Canadian professors join academic boycott of U.S. in protest of Trump travel ban

Nearly 6,000 academics have pledged not to travel to conferences held in the U.S. in protest of Trump's immigration ban.

Academics around the world have pledged not to attend U.S. conferences until the ban is lifted

Over 100 academics from UBC and 30 from SFU have pledged not attend conferences in the U.S. in protest of Trump's immigration ban. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Nearly 6,000 academics around the world, including hundreds of Canadians, have signed a petition pledging not to attend conferences in the U.S. in protest of President Trump's travel ban.

Since Trump signed an executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S, countless stories have emerged of students and professors barred from returning to school or attending conferences.

Rima Wilkes, a UBC sociology professor, said her decision to sign was not straightforward.

"I took it very seriously, I thought about it very carefully. This felt a little more significant and risky," she said.

"But then I thought, how can we have a free exchange of ideas if some people are banned from attending?"

She said that while the topics of racism and immigration are key parts of her scholarship, for her the decision to sign was personal.

"I can't help but think about my friend from Iran who is now a dean, and she can't go. When you start to really personalize it as your friends, colleagues, and students, it's everyone."

'Some of us might face consequences'

Shannon Walsh, an assistant professor in UBC's department of theatre and film, acknowledged she considered the sacrifice involved.

"There's some of the most important research institutes and universities in the world in the U.S., so it will definitely affect our work," she said.

"I think there is a large chance some of us might face consequences. But so many people don't have a choice about making this decision, so I think it's important we stand in solidarity with those people, whether or not it feels comfortable."

Kumari Beck, an associate professor in SFU's faculty of education, also said that despite her staunch opposition to the ban her decision to sign was "complicated and difficult."

"On the one hand, my protest is not against the organizers of the conferences, it's against the U.S. administration. And will the administration even care about the fragmenting of the academic community?" 

She said, eventually, her desire to express her solidarity led her to sign.

"To restrict some people from carrying out their academic work is unacceptable. And so having weighed everything, I decided to sign hoping that the large numbers of academics signing onto this can be used by academic organizations in the U.S. to show how deeply damaging this is," she said.

Beck said she's aware of two American conferences where organizers have committed to keeping the names of presenters in the programs as acknowledgement of their research, even for those who can no longer attend, or are choosing not to.

Universities speak up

Canadian universities have also condemned the ban.

UBC created a task force with a budget of $250,000 to support affected students and faculty. It said around 350 students and 50 faculty and staff at UBC are impacted by the order.

The University of Ottawa is waiving international fees for affected students, and offering visiting professorships to temporarily "adopt" American professors.

Universities Canada, which represents 97 schools across the country, said the immigration ban is already having a "real, immediate and profound" impact on research partnerships, 

A second online petition led by American academics denouncing the ban has collected more than 18,000 signatures, including 50 Nobel Laureates.