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Provost's Message - October 18, 2017

Provost Brian Jersky

Civil Discourse

Issues of race inequality, police brutality, and political fallout from the Presidential election are splashed all over the news. This has left many campuses across the country seeming like they are under siege. Protesters representing both sides of these issues have hijacked events demanding their voices of protest or need for protection be heard. These conflicts have caused significant disruptions and left campuses questioning appropriate responses that will not be perceived as polarizing.

We all agree that free speech is a wonderful and powerful human right that must be safeguarded. Unfortunately, free speech has taken a seemingly dark turn the past few months. Some campus-wide debates, centered on diametrically opposed views, have turned into violent occurrences. While the causes of violence are complex, what can we do to counter this dark turn?

I would be remiss to offer simple solutions to resolve these growing conflicts. However, the challenge of these conflicts presents the campus with a clear opportunity to show who we are and what we stand for. We have a watching world primed to see how faculty, staff, and administrators respond to not only our differing internal views, but to external ones.

As a strong, vibrant University, we need to firmly and clearly assert our mission, and that is to educate. We must set the example for our students by modeling what it means to teach and learn, certainly in the classroom through formal instruction but also through our everyday interactions and exchanges. Students are the key to our future and the needed change we hope to see in our world. Civil discourse can become a constructive tool rather than a destructive weapon that tears us down.

We should redirect potential disputes by listening first and being open to hearing and understanding another’s views without being blinded by the content or by the way that view is expressed. We also need to separate out the opinion expressed from the person expressing it. If we say we are a campus that prides itself on ‘inclusive excellence,’ then we must follow this by word and deed.

To accomplish the goal of ‘inclusive excellence’ on our campus, we evaluated what we can do better. Our Inclusive Excellence Committee initiated sub-committees to uncover barriers in our campus community. We organized each group into four areas to address potential growth. We looked at University policies; training for employees; our physical environment, including facilities and grounds; and how we engage the surrounding community. Our singular goal is to ensure all understand and can implement best practices centered on inclusiveness.

No matter where we go for our daily news, it seems our country is in turmoil. We can all argue or point to one compelling issue or another as the reason we are in the state we are in. Yet we as a campus have the opportunity and responsibility to change the national discourse one student at a time, one colleague at a time.  As a high quality University, let us promote education and together move toward the light.



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The next Provost’s Message will be published on Wednesday, November 15. Items for the upcoming message should be submitted by Friday, November 10, to