My motivation for this particular post is not to address the numerous, complicated reasons why higher education is currently engaged in these conversations. Rather it is to consider, and ask the members of the University of Rhode Island community to consider, what kind of disclosure or “warning label” might be consistent with both our identity as a public research university and our shared values.
The campus hosted over 57,000 people this summer, in programs and events that included the Rhode Island Special Olympics, the US Youth Soccer Association Region 1 Tournament, the RI National Guard parachute competition, multiple sports camps, and numerous educational and research programs. I will highlight some of these, but first I want to thank the staff, faculty, and managers who made all of these programs so successful.
As we say “thanks and best wishes” to the Class of 2014, the University of Rhode Island is preparing to welcome the Class of 2018 to the campus. Your Class promises to be another superb addition to our vibrant and diverse community. I have enjoyed the opportunities to talk with many of you already during your visits to the campus, and look forward to welcoming you in September when you arrive. You will have a busy and all-too-brief summer to prepare and get organized, and I know you are excited and enthusiastic about joining the URI community. We are delighted that you have selected the University of Rhode Island.
This spring, like all the springs in prior years, it was a real privilege for me to attend the Rainville Awards, the Diversity Awards, the student-athlete awards, and many other events that celebrated the contributions and achievements of our students. You are an amazing group, just like the classes that preceded you at the University of Rhode Island.
The ways in which we teach and engage students with the liberal arts must necessarily adapt. John Dewey presciently observed: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The global context should be at the forefront of our pedagogical strategies. Many entering students sense that a global perspective is important in areas such as economics, political science, and history, but may be less aware of the connections and impacts in other domains important to their studies, their lives, and their futures.
The University of Rhode Island is moving assertively to provide an even better education for its students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. For example, the Academic Strategic Plan, with its emphases on experiential learning, internships, research and scholarship, globalization, diversity, and community provides an outstanding framework for the future. The faculty has been working diligently and productively to frame and implement a much needed new general education program.
At an event of Martin Luther King, Jr. Week last evening, the following quote of Dr. King appeared: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This is a true statement, I believe. Injustice is certainly the enemy of justice; it is also the enemy of peace, community, equality, and even sustained prosperity.
There is a lot to do, much to discuss, multiple opportunities, and a few key challenges – all of which must be priorities for the University community between now and commencement. There will be many occasions for us to work together as a community in public forums, in committee or council meetings, in small group discussions, and via technology. There are significant issues to address: the question of arming the URI police; evaluation, prioritization, and implementation of recommendations from the Administration and Management Review Committee; the budget; collective bargaining; and more.
One of highlights of this year’s Distinguished Achievement Awards ceremony on October 25th was the presentation to Toray Plastics (America) of the President’s Corporate Award. This award was created to honor exceptional corporate partners of the University of Rhode Island. TPA is a major Rhode Island manufacturer, a major supporter of URI, and a company that annually provides numerous internships for our students and has many URI alumni within its ranks.
One might reasonably ask: “What would “transformation” actually look like? Thanks to the events of this past week, we have another excellent example of a truly transformational step for URI. The visionary gift of $15 million from Tom and Cathy Ryan to create the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience has set the University of Rhode Island on an entirely different trajectory.