President Coker responds to ICE guidance on international students

The following is a memorandum emailed to members of the Maryville College community from President Bryan Coker regarding ICE guidance on international students.

MEMORANDUM

TO: Faculty, Staff, Students
FROM: Bryan F. Coker, Ph.D., President
RE: ICE guidance on international students
DATE: July 10, 2020

On Monday, officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced modifications to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. In summary, the guidance requires that international students be enrolled in in-person classes. Any student who remained enrolled with a college or university that moved entirely online due to a COVID-19 outbreak would face an immigration status change that could result in deportation. 

ICE’s announcement has been met with strong criticism and opposition, including statements from the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities. Joining the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration on Wednesday, I add my voice to the condemnation of this guidance and call for its reversal. It is my strong belief that in the midst of COVID-19, colleges and universities should be able to choose – or transition to – online instruction without fear of jeopardizing the status of international students.

Because safe, in-person instruction is a goal of our fall reopening plan, we are hopeful that the experience of our international students will be similar to that of our domestic students, but if COVID-19 forces us to move classes online again, we are committed to doing all we can to help our international students legally maintain their status. Kirsten Sheppard, the College’s director of our Center for International Education, and her staff are monitoring developments and providing guidance to new and returning international students.

Since the 19th century, when they first began enrolling at Maryville College, international students have greatly shaped what the College is and for what it stands. Last year, we welcomed nearly 50 international students to campus through our traditional college program and English as a Second Language (ESL) Pathway Program. Just as the hundreds of international students did before them, these students contributed to the classroom and campus life and helped foster global understanding and worldwide peace. In this day and age, I can think of few outcomes more relevant or more in line with “doing good on the largest possible scale.” I look forward to us all working together to ensure that international and intercultural experiences remain valued and vibrant components of a Maryville College education in the year ahead and beyond.


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”