From the President: Winter 2017
Author: President Wim Wiewel
Posted: January 27, 2017

The University as sanctuary

I GREW UP in the Netherlands in the aftermath of World War II. It’s not well known, but a greater proportion of Dutch Jews were deported than Jews in any other country. It happened in part because the Netherlands had a very complete population registry, and “good” bureaucrats were complicit, or at the very least, stood aside.

I have been a naturalized U.S. citizen for more than 20 years, and I never dreamed that I would hear threats from the highest levels of my government about the possibility of mass deportations and religion-based registries. With the inauguration of a new U.S. president and arrival of a new administration, some Portland State students are rightfully fearful for their future. I’m not going to be complicit or stand aside in the face of these fears. I am standing with our students. 

We have declared Portland State University to be a sanctuary campus. What this means, in broad terms, is that we will not—unless compelled by law—share confidential student information, including immigration status; consent to immigration enforcement activities on campus; or enforce immigration law. 

In short, we will not voluntarily be a party to policies that seek to disrupt the education of students who are on a path to become our future leaders, our teachers, our scientists, our entrepreneurs and the backbone of our economy.

I MADE A CAREER in higher education because of my unswerving belief that our universities are sanctuaries of a different sort—places where students of all backgrounds come for knowledge, wisdom and the tools to make a better life and better world. These are places of hope, not hiding.

Portland State is home to more than 80 undocumented students who are part of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—the “dreamers.” These are students who came to Oregon as children of undocumented parents. They were raised here, went to high school here and now attend PSU. Declaring ourselves a sanctuary gives them reassurance that we are committed to their safety and their education.

We are also home to a thriving Muslim student population. They, too, have reason to be concerned about the vitriol during and since the presidential election. Muslims at campuses around the country—and regrettably that includes PSU—have reported an increase in hostile acts. One of the things that impressed me about the United States when I first came as a high school exchange student was its amazing diversity. PSU exemplifies that diversity, and I have made it clear that while we consider ourselves a bastion of free speech, there is also no place at PSU for discrimination, harassment or intimidation.

I am aware that declaring Portland State a sanctuary campus brings a certain level of risk at a time of political upheaval. But promoting fear by targeting a particular group of our students is wrong. We must stand with them.

Wim Wiewel

President, Portland State University