Viewpoint: Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago

Commissioner's Remarks at the December 6, 2016
Board of Higher Education Meeting

In the last month, college and university presidents across the nation have sought to reassure students that their institutions will continue to be welcoming and protective spaces where they can learn and thrive. Although the presidential campaign with its heated rhetoric is behind us, we continue to receive calls of concerns from students we serve who are anxious about the future. Our college presidents continue to feel the need to reassure students, particularly those who came to the United States as young children and have been granted federal protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Did you know?

Massachusetts ranks 19th out of 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam for approved DACA cases.

Massachusetts is home to 12,058 DACA residents.

It is easy to see why this issue is so deeply felt at our public campuses. The reality is that seventy-nine percent of Latino students currently enrolled in college in Massachusetts attend public institutions, with the majority enrolled at our community colleges. None of us should be surprised to see the reaction of students who fear that their ability to complete their college degree may be taken away.

The DACA students who study and learn at our public institutions of higher education do so in the belief that these efforts will lead them and their families to a better life. The uncertainty students and families face as they contemplate potential deportation will impact their engagement and ability to learn. We do a disservice to the state by not acknowledging these legitimate concerns and working collectively to ameliorate their impact. Today I stand together with the leadership of our public colleges and universities to go on record as your Commissioner in pledging that I will do all I can to support our institutions as they strive to provide a safe and productive environment for all of our students.

I’d like to share with the Board a few steps we plan to take.

First, while it is too early to know what may happen when a new administration takes office, I have instructed my staff to monitor developments closely and work with the Baker administration to keep our campuses fully apprised of developments in Washington regarding this issue. In the meantime, our web site has been updated with information for DACA students and the campus staff who assist them.

Second, I will make myself available, at the request of any president, to visit campuses in the coming weeks to meet with DACA students. I cannot wave a magic wand when it comes to federal policy, but I can use the power of my office and raise my voice in defense of our students.  I will publicly advocate for their right to complete their educations.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the larger context surrounding our concern about the status of DACA students.

I will do all I can to support our institutions as they strive to provide a safe and productive environment for all of our students.

Many of us are alarmed to see signs of a growing “us versus them” mentality taking hold in our communities. Our campuses play vital roles in these cities and towns. There have been at least three reports of bias-motivated incidents on our campuses and there may be more to come. I ask our campus leadership to promptly report any such crimes to my office and to the Attorney General’s Office, which has established a hotline for this purpose.  I ask the Presidents to continue to take steps to unite our campus communities, however they see fit to do so. I remind the public that this Board has committed our institutions to a first-in-the-nation focus on civic learning and engagement. There has never been a better time to teach our students about their responsibilities as citizens in a participatory democracy.

Thank you, and I will keep the Board apprised of our work to assure the safety and security of our campus communities.


Click here for more information on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).