Faculty Forum Discusses Executive Order Banning Travel

Rachel Reynolds, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, speaks at the faculty forum held Feb. 8 while Bahram Nabet, PhD, professor in the College of Engineering, looks on.
Rachel Reynolds, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, speaks at the faculty forum held Feb. 8 while Bahram Nabet, PhD, professor in the College of Engineering, looks on.

A panel of Drexel experts convened in the A.J. Drexel Picture Gallery on Feb. 8 to discuss the national and international impacts of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order temporarily suspending entry into the United States for refugees, immigrants and visa holders from seven Middle Eastern and North African countries.

The forum, which is expected to be the first of a series of expert panels on political and current events, was created to address an outpouring of questions and concerns from students, faculty and staff since the controversial executive order went into effect on Jan. 27.

“We are so fortunate to be in a University which is a community of scholars, students, practitioners and professionals who are all committed to the exchange of ideas and openness, inclusivity, equality and spirit of exchange — which is really critical to our times,” said Senior Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Julie Mostov, PhD, who co-hosted the event with Provost M. Brian Blake, PhD. “And so what we decided to do today was really to talk about some of the issues that surround this travel ban and the responses to it and really the implications, both the impact on individuals and families but the broader implications — social, economic, political and certainly broader internationally.”

Eight faculty panelists spent a few minutes discussing a particular aspect of the executive order that related to their discipline, often using data and statistics to create logical arguments.

Anil Kalhan, JD, an associate professor in the Thomas R. Kline School of Law and an expert in immigration law and international human rights, among other areas, spoke at the event, as did Richard H. Frankel, director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic and an associate professor in the Kline School of Law. Ana Diez Roux, MD, PhD, dean and Distinguished University Professor of Epidemiology, represented the Dornsife School of Public Health. Professors from the College of Arts and Sciences included Erin Graham, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Politics; Rachel Reynolds, PhD, an associate professor of anthropology; and Alden Young, PhD, director of Africana Studies and an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. Banu Onaral, PhD, H.H. Sun Professor and senior advisor to the president for global partnerships in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, spoke at the event along with Bahram Nabet, PhD, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering.

Onaral, who is from Turkey, and Nabet, who is from Iran, spoke about their personal experiences as residents of the United States born outside of the country and as professors with international students and a high regard for international collaboration. Both stressed the importance of refugees and immigrants working in science, technology, education and other valuable sectors that contribute to society and the collection of knowledge in America and the whole world. Onaral pointed to the history of academic and intellectual contributions from immigrants and refugees to their new home countries, such as Albert Einstein and other scientists who escaped from the Nazis in their home countries. Nabet also recounted the struggles of academics, doctors and scientists trying to gain entry into the United States in the aftermath of the executive order.

“All of a sudden, in a country where for 40-plus years I contributed and put my heart and soul into not only working on science, technology, education, the next generation and so on and so forth, I feel like all of a sudden I am in a different category," said Onaral. "This has never happened before."

Reynolds also highlighted the benefits of diversity and international perspectives of immigrants in academic circles and discussed the potential for "brain drain," in which those immigrants would not be allowed to study and teach in the United States under the executive order. She also recounted discussions as well as the anxieties and fears of local immigrant populations, such as those of Pakistani immigrants she was familiar with, about the executive order ban and their place in the United States.

Graham and Young analyzed the political context of the executive order, with Young focusing on the relationship between the United States and the seven countries named in the order, including Sudan, his area of expertise, concerning sanctions and conflicts over the decades. Graham discussed the political misconceptions of the vetting process and the ability to make the United States safer through the policy, while also putting the threat of terrorist attacks by jihadists in relation to other threats in the United States.

“In the 15 years since Sept. 11, jihadist terrorism has killed 94 people in the United States,” said Graham, who used data from the International Security Program at the New America Foundation, a prominent independent U.S. think tank. “That works out to be an average of about 7 people per year. To put that in context, about 46 people die each year from lightning strikes in the United States. Car accidents involving a deer kill about 150 people per year. And about 300 people a year die from drowning in in bathtubs. Around 11,000 people per year are killed by gun homicide deaths in the United States. So, while certainly every death is tragic, it’s really important to keep this in mind as we think about the nature of the threat.”

Kalhan and Frankel discussed the way that various courts and judges responded to the executive order and the legal confusion created by the suddenness of the implementation.

Diez Roux noted that the public health implications include not only the direct health impact on refugees (who are often fleeing life threatening situations), but also effects on immigrants living in the US. For example, immigrants who feel threatened may be reluctant to access health care with possible health consequences for them as well as their communities. In addition, research has also shown that the mere threat of deportation or other types of discrimination have health impacts, such as recently documented effects on pregnant women and their babies. She noted that the order also hinders global exchanges that are so critical to public health.

The wide variety of topics and areas explained during the event all related to the high regard that universities and academic institutions hold for international students and for faculty, who are frequently key partners in collaboration and research.

Future panels will be held as needed, such as if the travel ban is extended or evolves into challenging new immigration policies; in the meantime, Mostov stated that there would always be Drexel faculty and staff available to explain and analyze developments.

“We have experts from across the University and it’s not hard to draw upon them,” she said. “In fact, it was hard to limit the table.”

Both Mostov and Blake stressed that Drexel’s leadership and administration, including the Office of Student Life and the International Students and Scholars Services, are available to concerned faculty, staff and students.

“Throughout all of the anxiety that our international students and our faculty are having, our students and our faculty have really come together,” said Blake. “Everyone has wanted to show overwhelming support for our international students and our international body of professionals.”

To watch a full recap of the event, click here.