Penn could stand to lose millions of dollars of state funding due to its adoption of the label “sanctuary campus” last semester.
On Nov. 30, Penn joined the ranks of numerous colleges and universities that have declared themselves to be “sanctuary campuses.” Many schools have not adopted this label because of its relative lack of legal significance. This label could also have negative repercussions for schools within Penn that receive large amounts of state funding.
“A sanctuary, either a city or a campus, is a symbolic label to say that the University stands with undocumented students and wants to protect their right to an education and that they can learn freely,” Amada Armenta, assistant professor of sociology said.
In December 2016, state Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Pa.) declared his intention to which would cut off state funding to self-declared “sanctuary campuses” if they refuse to fully cooperate with the federal government.
If approved, House Bill 14 would withhold funding to institutions that refuse to provide the information of undocumented students to the federal government, direct their staff to not cooperate with the federal authorities or fail to allow federal agents on campus without a warrant. The bill currently has over 30 co-sponsors from both parties.
This legislation threatens to cut off millions in state funding to Penn if passed.
According to the University’s Office of Budget and Management Analysis, Penn received $31.514 million in state funding in the 2016 fiscal year and $32.927 million in the 2017 fiscal year. State funding represented less than 1 percent of the University’s overall budget in 2017, but the consequences would fall disproportionately on some schools rather than others. For instance, losing state funding could badly hurt Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Penn Vet is supposed to receive nearly $30 million in state funding for the 2017 fiscal year, which represents 22 percent of its the annual budget.
Office of University Communications Vice President, Stephen MacCarthy, declined to comment on the subject beyond Penn President Amy Gutmann’s original email. Penn Vet also declined to comment on the topic.
In addition, the School of Dental Medicine and the Perelman School of Medicine could lose $527,000 and $2.7 million respectively in state funding.
In a statement posted on his website on Jan. 10, Knowles specifically referenced Penn’s adoption of the sanctuary label.
“It is my belief that the schools declaring themselves sanctuary campuses are blatantly disregarding federal law and thumbing their noses at the taxpayers of Pennsylvania,” the statement read.
Last fall, College Republicans also criticized the use of this label.
Following Gutmann’s announcement, the College Republicans’ official Facebook page linked to a covering the announcement, captioning their post with the hashtag, #NotMyPresident.
“President Gutmann’s decision to declare Penn a ‘sanctuary campus’ was disappointing,” Owen O’Hare, the political director of College Republicans, said in an emailed statement. ”‘Sanctuary campus’ is a purely symbolic term which offers undocumented students no meaningful protections against lawful action by immigration officials.”
However, the organization does not support the proposed legislation that could punish and defund sanctuary campuses.
“From a legal perspective, sanctuary campus is a meaningless term, so these actions by legislators achieve nothing except the further inflammation of tensions,” he said in an email. “We strongly oppose the defunding (or funding) of universities and their teaching and research on a partisan basis.”
Other institutions across the nation have chosen to reject the label.
In a meeting in early December, Harvard University president Drew Faust that her university would not label itself as a “sanctuary campus.” She criticized the designation as lacking in legal significance and argued that “it risks drawing special attention to the students in ways that could put their status in greater jeopardy.”
Pennsylvania State University, which depends heavily upon state funding, chose not to designate itself a “sanctuary campus” late last year. Penn State President Eric Barron warned that the term is “ambiguous” and holds “no legal validity.”
Penn has also been criticized by state Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who announced federal legislation which would cut off federal funding to “sanctuary” universities.
“I think it’s incredibly disappointing that representatives spend their time threatening universities when they don’t like their politics, rather than fixing the real problems,” Armenta said.
“The problem is not that some universities have chosen to make public declarations in support of their undocumented students — the problem is that we have so many undocumented students because Congress has refused to pass sensible immigration reform for decades,” she said.