Final Report of the Working Group on Potential Post-Election Changes to Federal Law and Policy

Spring Semester 2018


The outcome of the 2016 Presidential election led to uncertainty within higher education and at MIT. On December 1, 2016, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart wrote to the MIT community reaffirming MIT’s support for students. She noted that she was establishing a working group to help “address potential changes to federal policy and law that limit student access to MIT or ability to thrive here.” On January 19, 2017, Chancellor Barnhart announced the creation of the ad hoc Working Group on Potential Post-Election Changes to Federal Law and Policy. This is a report of the group and its work during calendar year 2017.

Charge to the Working Group from the Chancellor

Chancellor Barnhart charged the working group to monitor and inform the senior administration about changes in federal law and policy. Due to the uncertainty of the potential changes that might affect the MIT community, Chancellor Barnhart provided the group with the following general guidelines:

  • Utilizing balanced, factual resources, inform themselves about possible changes to federal law and policy that could impact higher education, with a particular focus on issues that affect the student experience, such as changes to immigration policy. To stay abreast of these issues, the working group will hold meetings with faculty, subject matter experts, and stakeholders from across the Institute to better understand the significance of potential changes to MIT and its community;
  • Monitor any changes in campus climate that may be tied to post-election discussion or changes to federal law and policy and assist with the development of responses that preserve MIT’s commitment to the free and respectful exchange of ideas regardless of political viewpoint;
  • Identify opportunities for community engagement, respectful dialogue, and education about the new administration and any potential changes to federal law and policy; and
  • Act as a resource to the senior administration to assist in formulating and evaluating possible actions in response to shifts in law or policy.

Work of the Group

The working group held several meetings throughout the spring term to better understand the potential changes. Working group members consisting of faculty, staff, and students reported any concerns that they heard across campus or through their professional networks. Members of the group held listening sessions at residence halls including Ashdown and Simmons where students voiced questions and concerns regarding the impact of the 2016 Presidential election on the MIT community. The group hosted several guests, including Chief of Police John DiFava, Executive Director of Institute Events Gayle Gallagher, and Political Science and Social Science Librarian Jennifer Greenleaf, who shared ideas and concerns. The group had received input from student organizations such as the MIT Muslim Student Association and MIT GOP, and tracked initiatives underway at other universities and colleges, particularly in the Boston area.

The group quickly recognized that students and community members wanted up-to-date and reliable information regarding immigration policies. As a result, on April 13, 2017, the working group and Offices of the Chancellor and General Counsel sponsored a community briefing on immigration laws and policies. At this briefing, MIT’s Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo and nationally recognized immigration attorney Dan Berger discussed changes to laws and policies as well as MIT’s response to those changes. The event was well attended with about 100-115 attendees.

To reach new audiences and address the rapidly changing legal environment, the forum was convened again on October 10, 2017. Berger and DiVincenzo presented further updates and Chancellor Barnhart conveyed Institute initiatives to the community. The event was well attended with just under 100 attendees. Both sessions offered opportunities for community members to share comments and questions, either with the speakers or with MIT administrators who work closely with international students and scholars, or in fields such as student affairs, human resources, campus safety, and wellness.

Issues to Watch

In early 2018, Chancellor Barnhart consulted with the Working Group chair and other stakeholders at the Institute about the group’s role now that the transition to the new administration in Washington was complete and the legal landscape had come more clearly into view. Anticipating political changes and supporting students is an ongoing task that cuts across many different offices at MIT, including of course the Office of the Chancellor. Thus, the Working Group will officially phase out as of December 31, 2017, although its members naturally will continue to offer advice and information to the MIT administration and support to MIT students on issues within our individual expertise.

The Working Group in particular observes that several tasks that may remain for future work by relevant stakeholders at MIT:

  • Continuing to support undocumented students—whether covered under DACA or not—while uncertainty surrounds the program
  • Offering legal clinics for specific immigration-related issues
  • Continuing to support students from nations affected by executive orders surrounding travel
  • Examining international student orientation for both undergraduate and graduate students to ensure they are informed and supported
  • Developing guidelines for what community members should expect at U.S. border entry points
  • Planning procedures for ensuring academic freedom and campus safety if a controversial speaker comes to campus
  • Hosting additional immigration briefings for the MIT community if substantial changes are implemented
  • Monitoring budgetary and tax policies, particularly those that might affect research funding or graduate stipends
  • Coordinating with ROTC and MIT’s LGBTQ+ community to address changes to military service policies
  • Working with MIT Libraries to help the MIT community to access reliable news, particularly about legislation and policy
  • Supporting broader Institute initiatives on civic engagement and dialogue


  • Christopher Capozzola, Associate Professor of History; Secretary of the Faculty (Chair)
  • Joseph De Wolk G, Sloan School of Management (Spring 2017)
  • David Elwell, Director and Associate Dean, International Students Office
  • Gerardo Garcia-Rios, Assistant Dean and Interim Co-Director, Student Support Services
  • Lorna Gibson, Matoula S. Salapatas Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; MacVicar Faculty Fellow
  • Jose Gomez ’17, Aeronautics and Astronautics (Spring 2017)
  • Kimberly Haberlin, Senior Adviser to the Chancellor
  • Jacob Higgins ’19, Humanities and Engineering (Spring 2017)
  • Sarah Rankin, Director and Title IX Coordinator
  • Justin Steil, Assistant Professor of Law and Urban Planning
  • Long Tran, Assistant Director of Tax and Global Operations, Office of the Controller
  • Jaren Wilcoxson, Counsel, Office of the General Counsel
  • Joy Yang G, School of Engineering (Fall 2017)
  • Anna Wetterhorn, Staff Associate, Academic Performance, Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (Staff to the Working Group) (Spring 2017)