College leaders voice concerns about Trump administration

Mar 1, 2017
In The News

Congresswoman Susan Davis (at mic) lead a roundtable discussion among leaders from area colleges and universities at San Diego State University on Thursday. (Gary Warth)

Congresswoman Susan Davis (at mic) lead a roundtable discussion among leaders from area colleges and universities at San Diego State University on Thursday. (Gary Warth)

Leaders from area colleges and universities say the new presidential administration has left them with concerns about threats to foreign students, loss of financial aid and cutbacks to protection from sexual assaults.

The administrators and student leaders recently shared those concerns with Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, in a round-table discussion on higher education she held at San Diego State University.

“We all know the decisions the Trump administration has made in a lot of areas, including education, concern us,” she said at the start of the discussion Feb. 23.

Davis specifically mentioned the appointed of Liberty University President and evangelical leader Jerry Falwell to an education task force. Fallwell has been vocal about reducing rules that require schools to investigate campus sexual assault charges under Title IX, a federal law that protects students for sexual harassment and discrimination.

Davis, a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, in January was named the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, which plays a key role in shaping higher education policy.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla was scheduled to attend the discussion but was called away before it started.

Before leaving, Khosla said he was concerned about the future of immigrant students enrolled through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which allows certain students to be in school although they came to the United States illegally as children.

He also was concerned about an immigration ban affecting some Muslim-majority countries — President Donald Trump’s briefly enacted one that was blocked in court, but he is preparing a revised version. Khosla noted that international students make up more than half of science, technology, engineering and mathematics advanced degrees earned in the United States.

Mesa College President Pamela Luster said she was concerned about changes to Title IX, because more students have come forward since the school was able to hire a full-time person to investigate complaints.

“We were amazed at the number of reports that started coming in, because they had someone they knew they could go to who they trusted,” she said. “If at the federal level some of them say that behavior is now OK because they’re not going to enforce Title IX, I think it gives the bad players an opportunity to play bad.”

Antionette Marbary, associate vice president of student affairs at San Diego State University, had similar concerns.

“I think removal of legislation like Title IX sends a message that makes people vulnerable,” she said.

Nada Dibas, a student leader at Southwestern College, said the school prides itself on making feel students feel safe, but also said there is room for improvement because students feel insecure about food, housing and finance.

City College President Denise Whisenhunt said her school, where 62 percent of incoming freshmen are Latino, is anxious about how immigrants are being treated.

“When you asked me what’s on the mind of our students when they sit in their classrooms, it really gets to the issue of immigration,” she said.

Luster also said anxiety about immigration was a top concern among students and others at Mesa College.

University of San Diego Vice Provost Thomas Herrinton told Davis to urge Congress to keep non-profit schools such as his separate from for-profit schools when making regulations.

He also made a subtle reference to the Trump administration’s recent decision to roll back federal protection for transgender people.

“Catholic universities believe in the dignity of every human being, regardless of where they’re from or who they are or which bathroom they want to go in,” he said.

San Diego Community College District Trustee Bernie Rhinerson told Davis that the college district has 40,000 students enrolled in its continuing education program, and he wanted federal funding for its programs to continue.

“The new administration talks about jobs, jobs, jobs and it talks about infrastructure,” he said, noting that many welding students find jobs in a local shipyard. “I think that’s a bridge we can make because of the job training community colleges are doing. That’s something we need to continue funding.”

Davis and other speakers at the meeting said they were concerned that the Department of Education may siphon money away from Pell grants, federal money for student aid, to go toward vouchers for private and religious schools.

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