Board Decision on Sanctuary Campus Petition

To the Chatham University Community,
Last fall, Chatham students organized a march in support of all marginalized students and designating our campus a sanctuary.  Subsequently, over 76 Chatham faculty and staff petitioned President David Finegold and the Chatham Board of Trustees, expressing support of our students, requesting that we investigate the possibility of our campus serving as a sanctuary, and asking that Chatham be prepared to resist any government actions that contravene certain principles that Chatham stands for.

Since the march and receiving the petition, we have given it the careful thought and consideration that our campus community, and the serious and sometimes complex issues involved with this subject, deserve.  Among those we consulted were staff and administrators at Chatham and other institutions who work closely with undocumented and DACA students; Chatham’s legal counsel; as well as publications on this subject.  On the last note, we found the recent American Council on Education (ACE) Issues Brief (Immigration Post-Election Q&A) to be very helpful in laying out the most salient issues; we recommend it to any interested campus community members.

Although the petition did not use the words “Sanctuary Campus,” the march and the petition likely stemmed from concerns for the future of students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other undocumented students at Chatham and in colleges and universities across the country.  (The DACA program, created under an Executive Order from President Obama, reflected the Obama administration’s priorities for immigration enforcement; it made college students enrolled in DACA, generally individuals who came to the US as children, a low priority for federal deportation enforcement.)  As you may recall, at the time of the march and the petition there was speculation that the incoming Trump administration might modify or terminate current policies governing undocumented and DACA students.

While we researched and considered the issues, we took a series of actions to support any undocumented and DACA students in our Chatham community, and to express our institutional support of the current laws and policies that protect them:

President Finegold directed the administration and staff to reach out to any DACA or undocumented students in the Chatham campus community to ensure they are apprised of their rights and obligations under current laws and policies; to reiterate the many ways in which Chatham supports them within the framework that those laws and policies provide; and to provide such support and counseling as they may need in light of the uncertain nature of their situation.

The Board authorized Chatham to join over 600 colleges and universities that have signed a letter, originated by Pomona College, signaling our support for continuing to educate students (e., “Dreamers”) covered under the DACA policy. The Board also authorized Dr. Finegold to join other Pennsylvania college and university presidents in urging US Senators Toomey and Casey to support the BRIDGE Act, bipartisan legislation that would allow for “provisional protected status” and a reprieve from deportation proceedings for many children brought to the United States by their parents.  The leader of the Pennsylvania delegation, Haverford College President Kim Benson, was able to meet with both Pennsylvania senators to present these arguments and felt they gave them careful consideration.

Last month, President Finegold joined leaders from higher ed institutions around the country and from the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education (PCHE) institutions in asking the administration to reconsider President Trump’s Executive Order banning current visa and green card holders from seven countries.

We write now to share the Board’s findings and decision - after careful thought, discussion and reflection – concerning the sanctuary campus petition.

Board Findings & Decision

Since its founding, our nation has been sustained and enriched through the contributions of immigrants from around the world.  For much of that time, higher education has served as a pathway for immigrants to achieve their personal and professional dreams and to contribute to the nation's continued success.  Chatham views the education of all students, including DACA and immigrant students, as a matter of national importance, and as being in keeping with Chatham’s longstanding commitment to providing access and opportunities for students seeking to improve themselves, their families and their communities.

In keeping with our institutional values and history, Chatham has endeavored to provide an environment where all students, including immigrant, DACA and undocumented students, can feel safe, included and supported while pursuing their personal and professional dreams.  With respect to members of our campus community who are immigrants, Chatham:

  • treats undocumented and DACA applicants no differently than any other applicants;
  • makes no distinction between undocumented or DACA students when awarding institutional financial aid;
  • affords undocumented and DACA students the same protections under Chatham’s Non-Discrimination policy that protect every other member of the Chatham community;
  • like the City of Pittsburgh, has directed our police officers not to inquire about a person’s immigration status unless it is necessary to an investigation involving a criminal activity, nor to detain any individuals on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a purely immigration issue; and
  • assists international faculty with visa and immigration matters.

With respect to the declaration of Chatham as a sanctuary campus:

1. Chatham University will continue to treat every member of the campus community, including DACA and undocumented students, according to the same values and principles that make Chatham such a welcoming and supportive environment to learn, work and live. Like the City of Pittsburgh, however, Chatham will not declare itself a “sanctuary”.

There is no consistent or agreed upon definition of what “Sanctuary Campus” or “sanctuary” means.  The Board is reluctant to declare Chatham a Sanctuary Campus or sanctuary when neither conveys a clear sense of what the institution has committed itself to doing, and when both are open to interpretation.

Moreover, declaring Chatham a Sanctuary Campus could harm the University and its students.  For example, state and federal officials have threatened to terminate funding or aid to any higher education institution that declares itself a Sanctuary Campus.  While it likely will be up to the judicial process to determine whether the state or federal government can withhold funding simply because a higher education institution has declared itself something which is not defined, resolving that issue will take time.  In the meantime, the Board cannot place the University or its students in a position where any student who receives governmental financial aid could possibly lose their state or federal financial aid as a result of the University declaring itself a Sanctuary Campus.

2. Chatham University will not commit to resisting state or federal laws applicable to undocumented or DACA students.

No one can predict how or even if the Trump Administration might change or eliminate current laws and policies.  Any changes to existing state or federal laws governing undocumented or DACA students are merely speculative at the present time, and we cannot pledge to resist something that is as yet unknown.

3. Chatham will continue its efforts to reach out to and provide support to our undocumented and DACA students during this period of uncertainty.

As noted previously, President Finegold has directed University staff members to reach out to undocumented and DACA students who may be uncertain about their future.   Chatham will continue to provide these students with the support they need to continue to succeed in the midst of what must be a period of great uncertainty for them.

4. Chatham will ensure that members of the administration and staff who assist undocumented and DACA students understand what they can and must do pursuant to current and any future changes in state and federal laws and policies.

One of the chief takeaways from our investigation is the need to ensure that those Chatham staff members and administrators who work most closely with undocumented and DACA students understand what they can and cannot do when interacting with the government officials and agencies that enforce our nation’s immigration laws and policies.  Many of those laws and policies, in their current form, provide protections to DACA and undocumented students, just as they provide certain rights to the government officials charged with enforcing them. It is important that Chatham staff members who interact most closely with undocumented and DACA students understand what the law provides with respect to these students, and understand what the law provides with respect to the state and federal officials who enforce those laws.   The Board has charged the Vice President of Enrollment Management and the Vice President of Academic Affairs with continuing to monitor the policy and legislative landscape governing undocumented and DACA students.  The Board has asked the Vice Presidents to apprise the Board of any significant changes to those policies or laws in the future, and to recommend how the University should respond to any such changes.

Chatham has taken, and will continue to take, many steps to support all students within our campus community, including immigrant, DACA and undocumented students, in keeping with our institutional values of inclusivity, mutual respect, civility, tolerance and social justice, among others.

The Board wishes to remind the campus community that our institutional values and principles also include civic and community engagement of the kind that Chatham has undertaken by signing the Pomona letter, the letter in support of the BRIDGE Act and the letter from PCHE institutions.  In that spirit, the Board encourages any members of the Chatham community who wish to change or improve the laws and policies that impact marginalized, undocumented and DACA students to reach out to your state and federal legislators, and work to persuade them to improve or change those laws and policies.

Higher education institutions and campus communities can do everything in our power to support the DACA and undocumented students on our campuses and to work collectively and individually to make our views felt on the benefits of continuing to enable them to study in the U.S., but in the end we are subject to policies and laws which only our democratically elected officials and the courts have the power to change and interpret.


Jennifer T. Potter ‘66                                     David Finegold, DPhil

Chair, Board of Trustees                               President



Chatham University