In the past few days, leadership at both Montana State University and the University of Montana have spoken publicly about President Donald Trump’s executive order placing a pause on travel from seven countries and intensifying scrutiny and background checks. University of Montana President Sheila Stearns says the University community is asking for caution.

"We want to make sure that, however it is implemented, that it is thought through really carefully and that if exceptions or rethinking of it needs to happen to make sure that the universities of this country are not deprived of great scholars, who will, probably as a result, perhaps leave us, or be caught in a real bind separated from their families, or third, who may not go here in the first place and may go to universities in Canada, or New Zealand, or Australia: places that we compete with for top-rate talent," Stearns said.

It’s not common that the UM president speaks publicly about national politics, but Stearns says that political correctness is not the motive behind her message.

"I know that there are people who might think 'is this just the university being politically correct?' and I would say 'no,' what it really is is the university looking out for its own, for our scholars and students, and we have lots of international students some from those countries and they've already been vetted and we want them to feel safe as scholars pursuing their studies, out of country when they need to," Stearns said.

Though many are concerned about the possible outcomes of the new travel restrictions and scrutiny, Stearns says that, as far as she knows, no faculty or students at UM have been delayed or kept from continuing their work at the institution.

Below is the full letter sent out from the President's Office to those on campus:

To the Campus Community:

Yesterday, the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), of which the University of Montana is a member, issued the following statement concerning the announcement of a presidential executive order that temporarily bans citizens of seven countries from entering the U.S.:

“Public research universities are deeply concerned about the administration’s new policy preventing visa and green card holders of seven countries from returning to the U.S. for 90 days. The consequences of this action, along with the ban on refugees, reverberate far beyond the higher education community and are worthy of everyone’s attention. As a public research university association, we are keenly aware of the impact this is already having on college campuses throughout the U.S. The most recent figures show that more than 17,000 students from the seven countries that this ban targets studied at U.S. universities during the 2015-16 school year.

The new order is causing significant disruption and hardship to some university students, researchers, faculty, and staff who are citizens of the seven countries targeted and happened to be abroad at the time it was issued. These individuals returned home to visit in compliance with the immigration designation they received, but are now stranded abroad and unable to return to their studies and responsibilities in the U.S. This means that students’ work toward degrees are in question and the ability of faculty to continue teaching or conducting research is uncertain. On a personal level, some of these people are now separated from family members and torn away from the lives they had already legally established in the U.S.
But the impact of this decision goes beyond those immediately impacted. Our nation’s universities are enriched and strengthened by the talent, insight, and culture that international students, faculty, researchers, and staff bring. With appropriate and effective vetting, international students from all countries and of all religions have long been a core part of our campus communities and that should continue uninterrupted.  We are also concerned that this decision adds great uncertainty to international students, researchers, and others who might consider coming to our campuses.
The hardship is now clear and, as a matter of fairness and in accord with the values of this nation, the decision that bans these current visa and green card holders from returning for 90 days should be promptly reconsidered.”

While this is an evolving situation, the APLU statement reflects the University of Montana’s position and my immediate thoughts on this matter as well. I realize that the executive order, the court responses, and the ensuing challenges and changes to policy brings many questions and concerns from those both directly and indirectly affected at the University of Montana.

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