Monday, February 19, 2018

president's day

Today's President's Day Blog Appears in the Washington Post, the text is also below.

U.S. Presidential Leadership and Higher Education

In the current climate of anti-intellectualism, Presidents Day provides a valuable opportunity to reaffirm the deep connections between higher education and democracy and the efforts of U.S. Presidents in support of our colleges and universities.

The founding of the United States and the rise of American colleges and universities are inextricably linked, and U.S. presidents have played an important role in cultivating those institutions and shaping the role they played in strengthening the nation.

Our first five presidents provided important early leadership in education:

George Washington’s belief in the critical role education would play in our national development continued throughout his career of public service. The draft of his first inaugural address embraces the foundation of liberal education:

Whenever the opportunity shall be furnished to you as public or as private men, I trust you will not fail to use your best endeavors to improve the education and manners of a people; to accelerate the progress of arts & sciences; to patronize works of genius; to confer rewards for invention of utility; and to cherish institutions favourable to humanity. — G. Washington, Draft of the First Inaugural Address, c. January 1789

John Adams was a co-founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Of all his accomplishments, Thomas Jefferson took his greatest pride in having established the University of Virginia. James Madison and James Monroe were charter members of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, and Madison succeeded Jefferson as Rector of the University. Madison and Patrick Henry helped to establish the charter of Hampden-Sydney College in January of 1776, making it the last college founded in the colonies.

These presidents and their contemporary national leaders recognized that the persistence of a democratic republic was dependent upon broadly and deeply educated citizen leaders. Their efforts to foster institutions of liberal learning were convergent with their work to create a successful government and nation.

In addition to Jefferson and Madison, four other U.S. presidents served as a university President or Chancellor: Garfield at Hiram College; Fillmore at the University of Buffalo, which he helped to found; Woodrow Wilson at Princeton; and Eisenhower at Columbia. To date, twenty-six U.S. president have served as board members or founding benefactors of American colleges and universities.

In his final annual address to Congress, Washington outlined his dreams for a new nation, calling for the formation of a national university and a national military college. Our military academies were formed from this effort, but it was four score years later that Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act, creating our land grant universities. These state-supported universities assumed the role of the national institution Washington believed was necessary for the United States to become a true leader on the world stage, and they greatly expanded our scope and range of educational offerings.

A century later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, and the dream of democratization in higher education finally became a reality to millions for whom a college education had not been possible. The initial Act, which has been reauthorized eight times since its adoption, provides federally supported financial aid in the form of grants and low-interest loans. These have included PELL grants and the Perkins, Stafford, and PLUS loan programs, which have made it possible for tens of millions of Americans to attend college. It also created incentives for newly trained teachers to serve in low-income school districts. Much of the social and economic progress in the past 50 years can be traced back to that momentous legislation.

A college education continues to be the best investment for a young person to prepare for a prosperous future, likewise higher education is a critical investment for the future prosperity of our nation. Each day, I see hundreds of students on my campus building bright futures that are only possible because of these programs. It is an investment in their careers that benefits all of us by strengthening our communities and our citizenry. On Presidents Day, we would do well to honor the historic efforts and commitments of the occupants of the White House by advocating for the reauthorization and expansion of the Higher Education Act to preserve our democracy and to invest in what truly makes America great.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Black History Month

Black History Month

Our recent campus celebrations honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the variety of events connected to Black History Month are cause for reflection on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion on our campuses and in our communities.

The quote of Dr. King I find myself using most often is, “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.” Miraculous changes have occurred during my lifetime: I was born months before the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was followed the next year by the Voting Rights Act and the Higher Education Act. These three Acts and the adoption of the 19th Amendment extending the vote to women in 1920 represent the most important legislative achievements for democracy and equity in the United States during the past century.

The momentum of progress has been inconsistent, and there have been disappointing instances of regress. This is our history, but it need not be our future. As Frederick Douglass said in his remarkable speech on the 4th of July 1852 in Rochester, NY, “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.”

Thirty-four year later, in a speech on the 24th anniversary of Emancipation in Washington, DC, Douglass said, “The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither person nor property is safe.”

Over a century later, many of our neighbors find themselves the regular victims of poverty, ignorance, and oppression. We can do better We must do better. Our campuses are ideal proving grounds for this work. This is where we engage in difficult conversations and challenge our own beliefs and understandings of the world around us. As Dr. King said, “The time is always right to do what's right.” (speech at Oberlin College on 22 October 1964).

As our understanding of a truly democratic society develops, our goals necessarily become more complex. We must strive for inclusion, not just diversity; we must strive for acceptance, not just recognition; and we must learn respect, not just tolerance.

Douglass also said, “We know and consider that a nation is not born in a day. We know that large bodies move slowly—and often seem to move thus when, could we perceive their actual velocity, we should be astonished at its greatness. A great battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.” (speech to the Women’s Loyal League at the Cooper Institute, 13 January 1864).

It is hard to appreciate the changes for good that have occurred over time, but it is also too easy for us to fall victim to malignant patience, or worse, apathy. When we fail to recognize the role each of us plays as the authors of our culture, we all become the victims of delayed justice.

To honor Black History Month, let us all reflect on the state of our nation and commit to how each of us can best contribute to its continued moral growth. We have a collective responsibility for our equity-challenged world, but we must work together to advance discourse and actions supporting inclusion, acceptance, and respect.


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