McMaster seeing 'significant' impact from Trump travel ban: president

'No institution can expect or continue to be great if it is walled off from the rest of the world,' said President Patrick Deane denouncing the U.S. executive order in a video and written statement released Tuesday.

President Patrick Deane says universities have an obligation to oppose bigotry and close-mindedness

McMaster University president Patrick Deane's second term will stretch from June 2015 to June 2020. (Courtesy of McMaster University)

The president and vice-chancellor of Hamilton's McMaster University says American President Donald Trump's travel ban has had a "significant" impact on the university's students and faculty.

With a large number of students at the university from the countries affected, and roughly two dozen professors and researchers carrying passports from those countries, President Patrick Deane is speaking out against the ban and its impact on the role and mission of universities.

He pointed to affects on those students' families and family connections, the research collaborations of professors and grad students and the broader climate of higher learning.

"Inclusion and openness are not merely desirable conditions for the prosecution of the academic mission, they are for historical reasons essential to it," said Deane in an op-ed released on the McMaster website on Tuesday denouncing the ban.

The vitality of the place depends on the ease with which people can come to Canada and study here or do their research.- Patrick Deane

"Universities have therefore a fundamental and essential obligation to oppose bigotry and closed-mindedness in all its forms."

The statement follows strong outcry from academics on both sides of the border against the executive order, which prevents unrestricted travel for people with links to seven Muslim-majority countries.

In an interview with CBC News, Deane said he believed it was important to speak directly about the problematic ramifications that have affected many students and faculty members in different ways since the ban was introduced in January.

"The vitality of the place depends on the ease with which people can come to Canada and study here or do their research," he said. 

"Universities with international standing and international reach are going to be affected by things like the U.S. travel ban on two grounds, both (with respect to) the impact of the travel ban on the quality of work that goes on here, and the basic human concern for equity and justice."

The original order has been blocked by American courts, but Trump is expected to sign a new order in the coming days.

Cross-border research affected

Nearly 9% of the McMaster student body consists of international students, many of whom have links to the seven countries targeted by Trump's original travel ban.

In addition, Deane said, 25 to 27 faculty members also have passports from one of those countries, and have already seen an impact on their cross-border research collaborations.

"We have, for example, approximately 100 students from Iran so they are obviously affected by this, and a number of them have family members in the U.S. so we are seeing impact that way," he said.

"We've also had a number of people doing research in the U.S. who are from the affected countries, who have explored with us the possibility of transferring their work here," he said, adding that support was being offered also to graduate students who wished to transfer to a different supervisor at McMaster.

McMaster has seen 35 per cent increase in applications from the United States since the Trump travel ban was first proposed. (CBC)

More indirectly, many of Trump's policies that have targeted Muslims have contributed to a culture of fear on campus.

A recent report by the Equity and Inclusion office on challenging Islamophobia on campus has laid out a number of recommendations for the university to consider.

"Inevitably, you do see repeated on university campuses some of the problematic social currents in the world at large," he said.

"Sometimes, you do see instances of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on campuses the way you do in society at large."

U.S. applications up

He said that the university is actively looking at ways to preserve the integrity of freedom of speech and intellectual dialogue, while absolutely leaving no room for hate speech.

Among the more interesting ramifications, Deane says the university has seen a dramatic increase in international applications. A report from February said the number of U.S. applicants to McMaster had gone up 35%, though that number is likely to change when the final figures are released on April 1.

And although the executive order's impact is not "dramatic" right now, he says, that may well change as the proportion of international students increases over the coming years

Deane says the university is working to offer support to affected members of the community on a case-by-case basis with responses tailored to their needs.

"I regard the internationalizing of universities as a very positive thing.

Students of all countries who are equipped to succeed here and contribute to the academic life of the institution, we'd be very keen to have them here."