These justifications are unacceptable. Facilitating the activities of ICE -- including family separation, indefinite detention and mass deportation -- is antithetical to the university’s proclaimed values, lacks the academic merit warranting the invocation of academic freedom, and is indefensible under any administration.
JHU has at least three ongoing contracts with ICE, including a program in the School of Medicine that provides medical training to law enforcement agencies and another in the School of Education that provides organizational leadership training. These contracts amount to over $1.6 million in revenue for JHU. But the university’s collaboration with ICE has not been limited to these 5 contracts: since 2009, the university has held 37 contracts with ICE, with the most lucrative worth nearly $950,000. In total, the university has received $6.5 million from ICE since 2008.
Their defense of these contracts is increasingly untenable by the day. In the time since the university’s response to our petition, President Trump sent 5,200 troops to the US’s southern border in response to an imaginary migration crisis and announced plans to eliminate birthright citizenship. At least 220 children separated from their families still remain in custody, four months after a judge ordered all families to be reunited.
These policies are a continuation of the xenophobic logic that ICE was founded on 15 years ago. Their effects are devastating and far-reaching. JHU’s claim that the contracts are made at a “distance from the policies and operational decisions of the federal government” is irrelevant. Our position is that there is no justifiable way to participate in an oppressive institution regardless of whether one supplies the bullets or the band aids.
The university administration defends these contracts by claiming that to terminate them executively would infringe on academic freedom. In this defense, the administration appears to offer protection for faculty to teach controversial subjects without fear of reprisal. The instructional manner of these contracted courses belies the validity of this defense.
The Department of Homeland Security has contracted with Johns Hopkins University, not individual professors. Many of the courses, both in the School of Medicine and School of Education, are led by part-time instructors who are hired on a course-by-course basis, meaning that the instructors do not have a say in whether to maintain these courses.
Under the proposed definition of academic freedom advanced in the letter, JHU is obliged to accept any contract that has the support of a faculty member. This is not the purpose of academic freedom protections. These “courses” are not forums for controversial discussions, venues for critical examination of fraught topics, or tools for research and knowledge production. They are training programs which enable human rights abuses.
JHU administration also claims that the medical training it provides “ultimately benefits those who interact with” ICE. This is an irrelevant point. If JHU wishes to provide medical services to migrants, they need not to do so through ICE. Academic freedom should not give cover to the immense human cost of facilitating this agency’s activities.
JHU’s response to our petition also underlined the services the university provides to immigrants and proclaimed its support for its students, faculty, and staff “regardless of immigration status.”
Currently, there are several constructive ways in which JHU members contribute to the migrant community. Faculty and students at the School of Public Health, for example, carry out important research to expose the deleterious effects of family separation on children, and have been addressing how the fear of deportation contributes to suicide. We believe in the value of this work and support its continuation and expansion.
At the same time, some of the university administration’s recent actions detract from this positive legacy. Over the summer, the university informed one of its employees of five years that it had failed to submit her H1-B visa application on time because it “would no longer be accepted by the people who scrutinize these things.” Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel, Digital Scholarship Specialist and Adjunct Professor of Digital Humanities at Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries, was given only ten days to leave the US—forcing her to leave her family behind. When she appealed to the university administration she was met with indifference. Nearly 2,000 people petitioned the university on her behalf, but the administration remains silent to this day.
We call on JHU to end its complicity with mass deportations and family separations, and take concrete steps to protect international students and employees. We will not cease our demands until the JHU administration terminates its contracts with ICE.
Endorsed by: American Civil Liberties Union (Maryland)Teachers and Researchers UnitedInternational Socialist Organization (Baltimore)Students Against Private PoliceParty for Socialism and Liberation (Baltimore)Johns Hopkins Student Government AssociationIndustrial Workers of the World (Baltimore)Jews United for JusticeStudents for Justice in Palestine (JHU)