Why the Trump Administration Is Trying to Force Students Back to School

Michael Austin
5 min readJul 7, 2020

Here are some things that happened on July 6, that we need to understand as part of the same story if we don’t want to miss what is going on:

  • 9:25 AM: Rutgers University announces that it will teach most of its classes online in the fall.
  • 10:37 AM: Harvard University announces that it will teach only online classes.
  • 11:46 AM: Princeton University announces that it will teach only online classes online in the fall.
  • 1:40 PM: Donald Trump tweets, in all caps, SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!
  • 5:10 PM: The Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announces that any international student whose university moves to an all-online format must transfer to another school or return home or risk being deported.

Everything about the wording of this new announcement is calculated to force universities to make decisions that ignore serious threats to public health. Many universities depend on international students — more than a million of them in the United States as a whole — for a significant portion of their revenue. Most of these students are already here and — because of the failure of the United States to contain COVID-19 — will not be able to return home without long quarantine periods during which they would not be able to take online courses.

This is neither effective leadership nor election year politics-as-usual; it is a hostage drama with the safety of our children and the health of our communities on the line.

And the regulations take the unprecedented step of telling students to transfer to another college if their college goes online or else they will face deportation. Such directions send a clear message to universities who rely on revenue from international students: “Nice college you got there. Sure be a shame if something was to happen to it. Yeah, a real shame.” Those of us who work for universities with strong international ties heard the message loud and clear.

This new policy announcement was followed on Tuesday by Betsy DeVos’s announcement that no schools at any level…



Michael Austin

Michael Austin is a former English professor and current academic administrator. He is the author of We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America’s Civic Tradition