Message from the vice-chancellor regarding immigration and citizenship

Vice-Chancellor John McCardell sent the following message to campus March 13.

To Members of the University Community,

It has been several weeks since I last communicated with you on the serious and ongoing matters relating to immigration and citizenship. In every meeting since the President’s initial Executive Order in January, the vice-chancellor’s cabinet and I have discussed, often at considerable length, the uncertainty, indeed turmoil, that these orders create with our students, their families, and in fact with all of us who live here. As Spring Break approaches and a momentary hiatus in our common life impends, I want to address what I have perceived to be the concerns that continue to linger in our community.

The University is uniquely well positioned, especially because of our size, to support affected students, staff, and faculty. We have two experienced attorneys on staff, one of whom has specific expertise in such matters. Though they cannot offer legal advice, they can fully explain existing laws and regulations and answer questions of fact.

The United States and Tennessee Constitutions as well as some federal and state laws protect the privacy rights of students and employees. Other federal and state laws, however, require the University to disclose information about those same individuals. Therein lies the source of the tension we all now feel. I want to be as clear and explicit as I can be in stating the University’s position: we will not voluntarily disclose any part of a student’s educational record containing personally identifiable information – such as immigration status, citizenship status, or place of birth – except in strict accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (or FERPA) or as required by law. If the University receives a valid court order or warrant requesting such information, the individual will be notified as soon as possible unless the order or warrant explicitly prohibits the University from providing such notice. It may be helpful to review the details of the University’s FERPA policy.

Though the University does not hold the legal powers of states or cities, and thus is not able to block lawful actions of immigration enforcement officers, the Sewanee Police Department will not be diverted from its mission of keeping our students and community members safe and will not participate in enforcement of federal immigration laws. Sewanee police officers are not immigration agents. No one need fear that cooperating with campus police will lead to deportation of oneself or of family members. We must and will remain one community with one shared safety network accessible to all students. We are committed to supporting our students, staff, and faculty regardless of their immigration status, citizenship status, or place of birth. If legal challenges emerge, we will provide support until the point that the law requires our compliance.

Any employee who is contacted by anyone seeking information about students’ immigration status should immediately direct that person to the University’s legal counsel in Walsh-Ellett Hall. This is the simplest and best course of action for the well-being of all who live in this community.

Finally, let me acknowledge, altogether inadequately but with deep sincerity, the stress recent events have caused many of our friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Your anxiety is our shared anxiety; your safety and protection are our obligation. As your vice-chancellor, I accept this obligation each day. Your determination to carry on and continue to contribute to our common life is worthy of our emulation and respect.

John M. McCardell, Jr.