Oregon State University — along with 19 other western United States universities — filed a lawsuit that seeks to keep the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from enacting proposed restrictions on international students taking online college courses while in the United States.
The lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon, and seeks to protect the educational status of nearly 3,500 students attending OSU.
“The federal government’s proposed restrictions are reckless and arbitrary, and without notice put at risk the education and wellness of thousands of international students,” said F. King Alexander, Oregon State University’s president.
The coalition of public research universities and liberal arts colleges seeks to keep the federal government from imperiling visas or deporting international students whose studies end up being entirely online in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. OSU and the other universities are seeking an injunction against new guidance issued July 6 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Other universities in the coalition include: the University of Oregon, the University of Southern California, Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Chapman University, Claremont McKenna College, Northern Arizona University, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Santa Clara University, Scripps College, Seattle University, Stanford University, St. Mary’s College of California, the University of Arizona, University of the Pacific, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and the University of Utah.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, OSU and many U.S. universities and colleges transitioned in spring from in-person to remote instruction. At the time, the federal government relaxed existing immigration rules to allow international students to take courses online while in the U.S. or abroad while retaining their immigration status due to the pandemic. Prior to March, international students could only take one course or three credit hours online per term.
In the weeks ahead, it is anticipated that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will issue new orders to reverse the COVID-19-related flexibility provided since March.
The lawsuit says that the proposed order will force tens of thousands of international students to leave the country before fall term classes start in late August or September or transfer to a U.S. school that offers in-person instruction. At OSU, such an order could affect up to 11 percent of the university’s student body. Last fall, OSU enrolled 3,492 international undergraduate and graduate students.
“OSU fully supports its international students in completing their education,” said Alexander. “If enacted, the federal order will force students to return to their home countries during a global pandemic and to relocate to their home countries — many of which have unstable political and public health conditions. Meanwhile, some students no longer have homes in those countries.”
Alexander said the July 6 federal government order is requiring universities and colleges to hastily comply with a July 15 deadline to submit an operational plan to ICE to reopen fully with on-site instruction for fall classes or a hybrid plan for some on-site and some online instruction. While OSU is planning for mixed modality instruction — utilizing on-site, remote and online instruction, the course of the virus that causes COVID-19 may change and require OSU to utilize remote instruction, as was the case in spring term.
“The timing of the guidance is particularly harmful for our international students and OSU,” Alexander said. “In the midst of the pandemic, the university has invested substantially in planning for fall term classes and operations, and our international students have engaged significantly in planning for their 2020-21 education.”
Alexander said federal orders should not place such burdens on international students and America’s universities and colleges without notice, considerations of the impact and well-reasoned explanations, all of which he said are required by federal law.
“Public health, personal wellness and continuing all students’ education should remain our short and long-term focus,” Alexander said.
“Enrolling international students will remain a core element of the global mission of Oregon State University. Engagement of international students, researchers and educators in education and the open and interdisciplinary pursuit of research and discovery is foundational to OSU’s developing graduates from throughout Oregon, the nation and the world to succeed in a 21st century economy and culture.”
On Friday, OSU also joined 178 U.S. colleges and universities in signing onto an amicus brief supporting Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s legal complaint against proposed U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions on international students taking online courses while in America.
The amicus brief was filed by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. The amicus brief and list of signatories is available here.
Meanwhile, the state of Oregon is among 17 states and the District of Columbia suing in federal court in Massachusetts to block ICE from implementing its guidance. OSU submitted a declaration of impact to the Oregon Attorney General in support of the states’ lawsuit.
Oregon is joining attorneys general from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin in the suit.