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Information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. If you have a legal problem, consult your institutional counsel or an attorney licensed to practice law in your state. Information and views presented in this blog are solely those of the individual contributors and not their employers.

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A Reminder to the Essence of Humanity Embedded in DACA

The emergence of Donald Trump and his rescission of The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) spurred the undocumented community to push back against divisive measures within their college campus. Hector Sanchez-Perez is a first-year Sociomedical Sciences Master’s of Public Health student at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. As a “Mailman Dreamer” he epitomizes the resiliency and determination procured to transcend anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But the lives of undocumented students are used as bargaining chips in a political chess game revolving around immigration. Four Harvard Medical Students banded together and used the privilege of their white coats to enlighten a forgotten perspective: the essence of humanity embedded in the DACA executive order.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order expedited by the Obama Administration protects nearly 800,000 undocumented students, or Dreamers, from the threat of deportation while being permitted to work, apply for credit, and apply for a driver’s license. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that individuals who arrived in the United States as children and met certain criteria could apply for deferred action for two-year periods, subject to renewal.

The border of immigration status often prohibits undocumented students form achieving the American dream of social mobility. Throughout their entire educational careers, undocumented students have accrued the navigational and cultural capital to sustain their resiliency in higher education. Although the fate of DACA rests on impending litigation, it is imperative that universities adhere to the humanist side of the debate, highlighting the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In a politically charged and divisive campus climate, major universities have assumed a united front against policy-changes on immigration. Shortly after Donald J. Trump’s successful presidential campaign, the University of California declared its commitment to the undocumented student community. The University of California affirmed, “we will not release immigration status or related information in confidential student records, without permission from a student, to federal agencies or other parties without a judicial warrant, a subpoena, a court order or otherwise required by law.” The UC stance is in conjunction and protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The humanity of immigration law pertaining to Dreamers are teetering as undocumented students continue to entrust the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with sensitive information without fear that the Executive Branch was using DACA as a way to find and remove undocumented immigrants when submitting renewals. President Trump stated, “[Dreamers] shouldn’t be very worried. I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody” during an ABC News interview in January.

Promptly after the rescission of DACA on September 5, 2017, Harvard University President Drew Faust issued a letter to the Trump administration emphasizing its cruelty as “recognizing neither justice nor mercy” and urged President Trump to preserve protections because like their peers, undocumented students have earned their seat at Harvard.  

Currently, the March 5th deadline is rendered insignificant as now two District Court Judges have halted parts of the DACA rescission. Regents of the University of California v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security was granted a preliminary injunction that reinstated DACA to its September 4, 2017 status, allowing USCIS to resume renewal processing. Its companion case in the Eastern District of New York, Vidal v. Nielsen confirms Regents was ruled invalid in that the rescission action was “arbitrary and capricious” in contrast to the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C § 706(2).

As litigation ensures and the fate of Dreamers out of the hands of the Executive Branch, how deep are universities committed to undocumented students? What extra protections can universities offer students that are still in compliance within federal and state law?

This post was authored by Deon Turner, a Master’s Student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio and a Graduate Assistant for UTSA Campus Recreation.



Paying Debts to Society, but Unable to Pay for College

Prison reform in general is typically met with intense opposition by vocal anti-prisoner sentiment. Beyond the general, opposition climbs ever higher in regards to allotting federal funding to correctional education. Opponents balk at the idea of allowing incarcerated individuals access to federal funding in the form of Pell Grants – an argument that is difficult to contend with considering the rising costs of education and the stagnation of federal funding offered to the general population.

Amid what seems to be enduring “tough on crime” public sentiment, the 1994 Crime Bill withdrew eligibility for Pell Grants for any incarcerated individual. This remains the policy on Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals in effect today. Damage done by this bill meant that by 1997 only eight total programs for postsecondary correctional education remained in operation, where before there had been 350. Most of these programs were fortunate enough to have outside sources of funding. For the rest, the lack of funds to keep programs operational meant they forced to shut down. Funding remains a large obstacle to creating and sustaining correctional education programs now.

Considering the ballooning incarceration rate in the United States that currently means over 2.3 million Americans are behind bars (equal to more than one out of every one hundred American adults), the educational needs of this huge population warrants attention. Incarcerated individuals make up one of the largest demographic populations in the U.S. Furthermore, it’s important to note many of those serving sentences come from underserved backgrounds or have been funneled into prison via the school-to-prison pipeline or as a result of “tough on crime” policies like the aforementioned Crime Bill or the Reagan Administration’s “War on Drugs.” Only six percent of this 2.3 million person prison population currently have access to a correctional education program.

In 2016 President Obama initiated the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program to support postsecondary educational programs by awarding Pell Grants to just under 12,000 incarcerated students. This program is only in its second fiscal year, and the impact will be measured longitudinally so results are not yet available. The hope is that the program will provide data illustrating the benefits of correctional education as well as demonstrate increased participation in such programs when Pell Grants are available. Three separate pieces of legislation have been introduced for the consideration of the 115th Congress that will cause legislative change regarding Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals should any of them pass the current legislative session. Among these are the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act, and the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act.

The most straightforward of these is the REAL Act, which seeks solely to restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals. The Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act asks for the same, but also seeks much more comprehensive reform to the Pell Grant program. Some highlights of this Act include increasing grant maximums, reinstating eligibility to students with drug offenses, and allowing DREAMers access to Pell Grants, each of which have the ability to complicate the possibility of the Act passing. The PROSPER Act, or the Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill, currently has no language specifically addressing incarcerated students but there appears to be tentative support for adding such language to the bill. If the language were added, it would be among an exhaustive list of amendments to the former Higher Education Act.

Regardless of the cost, correctional education has been shown to reduce recidivism rates, or the likelihood for formerly incarcerated individuals to reoffend. According to 2013 Rand Corporation findings, there is a staggering 43% reduction in the likelihood of recidivating among these individuals. The same study also estimated that per $1 invested in Pell Grants, the U.S. stands to yield a $4-5 return on amounts that would have otherwise been spent to house, feed, and provide healthcare to those who had recidivated. Students who participate in correctional education programs are less likely to engage in violence, prison politics, or self-segregate by race. They opt instead to interact with their classmates, reflect on course materials, and build productive friendships.

With these benefits, the complicated nature of American politics, and the current proposed legislation in mind, it will be interesting to see what decisions are made regarding Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students and how those changes impact the landscape of incarceration in the United States.

This post was authored by Sarah Borden, a master student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio and a graduate assistant in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies.


Visualizing Values: When Art Creates Controversy on College Campuses

Campaigns seeking the removal of monuments perceived as discriminatory have begun to garner significant support nationwide. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently identified over 1,500 monuments, buildings and symbols located in public spaces throughout the U.S. that honor the Confederacy and Confederate soldiers or leaders. In a similar vein, The New York Times published a map of monuments that are slated for, or have already been, removed. Many of the monuments listed are on or adjacent to college campuses. This movement has been spurred, in part, by increases in on-campus racial incidents, including leafletting and posting of fliers (the SPLC also documented 329 fliering incidents at 241 different campuses between March 2016 and October 2017). These incidents, along with the increase rallies sponsored by White Supremacist-affiliated groups, like the violent rally in Charlottesville last August have led to greater discussion of the significance of monuments and other public installations that may reinforce racist ideology.

            Monuments, as well as other varieties of installed art and honorifically named structures all function as a part of an institution’s identity. Given the current climate, it would be advantageous for universities and colleges to be (a) aware of relevant legal and ethical issues, and (b) proactive in their handling of controversial monuments and art installations. As institutional agents are tasked with providing an environment in which students, faculty and staff have equal opportunity to pursue their work or education in spaces that are free from discrimination, it is important that curation of these objects be thoughtful.

            Last year, Indiana University (IU) confronted controversy regarding the depiction of a KKK rally in one panel of a mural sequence by American Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, titled “A Social History of Indiana” (1933). Within the context of the mural cycle, the rally depiction is anti-Klan; however, the panel is isolated from the rest of the mural panels (leaving it decontextualized from the larger narrative) and located inside a lecture hall where (among other things) freshman orientation is held. IU’s administration ultimately declined to remove the mural, but analysis of the arguments for removal, as well as the administrative response, provides an opportunity to examine the intersection of institutional policies governing anti-discrimination and freedom of expression.

            In the petition calling for the mural’s removal, former IU student Jacquline Barrie argued the depiction, even if designed to be anti-Klan, inaccurately presents racial discrimination and white supremacy as historical, while recent events indicate these problems persist. Additionally, Barrie argued the mural violates the University’s Statement on Diversity and the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct. These policies indicate students have “the right to study, work, and interact in an environment that is free from discrimination in violation of law or university policy”, which Barrie reasoned had been violated by requiring students and faculty to work in view of the KKK rally depiction.

            The administrative response, penned by IU Executive Vice President and Provost Lauren Robel, emphasized the importance of context: she described the history of the mural, outlined reasons why adequately informing students of the significance of the mural has presented challenges, discussed the breadth of roles art serves (including presenting controversial or challenging material) and—perhaps most importantly—validated that the image may cause students to feel offended or upset. The final decision—to leave the murals in place, but to cease using the space as a classroom—reflects a willingness on the part of the institution to respond to the concerns of their community without censoring a historically valuable work of art.

            There isn’t extensive legal precedent for this kind of issue; however, there is some indication that any legal decisions would be highly contextual. In O’Connor v. Washburn (2004), for example, the court rejected the plaintiff’s request that a statue entitled “Holier than Thou” be removed because of purported “anti-Catholic” sentiment. The decision, which denied the plaintiff’s request for removal and for nominal damages, took into consideration both subject and display context in determining there was no reason to believe a “reasonable observer” would view the sculpture as an endorsement of anti-Catholic sentiment on the part of university officials. Although the objection to this sculpture was based on religious (not racial) discrimination, the decision’s focus on the perception of a “reasonable observer” suggests that public opinion matters a great deal. Colleges and universities may, therefore, have a vested interest in maintaining an open dialogue regarding all campus art and monuments: items not perceived as discriminatory upon installation may become controversial in the future as public perceptions of prejudice and discrimination evolve.

            Solutions that simply change the viewing context of a work of art may not always be the correct response; however, the sensitivity of IU’s administrative response offers a model for upholding the ethical values presented in university policies. Attendance at a university is a contract between the student and institution, one in which the health of the community relies upon awareness of student, faculty and staff interests. The current racial climate at many campuses has underlined that racism and discrimination remain a very real part of the community. How administrators respond to and support their students on these difficult issues can reflect their commitment to supporting an equitable academic community.

This post was authored by Amelia King-Kostelac, an art historian and doctoral fellow in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at UTSA. 


"Sanctuary" Campus: Semantics or Security?

            Immigration status and education have a complicated past.  In 1982, the Plyler v. Doe decision mandated that K-12 education be free and available to all children, regardless of their immigration status.  This right to education was not extended to postsecondary education: the case, Regents of the University of California v. Bradford clarified there is a difference between elementary and post-secondary education. Therefore, President Obama’s DACA executive order helped undocumented students access higher education. DACA provided a two-year reprieve from deportation for some youth who had been brought to the United States without authorization as children.  However, after President Trump’s electoral victory, there has been increasing fear and uncertainty regarding a potential rise in deportations and the end of DACA.  With the looming March 5th, 2018 deadline for DACA protections and no congressional action, it is critical for campus administrators to understand and explore the sanctuary campus label.    

In the days after Trump’s election, the concept of a sanctuary campus drew attention.  The term, “sanctuary” has also faced political backlash with some states proposing bills to revoke funding to sanctuary cities or sanctuary campuses.  While the term, sanctuary, can be highly charged, on both sides, there has been less attention to the legal basis or protections the term may or may not confer on students.  This raises the question: are sanctuary campuses a matter of semantics or do they really make students, specifically undocumented students, more secure? 

            First, it is important to have an historical context: the idea of a sanctuary campus grew from sanctuary cities.  While there are different definitions, a sanctuary city is generally defined as having local officials (and law enforcement) agree to limit cooperation with federal immigration officials.  However- the term, “sanctuary campus” can have differing definitions- from providing financial aid or not allowing immigration authorities on campus, and there are concerns that it does not provide any legal protection.  Currently, students’ immigration statuses are considered students records and are thus confidential and protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  Colleges and universities cannot release information without student consent or a court order.  Because a court order can be obtained, often easily, one concern about sanctuary campuses is that they offer students false hope.   Colleges and universities have a responsibility to protect students on campus.  With FERPA protections in place, do campuses need to consider the “sanctuary” label?  As with so many educational policies, the answer may vary by state. 

For example, in Texas, which was also the first state to pass a law allowing in-state tuition for undocumented students who graduated from Texas high schools, there are heightened concerns about protections for undocumented students because of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), signed into law on May 7, 2017.  SB 4 was and is highly controversial.  It legislated specific actions all law enforcement and campus police departments would need to follow inquiring about immigration status.  Luckily/thankfully for opponents, the small border town of El Cenizo sued the state before it could go into effect, and the court did impose an injunction

Texas campus administrators will need to continue to watch the court case, as SB4 directly impacts universities’ campus police departments.  Student groups at some public universities in Texas have tried to get their campus administrations to declare themselves a Sanctuary Campus.  However, campus administrations have been hesitant to use the word, “sanctuary”, but have embraced other services.  For example, the University of Texas at San Antonio, opened a Dreamers Resource Center to provide additional support to undocumented students. 

A different state to consider is California, where a call to declare sanctuaries came from students and even elected officials.  However, universities in California were also hesitant to use the label because of potential risks to federal funds.  California does offer in-state tuition to undocumented students and does not currently have a bill similar to Texas’s SB4.  Regardless of location, undocumented students across the country are fearful about their future.  A Google map displays 14 declared sanctuary campuses across the country; however, the majority of campuses are labeled as “some commitment” to undocumented students.  In other words, there are lots of campuses that support undocumented students, but not many “sanctuaries.”

With current federal law, declaring a campus a “sanctuary” will not provide additional security for undocumented students.  However, embracing supportive programs and strategies, such as providing legal assistance, advocating for in-state tuition, and providing access to state financial aid/ private scholarship will provide a more stable and secure option for students.  There is a large population of current (and prospective) undocumented college students.  This underrepresented population in higher education needs more services, not semantics. 

This post ws authored by Elizabeth "Sev" Severance, GEAR UP State Grant Director at the Texas Education Agency. Ms. Severance is also a doctoral student in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at UTSA. 


FERPA: What happens when your little genius is not 18 yet?

Last May, Texas Christian University graduated its youngest graduate ever! Graduating at the age of 14, Carson Huey-You brought up new questions for college administrators to answer. The largest one being, what were his parent’s rights in regard to FERPA? This may not sound like a new question, but the pretenses of this question have changed. Any administrator that has ever had to answer a phone in a university has encountered the, “I pay the bills,” or “that is my child,” speech. The difference now is that we, as educators, are slowly starting to see an influx of college students under the age of 18. This is largely due to the increase of high school students enrolled in dual credits courses, thus changing how FERPA defines an “eligible student.”

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states that once a student attends a postsecondary institution or reaches the age of 18, that any rights that were previously given to the parent (i.e. viewing the student’s financial, academic, or disciplinary records,) now go to the student. FERPA has been amended numerous times resulting in more than fifteen exceptions being added. One exception to FERPA that gives parents or guardians information without the student having to formally give consent is that if a student is found in direct violation of the school policy in regards to drugs or alcohol and is under the age of 21, the parents can be notified. This came about after the passing of the Higher Education Amendments of 1992.

FERPA does not give legal rights to the parents in cases of academic failure or mental health issues, which was the premise of the case of Taylor v. Vt. Dep't of Educ. A mother sued her daughter’s high school district for not notifying her that her child was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.). The mother had already been stripped of all of parental rights in a previous child custody case therefore giving her no rights to the student’s information. This differed in the case of Van Brunt v. Van Brunt where the student was still a dependent. As long as the student is a dependent in terms of filing taxes, parents do, in fact, have the right to request and review a student’s academic records.

Now here is the second part of the question regarding FERPA; should an exception be made in the cases of these students who find themselves under the age of 18 and in college? Because of their ages and situations, many of these students still live at home and are dependent since they do not have the resources to become independent. In most cases, a child cannot emancipate themselves until the age of 16, unless you live in California where the courts say you can petition to be emancipated at the age of 14. Are these new little geniuses afforded the same academic protection as their 18-year-old counterparts especially since they are making the same ethical decisions as an 18-year-old at the age of 14 like TCU’s Carson Huey-You?

In 2000, William Clay, from the University of Missouri – St. Louis, attempted to have a bill passed that would challenge FERPA. Clay’s bill stated that parents or legal guardians should not be notified if a student was found in direct violation of school policy, in regards to drugs or alcohol, so long as the student is at least 18 years of age. With this new age of student, the Parental Rights Movement, has two goals: “(1) protect parental authority from the intrusion of state agencies;  and (2) reaffirm parental direction in decisions affecting their children in the areas of education, health care, religious teachings, and discipline, including protection of reasonable corporeal discipline.” The Parental Rights Movement stands to challenge the already limited rights given to students under FERPA. With cases such as Meury v. Eagle-Union Community Sch. Corp. currently ongoing, we really must consider what rights these little geniuses actually have. In this case, the parents of the student wrote a letter supposedly containing disciplinary concerns to the student’s school. The school then sent the letter written by the parents with transcripts to other schools that the student had applied to. The court dismissed the claimed because the letter did not contain meaningful or private information. The real question is, would this have happened if the student would have had the right to not have their information shared? Also, could this become a problem moving forward? 

This post was authored by Tarecka Payne, a graduate assistant for the Student Union and a master's student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio