Tuesday’s court hearing on the July 6 ICE guidance took all of ten minutes. That was the time it took for the U.S. Government’s counsel to inform the judge that ICE would not be moving forward with a new rule that would have expelled international students from the U.S. this fall if their programs of study would be online. Students and universities heaved a collective sigh of relief. We had taken a stand for the values of higher education and made our voices heard—and we prevailed. 

Yet the battle should not have been necessary. To call the ICE folly a distraction would underplay the emotional toll it took on students, not to mention the resources our already stretched institutions had to put into the fight. 

Students who have already had their patience, flexibility, and fortitude tested this spring by an unprecedented global pandemic suddenly had to worry about their immediate futures and their ability to continue their education after years of investment. Some faced a forced return to countries with limited technology infrastructure or time zones that would prevent them from participating in online courses to continue their education. Others feared for their freedom or safety in their home countries. I heard of one student who faced likely prison time in her home country because of her activism.

I was reminded of The New School’s legacy as a refuge for scholars fleeing oppression. It is a history that deeply informs our values today and that we have continually kept alive, because the world keeps creating reasons for academic freedom to be in peril. The new ICE rule threatened a whole cohort of scholars who faced exile from the country they saw as a haven and a place of hope.

The ICE rule was wrong from every perspective. Logic told us it was impractical. Ethics told us it was detrimental. Empathy told us it was an unfair and indecent thing to do to the students who have entrusted their education to us, and whose talent, commitment, and diversity of perspectives add profoundly to our educational mission and contribute greatly to our nation’s culture and economy.

In the months leading up to the election, let’s hope our government will keep education out of the crosshairs of politics. If that is not the case—and experience tells us it might well not be—we will be ready, and we will again respond with the courage of our convictions. As I have had occasion to quote more times in recent weeks than I would like, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” (Ella Baker).

Onward and upward.

Dr. Dwight A. McBride is the president of The New School.