Throughout its history the City University of New York has delivered remarkably well on a straightforward promise to all New Yorkers – regardless of wealth, race or national origin, if you give us your best efforts, we will give you the opportunity to reach your dreams. The real genius behind CUNY's mission is not simply the high-quality education we provide, at a cost far below other universities, but it's what our remarkable students accomplish with this opportunity. Our graduates, most of whom are from immigrant, low-income and minority groups, have won 13 Nobel Prizes; more MacArthur genius awards than any other public university except Berkeley, Rhodes and Truman; and Fulbright scholarships by the dozen. Even more importantly, CUNY graduates, including the newest Americans, have become successful New Yorkers, supporting families, communities and this nation.
The experience at CUNY and other universities is one of the reasons why so many Americans are objecting, in the strongest possible terms, to President Trump’s badly misguided decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which exemplifies much of what is right about our country. The program allows foreign-born Americans who were brought to this country as children to defer action on their undocumented status and work and study – and contribute – to their communities. The strength of the program is what talented, ambitious young people do with their opportunities.
We see it every day at CUNY. Our university, with the backing of TheDream.US scholarship program, has been the leader in providing private financial support to DACA students—720 current students have received these scholarships These students have proven among the most creative and talented voices in the CUNY community, exhibiting the kind of drive we need to keep New York competitive in the challenging 21st century economy.
What is particularly troubling is that the political calculations behind the president’s decision are contrary to the spirit that has brought our country so much prosperity and success. America’s greatness is a product of unwavering optimism – but the president’s decision embraces a dark, pessimistic view that there’s only so much success to go around and so we should not be willing to share it. American history and CUNY's record of achievement have proven over and over that such shortsighted thinking is wrong. Great new Americans create even greater wealth and opportunity.
The reality is that America thrives when we are open to, nurture and embrace innovation and new ideas—when we question old ways of doing things and empower our best thinkers to come up with better solutions. Businesses grow when they seek out new markets, promote ambitious leaders and reward risk takers. Communities grow stronger when they welcome newcomers who bring fresh cultures and new perspectives.
We will continue to stand up for the values and principles that provide the backbone of American success, not simply because it is the right thing to do—which it is—but because it is the key to a more prosperous and harmonious future. CUNY is fully committed to our thousands of DACA students and will do all it can to support them, including counseling and legal guidance and financial aid.
The welcome we offer to DACA students, and the contributions they make in return as neighbors, co-workers and proud Americans, represent the best of our country’s values and traditions. We hope Congress will embrace the time-tested values of openness and opportunity, not slam the door shut on the promise of a better future for all of us.
James B. Milliken is the chancellor of the City University of New York. William C. Thompson, Jr., is the chairperson of the board of trustees of the City University of New York.