Embracing International Talent

April 25, 2018

Published in the April 25, 2018 edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

When the struggling young College of New Jersey needed a leader in 1767, it turned to foreign talent. The trustees recruited Reverend John Witherspoon from Scotland, and his visionary leadership strengthened the College immeasurably. Given that one of his star pupils was the young James Madison, it is fair to say that Witherspoon’s arrival may have transformed the country along with the College.

Witherspoon’s recruitment was a harbinger of things to come. The University’s ability to attract extraordinary people from every corner of the globe—and their ability to make an impact on the world at large—has grown with time. Several defining figures in Princeton’s history were from overseas. Alan Turing *38, ranked second in a Princeton Alumni Weeklyarticle about Princeton’s most influential alumni, came here from England. Albert Einstein, who resided at the University while appointed at the Institute for Advanced Study, was a refugee from Germany. Sir Arthur Lewis, the Nobel Prize-winning economist for whom we recently named the Woodrow Wilson School’s auditorium, was born in St. Lucia.

Two of the greatest donors in our recent history, Sir Gordon Wu and the late Gerry Andlinger, came to Princeton from Hong Kong and Austria, respectively. Nobel Prize-winning faculty members over the past two decades have included F. Duncan Haldane (born in England), Angus Deaton (Scotland), Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru), Daniel Kahneman (Israel) and Dan Tsui (China). The University’s first female professor, Suzanne Keller (Austria), its first female president, Shirley Tilghman (Canada), and its first Jewish president, Harold Shapiro (Canada), were all born outside the United States.

Some of our most accomplished young alumni have international roots as well. For example, Allan Jabri ’15, Samuel Kim ’15, and Yessica Martinez ’15 recently received Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. These prestigious awards provide graduate scholarships to immigrants and children of immigrants who have demonstrated the potential to be leaders of American society, culture, or academia.

It would be easy to multiply examples, but the point is clear: Princeton’s continued scholarly excellence depends upon recruiting the very best talent from around the world. For that reason, my colleagues and I have spoken out about several immigration policy issues that matter to the University and the country.

For example, in February 2017, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and I organized a letter of 48 university presidents urging the White House to rectify or rescind an Executive Order that restricted travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries and closed the nation’s border to refugees from throughout the world. The order affected a significant number of Princeton faculty members, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates, making it impossible for them to reenter the United States if they left to conduct research or see their families. Since that time, Princeton has joined other universities in filing amicus curiae briefs supporting legal challenges to the original order and its successor.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a wise and humane program that allows talented individuals, who were brought to the United States as children, to pursue educations and contribute positively to our society. I have urged Congress and the president to continue this program and create a path to permanent residence and citizenship for these deserving young people. In November 2017, the University, one of our undergraduate students, and Microsoft filed a legal challenge to the termination of DACA. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer (and Princeton University trustee) Brad Smith ’81 and I co-signed a joint letter in defense of DACA.

More recently, immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan have faced the loss of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that allowed them to come to the United States to escape armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary conditions. In a February 2018 letter, I urged congressional leadership to preserve TPS recipients’ ability to work legally in the United States and the communities that have become their homes. Last month, I also asked the administration to reconsider proposed changes to the J-1 exchange visa and Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs that could prevent talented scholars from coming to or staying in the United States.

The Davis International Center, the University’s hub for international students and employees, has provided crucial support for Princetonians from outside the United States. The center has hosted numerous attorney-led information sessions and implemented other programs to assist individuals affected by recent policy changes.

To ensure that we can respond effectively as new issues arise, the University has convened senior administrators across campus to focus on immigration planning, and the Davis International Center has hired two additional full-time staff members. These new hires join many outstanding colleagues including the center’s director, Jackie Leighton, and its deputy director, Albert Rivera, who received a 2017 President’s Achievement Award from the University.

By embracing immigrants, universities have fostered scholarship, innovations, and leadership that have enriched our society and humanity. We will continue to welcome talent from around the world and defend the vital role that immigration plays at Princeton, in higher education, and in our country.

- C.L.E.