U.S. Profs Offer 'Independent Study' Classes to Prevent Student Deportations

College and university professors across the country have started offering international students in-person "independent study" courses in a bid to stop the U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency from being able to deport them under a controversial new policy.

ICE announced the rule on Tuesday, with the immigration agency barring international students attending colleges and universities that are only offering online courses during the coronavirus pandemic from staying in the country.

The policy shift saw swift backlash, with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Wednesday to stop the rule coming into effect.

In the wake of ICE's announcement, however, university and college professors have been looking to do what they can to help international students stay in the country, with many offering face-to-face "independent study" lessons in the hopes that international students will be able to stay in the U.S. if they have at least one in-person class.

In a message of support for international students, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken said that all of the faculty members she and Deputy Dean Ian Ayres had spoken to since ICE's announcement had offered in-person lessons to help out.

"Every single one of them volunteered to offer an in-person, one-on-one tutorial to our international students so that they can continue with in-person learning and avoid deportation," Gerken said. "One of my colleagues told me that he would teach outside in the snow if he needed to."

As it stands, that will not be necessary, however, as the university is offering a "hybrid educational model in the fall" that will allow international students to maintain their visa status.

"If there is a COVID-19 spike at some point during the semester and public health conditions require us to teach classes online, we have an additional plan in place at the Law School," Gerken said.

"Our international students are a beloved part of our community," the dean said. "While I fervently hope that this policy will be rescinded or overturned, we are planning to do whatever we can to protect our students should the policy stand."

Educators at Yale Law School were far from alone in offering their support to international students.

Speaking with Newsweek on Wednesday, one professor at a separate major university whose name has been withheld over fears speaking out could harm their position, said they were disappointed in their own university for being slow to respond to the Trump administration's new rule.

The professor had independently offered support to international students, putting out a call for anyone seeking in-person "independent study" classes to reach out.

"Personally, I'm really frustrated that it took our university longer to release a statement than it took Harvard and MIT to produce a federal lawsuit and file it," they said.

ICE, they said, is "on the wrong side of morality" when it comes to the new policy.

However, they said, not only is "forcibly relocating people during a global pandemic a black and white irresponsible thing to do," but, they said, ICE has also "done a terrible, terrible job with the enforcement and application of the actual policy."

That is the case that Harvard and MIT's new lawsuit makes, arguing that ICE did not follow the Administrative Procedures Act, which dictates how agencies can establish regulations, in rolling out the policy.

By failing to properly notify the public and provide a reasonable basis for the rule, Harvard President Larry Bacow said in a statement to the Harvard community earlier this week that he believed the policy was "illegal."

Christina DeJong, an associate professor at Michigan State University's School of Criminal Justice, tweeted out support for international students, offering an in-person independent study course for anyone looking to study a "justice-related topic."

William Moreto, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida issued the same offer, writing to students affected by the new rule: "Let's do an independent study!"

"I could use help & I have data on wildlife crime, wildlife law enforcement, crime prevention, maritime piracy, or we could develop a study from scratch!" the professor said.

Newsweek has contacted educators for comment.

This article has been updated with comments from a professor who has offered independent study courses to international students.

Yale Law School
Yale University Law School pictured on September 27, 2018 in New Haven, Connecticut. Professors at the school have offered in-person independent study classes for international students at risk of being forced to leave the U.S. Yana Paskova/Getty