In response to the executive order, Duke University alumni wrote an open letter to Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller, a Duke graduate. The letter, which has more than 3,300 signatures, said Miller’s role in writing the order shows he does not share the University’s values.
Jordan Schermerhorn, a 2015 Duke graduate, signed the letter because it unites the voices of people who oppose the executive order and its effects.
“I’m living abroad right now so it’s a little difficult to find ways to feel useful,” she said. “Obviously my views are contrary to Stephen Miller’s, and so it’s kind of difficult to find ways to sort of usefully express dissent, so it was nice to see one that was close to home.”
On Feb. 13, Duke University and 16 other private universities joined a lawsuit in federal court in New York by filing an amicus brief informing the court of the hardship the order places on international students, faculty and scholars.
Carol Apollonio, a Duke professor and UNC graduate who signed the Duke letter early on, said people have the ability to influence their universities to take action when something is in opposition to their values.
“I think that it’s not institutions that are right and wrong, but the individuals who run them and who speak up and make administrators listen,” she said.
Earlier this month, UNC faculty members signed an open letter to Chancellor Carol Folt calling for a greater response to the executive order. The letter responded to a message from Folt that acknowledged the importance of the international members of the Chapel Hill community.
Kathryn Sabbeth, a professor at the UNC School of Law who signed this letter, said it is essential to remember there are UNC students, faculty, staff and their families that are affected by the executive order.
“Although the letter from the administration did mention how important these community members are, I was hoping to see something from the administration that took a position that was somewhat more critical of the executive order and the activities surrounding the executive order,” Sabbeth said.
UNC’s position as a public institution comes with a greater responsibility to stand up for university values and an obligation to speak up for the people of North Carolina, she said.
But responding to Trump’s executive order and future actions might be easier for a private university like Duke, Apollonio said.
“ ... I think it’s not so much what they should do, as much as what they can do,” she said. “I think UNC is probably less free in terms of what it can do. It’s funded by the state, taxpayers, and you’ve got a different set of rules that the institution has to follow.”
Apollonio stressed the importance of institutions protecting free speech and speaking up against injustice.
“The only reason to have a tenure system is to enable people to speak up without being afraid of losing their jobs,” she said.