At your next opportunity (perhaps while standing in line at Dunkin’) please check out the University of Rhode Island “Cornerstones”, located at http://web.uri.edu/deanofstudents/uri-cornerstones/. You will find a set of principles by which the URI community has agreed to live together. These principles, and the shared values they reflect, are important and essential to fulfilling our goals and aspirations. The first three are:
- We pursue knowledge with honesty, integrity, and courage.
- We promote independent choice, intellectual curiosity, open-mindedness, and free expression.
- We respect the rights and dignity of each individual and group. We reject prejudice and intolerance, and we work to understand differences.
As America moves further and further into what increasingly appears to be the “crazy season” of a presidential election, I find encouragement and hope in our community’s values and principles, as reflected in these statements. I am convinced that the primary goal of a public research university – the unfettered, honest, and courageous pursuit of knowledge – is more important than ever, at a time when ignorance and the obstinate denial of knowledge seem to be what are, all too often, celebrated and valued. The teaching, research, and creative work of our faculty, protected by a commitment to academic freedom, and the participation of our students in active scholarship and research, are critical to meeting the global challenges of the 21st century.
I very much appreciate that our Cornerstones link free expression, or free speech, with a commitment to be open minded, that is, to really listen to others. In my opinion, we are being inundated with far too much “paid-for” speech that appears intended to inflict damage, rather than promote understanding. And I believe that, in times like these, it is essential for us to commit ourselves to truly respecting the rights and dignity of others, to rejecting prejudice, and to deeply understanding both our differences and what we share.
The recent re-opening (really the rededication) at URI of the Multi-Cultural Center as the Multi-Cultural Student Services Center was, and will continue to be, an inspirational reminder of the three Cornerstones listed above. It will be a Center devoted to strengthening our community, to celebrating our diversity and creating understanding, and to supporting those among us who might otherwise feel marginalized and excluded. Many recent distressing, even terrible, events, as well as the heated political rhetoric that threatens to envelop us, should remind us all of a persistent reality: that despite enormous progress, America still does not provide equal opportunity or justice for all. I do not think that is a political statement; it is, rather, a straightforward summary of facts.
Importantly, the opening of the Multi-Cultural Student Services Center (MSSC) powerfully exemplifies another of our Cornerstones: “We actively cooperate to improve the University, the state of Rhode Island, and the global community beyond our borders”. Working together, cooperatively and collaboratively, we can have a positive impact on the University of Rhode Island, our nation, and the world. I am convinced of that. Our Cornerstones commit us, as a community, both to take responsibility for our actions, and to work together. The MSSC, the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Academic Strategic Plan, numerous new buildings and facilities, and URI’s rapidly expanding influence and prominence, are all examples of what we can accomplish together.
Our success is being noticed. For example, every year for the past several, applications and enrollment have increased. We are also significantly expanding the number of full-time faculty members, and the achievements and abilities of the new faculty and of many applicants are simply outstanding. But this presents an interesting challenge: every year more than 3500 people join our community. Therefore, we who are here have the responsibility to share our values and principles, the “cornerstones” of our community, with all those who join us. Let us together commit to do that.
To conclude, here are a few pictures that capture the spirit and enthusiasm of the MSSC rededication.