Wednesday September 6, 2017
Like most Americans, I have watched with dismay and outrage the tragic, often violent, developments in our country and our world. At times, it has been a relief to turn away and immerse myself in beach time with loved ones or the pleasures of a fine novel. Yet as a university president, beginning a new academic year, I can ill afford such a luxury. So both at the State of the University address and at the New Student Convocation, these troubling times pushed themselves to the forefront.
My bottom-line message was simple: Hatred has no place on our campuses or in our country. Universities should be open to wide-ranging political views and perspectives. But, we must unite in unequivocally condemning racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry as just plain wrong.
Talking to other presidents about our opening day messages has made me appreciate, as never before, the distinct advantage for students who choose to attend schools with historic legacies of core values.
When welcoming the large Class of 2021 and their families, the student speaker and I both emphasized how Alvernia University's Franciscan core values of peacemaking, contemplation, humility, collegiality and service will shape their collegiate journey. And we cited the great Franciscan intellectual, St. Bonaventure, whose educational ideal of "knowledge joined with love" is rooted in the values of the Christian gospel and characterizes Catholic higher education. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and embodied today by Pope Francis, these values guide our graduates as they strive to become "engaged citizens and ethical leaders with moral courage" prepared "to do well and to do good."
College campuses historically have been havens for the exchange of deeply held views and for protests, usually (but, sadly, not always) held peacefully. The rights to assemble and to express one's views are essential in a free society. But they cannot be viewed as absolute nor taken for granted.
Universities are far from perfect societies and have much room for improvement. Still, we should expect all students to learn to agree and disagree, debate and question, and even argue in ways that are self-reflective, humbly open-minded to other perspectives and respectful of all. And if we have high expectations for our students, then faculty and staff (as well as political and civic leaders) must model how to learn, live, work and serve together and treat each other with civility, respect and even kindness.
Americans of all ages need to celebrate the variety of backgrounds, cultures and perspectives that form the rich tapestry of our universities and our country. But we need equally to celebrate the ideals that bind us together. Amid disturbing examples of racial and religious bigotry, we should be heartened by the many voices calling for unity, peace and mutual understanding. We need to call today's young people to reject intolerance and hatred of any kind. But we need also to inspire them toward positive ideals.
Let us pledge to our young people that, in this complex interconnected world, we will view both the peaceful expression of our shared American values of "liberty and justice for all" and our diverse cultures and ideas as resources to strengthen our universities, our democracy and our global community.
Dr. Thomas F. Flynn
President, Alvernia University
Rejecting bigotry; reaffirming shared values