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” which had been organized by Pomona College. Prior to that, immediately following the election, I had joined college presidents on a letter to President-elect Trump, organized by the Bennington College president, urging him “to take a more forceful stand against harassment, hate, and acts of violence.” I will take any opportunity I have to speak up for the rights of all peoples.
• I previously announced plans for our Law School to expand its nationally recognized clinical programs devoted to immigration issues, which currently provide legal representation to members of the Long Island immigrant community. Our law school can provide members of the Hofstra community with accessible, no-cost, confidential services and we are pleased to promote this endeavor. The clinics are fully available to Hofstra students who have questions about their immigration status.
• Our longstanding policy is that we do not share data about our students or employees with any governmental agency, except to the extent required by law. We do not respond to requests for information about our students or employees without a lawfully issued subpoena or court order. This includes requests from immigration officials or other law enforcement officials. Student privacy is also protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other laws, and the protection of a student right to privacy is one in which every administrative department is trained and takes seriously. All inquiries by law enforcement go to the Office of General Counsel for response and are not answered at the department level.
• Our Public Safety officers are here first and foremost for the safety and protection of our community, to maintain an environment that allows students and faculty to pursue their academic interests safely and free from fear or intimidation. They are trained to treat all members of our community equally and with respect. They do not inquire about immigration status or participate with any law enforcement agency to ascertain immigration status. While we work collaboratively with local governments and police departments to protect all members of the Hofstra community, the members of our Department of Public Safety are guided by the policies and procedures of the University and not by any outside law enforcement entity unless required by law.
• With regard to student data, our Hofstra student application form will collect only that data that is necessary for our students to obtain financial aid provided by the federal and state governments or to meet other legal requirements. We do not ask students whether they are undocumented. Any information supplied by students is not shared with any outside agency unless required by law or through subpoena or warrant.
• Hofstra’s admissions policies are based solely on non-discriminatory factors and no decisions are made based on citizenship, ethnicity or religion.
• Our University provides equal access to all students for merit-based scholarships; and while the University does not have the means to provide full need-based scholarships to our students, every effort is made to ensure that every dollar we have available is used wisely to benefit students.
• The University has long had strong policies prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or other factors, as well as procedures to address any claim of discrimination. We require all contractors doing business with the University to adhere to our non-discrimination policies as well.
• Our administrative departments provide services and counseling for all students on many issues which allow them to freely pursue their educational interests. All information is kept confidential to the extent permitted by law. From professionals in the Dean of Students office and International Student Affairs, from University Advising and Student Health and Counseling Center, to our Equal Rights and Opportunity Officer and Title IX efforts, to the work done in academic departments, the University is united in our efforts to provide each student with assistance and support.
• We support programs in all departments of the University in which our students and faculty work with the community. It is a source of enormous pride to me that we have many long-standing programs that work with other non-profits, schools and civic organizations. Programs such as the Center for Civic Engagement, our Commuting Student Services and Community Outreach, Continuing Education, Center for Entrepreneurship, our law clinics, our VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, the Gitenstein Institute for Health Law and Policy, to name a few, as well as programs in each of our colleges and administrative divisions, provide our students and faculty the opportunity to work with thousands of community members each year and to understand their role in the world and expose them to the many communities under this nation’s flag. Our commitment to this kind of work remains unchanged, except for the fact that our resolve to promote equity and freedom has strengthened.
As an educational institution our mandate is simple. Our faculty, the Division of Student Affairs, the Department of Public Safety and all campus offices have a clear duty: to maintain the privacy, dignity and safety of our community, particularly our students, so that they may pursue an education in an environment that nurtures and protects them. We are a community that supports the free and open exchange of ideas as our first priority.
As an institution governed by federal, state and local law, we must also follow the law, such as answering a lawfully issued subpoena or court order. We cannot jeopardize the financial aid or education of all students by ignoring the law in protest. However, in times like this we must make clear our mission as a University, and keep in the forefront of our minds at all times that our primary purpose, as stated in our mission statement, is to provide “a quality education to our (its) students in an environment that encourages, nurtures, and supports learning through the free and open exchange of ideas, for the betterment of humankind.” I therefore urge all members of the community to reach out to our elected representatives, as I personally have, who wish to add their voices, to demand that the civil rights of our society continue to be upheld and protected for all. The political process does not end with an election – that is where it begins.
It is up to each of us to remain vigilant, to safeguard the interests of our students and to ensure that the University is a safe space for scholarship and tolerance. I join with you, and commit to an on-going dialogue about University policies, procedures and initiatives that protect, nurture and safeguard our students; that we make changes thoughtfully so we can protect all members of our community while still providing support and services; and that we join the voices nationwide calling for the tolerance and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution to be protected and celebrated.