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Johns Hopkins statement re: SEVP lawsuit filed today

July 10, 2020

Johns Hopkins University filed suit in federal court Friday in an effort to stop a Trump administration rule change that would severely impact nearly 5,000 international students at the university. The decision to abruptly rescind accommodations for online learning during the COVID pandemic is unlawful and fails to consider the many complexities of meeting our educational mission while also protecting the health of our community.

The suit was filed in the Federal District Court for Washington, D.C., which has significant expertise in handling challenges against unlawful action by the federal government, and it joins other litigation related to the new rule filed by Harvard, MIT and the University of California. Johns Hopkins’ plans for a hybrid, online/in-person model for some of its divisions presents the broadest array of issues for the courts to consider.

“The administration’s decision is gratuitous, cruel and inimical to what this country is about,” says Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels. “The university was left with no option but to bring an emergency lawsuit in federal court to stop the administration from pushing ahead with an illegal and unconstitutional directive that, if permitted to stand, would fundamentally undermine the educational freedoms and humanitarian values that animate higher education in our country.”

In the spring, when the pandemic was first taking hold and universities – including Johns Hopkins – were forced to swiftly pivot to online education, the Trump administration appropriately responded by relaxing visa restrictions so that foreign students could remain in the United States while taking classes remotely. But on Monday, even as new coronavirus cases were hitting record levels in the United States, the administration reversed itself without warning, saying such students would not be allowed into the country if their course load was entirely online. Those already in the country could be required to leave within 10 days of beginning online-only education — a burden under any circumstances but much more so now given the heavy restrictions on international travel.

In its complaint, the university alleges that the administration’s actions are unlawful in several ways:

  • The rule was made in an arbitrary and capricious manner in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act;
  • It rescinds a rule the administration had indicated would stay in place through the end of the COVID emergency in a manner that is contrary to law;
  • The government did not provide required notice or opportunity to comment;
  • It failed to provide due process; and
  • It violated universities’ constitutionally protected academic freedom.

Johns Hopkins spent months meticulously planning for the fall semester based on the expert guidance of its leading authorities in medicine and public health, seeking to balance the best opportunities for our students to continue their education and research with an unwavering commitment to safeguarding their health and safety. Our approaches vary by program, with some planning entirely online courses and others, including our undergraduate program, planning a hybrid approach mixing online and in-person elements.

The Trump administration’s sudden announcement upends that careful consideration. It accounts neither for the risks associated with switching to an all in-person approach, nor for the possibility that we may have no choice but to revert to all online classes if the pandemic takes a turn for the worse. Importantly, the administration’s actions may force students to choose between increased exposure to a deadly virus and maintaining their visa status. Johns Hopkins University has both the responsibility to protect the health and safety of its students, faculty, and staff and the scientific expertise to determine how it will execute its mission of research and education safely without government intervention.

Johns Hopkins has a century-long commitment to international collaboration in scholarship and research. The mix of students and faculty of different backgrounds and outlooks advances knowledge and discovery in our laboratories and contributes to the intellectual growth of all our students.

“This unjust and discriminatory attack on international students cuts to the core of our mission of education and research,” says Provost Sunil Kumar. “It cannot be allowed to stand.”                                                           

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