Sophie Zdatny was named chancellor of the Vermont State College system on Monday. She has been in the role as in interim chancellor since April. She had been VSC’s general counsel and is regarded as someone who is a talented collaborator, a strong negotiator and someone committed to a sound future for the VSC system.

It’s an overwhelming task for Ms. Zdatny, and one with a very short runway. The trustees were prudent in picking her, not only because of her talent but because they don’t have the time to bring someone in and to get them sufficiently acquainted with the task ahead. Her challenge is as steep as it is difficult.

At the University of Vermont we have the newly installed president Suresh Garimella, who took over the presidency a year ago, and who willingly did so understanding how little support the school gets in state funding. He has also walked into the higher education nightmare complicated immensely by the Covid-19 pandemic. His challenge is also monumental.

In April, Champlain College announced that Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande would be the college’s ninth president and someone tasked to oversee the long term future of Champlain College, a small college with an outsized reputation for innovation, a college in an increasingly competitive arena.

Ms. Zdatny came to the United States from England. Mr. Garimella came from India. Mr. Akande is from Nigeria. Ms. Zdatny graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College and got her law degree from West Virginia University. Mr. Garimella received an M.S. from Ohio State University and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. Mr. Akande holds a Ph.D, in economics from the University of Oklahoma and was a tenured professor and dean of the school of business and technology at Webster University in St. Louis.

Ms. Zdatny came to the United States on an F-1 visa. She received her education and stayed. Mr. Garimella came to the United States on an F-1 visa. He came, was awarded his degrees, and he stayed. Mr. Akande came to the United States at age 17, on an F-1 visa, and stayed.

So when the Trump administration announced this week it would suspend the F-1 visas for foreign students attending our colleges and universities, the president is taking aim at the Zdatnys, the Garimellas and the Akandes of our country, people who came from abroad to attend our schools, people who stayed, people who have excelled at the highest levels, and people who have brought, and continue to bring, so much value to the rest of us.

The Trump administration’s intent is to force our colleges to reopen as in-person institutions this fall. The visas will be pulled from those foreign students who are here, but who do their classwork remotely and not in-person. The ploy is to get our colleges and universities to return to in-person learning, regardless of the circumstances.

The impact of the directive will be to make our colleges and universities less appealing to foreign students, which this administration has already done with its rhetoric over the past four years. That not only hurts higher education financially — foreign students pay full tuition — it hurts us as a country. We’re a nation of immigrants.

Not only is this week’s directive stupid in every practical sense, more importantly, it’s mean-spirited and petty to the nth degree. It broadcasts an image of the United States to the rest of the world that is beneath us. It’s not who we are. Certainly not the majority of us.

It’s easy to dismiss Mr. Trump’s visa directive as something that affects others, but not us as Vermonters. But it does affect us. In tiny little Vermont, three of our premier educational institutions are run by people we have selected, people picked from among the best anywhere, people who make us better every day they are amongst us. We need to know that, and act with a graciousness and appreciation that is missing in the White House.

by Emerson Lynn

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