On the Executive Orders of January 2017

The President’s Executive Orders on immigration have prompted calls of concern from students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff at Andover. I’m sure that is true at all schools that are committed to a diverse student body and faculty. Last year, we had applicants from 96 different countries around the world. Every year, we admit students from dozens of countries. We explicitly seek students from a broad range of families, including when it comes to religious and cultural backgrounds, and once they are here, we seek to offer a school environment that values equity and inclusion as a core commitment. During this admissions season, I felt it important to state my personal reflections on these policies and how they relate to the goals I believe are at the heart of my job as a head of school.  I speak here in my personal capacity.

These Executive Orders have given rise to chaos, uncertainty, and fear. They have caused people to wonder whether coming to the United States to study at a school like Andover makes sense these days.  They make our current students wonder if they should travel abroad for college interviews, spring break, and Learning in the World trips we have organized to expose our students to other cultures.  They cause real confusion for adults who seek to give good advice to our students.

No one can predict how long these new rules on immigration and travel will stand, whether the legal challenges from states and individuals might succeed, or what might follow them. In each community, we can and should make very clear our values and how we can be expected to act. We can create, in our own academic homes, a sense of clarity against the backdrop of rapid policy changes. Andover is blessed to have clear and well-expressed values to guide those of us entrusted to run it.

The first and most obvious value that must govern how we act is our commitment to Youth from Every Quarter. Our Constitution is explicit on this front: our Academy is to be ever equally open to youth from every quarter of requisite merit. This 230+ year old commitment is not to youth from some or many quarters, it is to youth from every quarter. Today, we speak also of educating all youth regardless of their religion, not youth of some religions. We proudly have students who are Muslim as well as Jewish students, students who practice many Christian faiths, students who are Hindu, and students who tell us they are agnostic or atheist and more. We welcome them all to Andover and celebrate their presence with us. No action by the government can make us change this policy of inclusion.

The second value that has been much on my mind is the notion of in loco parentis. This idea is not so much a founding value as it is a commitment between our school and the parents who entrust their children to our care for the school year. We promise to care for their children as if we were their parents. We do that in partnership with parents and guardians, near and far. We take this trust to be a sacred one. It keeps me up more nights than I’d care to admit. We worry like parents about the kids in our care. And so: if someone were to come for one of our students, I would act like a parent would act if someone were to come after one of my children. We should stand up to threats to our students.  Of course we must follow the law as an institution, but we also can and should use the law and lawyers to resist any attempts to harm our students and their places at Andover and their right to religious freedom.

There has been much talk of universities and schools committing to be “sanctuaries” for students. There is merit in this idea but there is also a lot of debate as to what it means, in a legal sense. I would simplify how I see it: I aspire for our school to be a home for our students–a home away from home to be sure–one where our youth from every quarter and from every religion know that they will have every protection we can manage, just as we would offer our own children at home.

Our schools should redouble our efforts to be caring, inclusive, loving places where every student is valued.  As I have listened to our students and adults on campus, I have heard an outpouring of this positive spirit–pure and simple compassion for one another regardless of background.  Many of us are finding few silver linings in the chaos of these policies when it comes to running schools, but surely this outpouring is one of them.

And we should teach.  Our commitment to academic excellence must not waver at these times; instead, we should stay laser-focused on our core task.  I resist the idea that any academic community should become distracted from this central endeavor.  These are teaching moments.  There are legitimate discussions that we can and should have about immigration law and policy and their implications.  Our students will jump at this chance to engage in interesting work and to have agency.  Of all the ways to make a difference, a life lived with young people in pursuit of knowledge, the truth, character, justice, and all that is right and good in the world is an awfully good one.  What a chance we have in this way, in this moment, with these kids and these colleagues.  Let’s not squander it.


8 thoughts on “On the Executive Orders of January 2017

  1. Thank you John for your pointed, inspiring, and encouraging words. I joined our Andover students on the Women’s March in Bostom on January 21. Being with these young but determined and engaged students, filled my heart with hope for the future. My despair with this new administration was tempered with their enthusiasm, and renewed my desire to engage and resist once again. These students will take up the mantle of justice and human rights for all, the causes we of the baby boomer generation took up so many years ago.

  2. Dear Mr. Palfrey,

    Thank you for this excellent piece. You have stated what we all want and need to hear. I applaud you.

    Sincerely, Martha R. Updike (parent of John Bernhard, and Jason Bernhard grandparent of Adèle Bernhard and Alex Bernhard)

  3. Dear Mr. Palfrey,
    We are considering Andover for our son and reading your blog makes my heart warm as a parent. Your words are so solid and powerful I am in love with this school and hope that my son has the opportunity to study under such outstanding leadership.
    Kindest Regards,
    Lori Fietz

  4. Dear Mr. Palfrey,

    Your words are sincere, thoughtful, and well received by many. You are a thoughtful leader for the institution and the entire PA community is lucky for this.

    As a member of this community I am thankful that we have such a thoughtful and warm leader. I must, however, say that I wish this wasn’t a personal blog. I wish you were expressing these concerns on behalf OF Andover. There is a precedent that is being set by the current leadership of our country and we need institutions like Andover to come forward and reflect on history and articulate reasons why we need the country to come together (and in regards to immigration reform, the world).

    Your former employer and alma mater has spoken out as an institution as well has numerous other beacons of thought and educational leadership in our country. My personal hope is that Andover, with its position as a leader in secondary education, would also step forward and voice concern. There of course are legalities to suggesting to be a sanctuary, but there isn’t harm in not only wrapping our arms around “our” youth from every quarter, but embracing everyone from EVERY quarter.

    Additionally, nominees by the president for his cabinet should be distressing for most that received a quality, unbiased and well rounded education. In particular, the recommendation for the Secretary of Education. Andover, as an institution with 239 years in quality education – leading in innovative curriculum and teaching should be speaking out as an institution. This is not a political request, but a request for the future leaders Andover is creating and for the millions that won’t be receiving such a high-quality education. If the current nominee is approved it won’t impact Andover in a tremendously meaningful way, and perhaps you might say it will increase private school attendance/attention, particularly for those that can afford it. Andover is unique in its approach to admissions and youth from every quarter – one of the many reasons I am sure we are proud to be a part of the community. We should be unique as an institution and add to this conversation about the future of education in America.

    Again, your thoughts are sincere and well received – my hopes are that Andover, as an institution also has thoughts about the future of our country, the world, and our commitment to education.

    PA community member

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