First of all, let me welcome faculty and staff to the official start of the new academic year. I hope that the 2017-18 year is exciting and rewarding. I will be talking about the new academic year in more detail during my welcome address at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Aug. 28, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center, followed by the Engagement Sessions.
But today I would like to address some potential questions and concerns you might have following the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. It is hard for me to put into words the emotions I felt as the events unfolded: horror, rage, sadness and resolve. I say resolve because I came away from that incident with an increased awareness that, as an institution of higher learning, we must re-commit ourselves to at least three core values.
Becoming an even more inclusive campus: As chancellor, I know that it is important for me to work every day to ensure that our students, faculty and staff believe they are on a campus that values them for who they are, no matter their sex or sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity or national origin, range of abilities, socio-economic status or political perspective. Everyone should feel welcome at UW-Stout. In fact, one of our official values is: “The nobility of spirit, a diversity of people, respect and inclusion for all.”
Valuing freedom of expressing: We also need to ensure that everyone feels comfortable expressing their points of view on the issues of the day. This goes hand-in-hand with fostering an inclusive campus. Informed debate over important concepts and ideas helps make a university strong and ensures that UW-Stout students are prepared for success in a complex society. For example, I believe that our new Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovations will help us advance civil and rational debate on important civil liberty issues guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Ensuring that UW-Stout remains safe: At the end of the day, this is the No. 1 responsibility of a chancellor. Nothing else will matter if our campus is not a safe place to learn, work and visit. Therefore, I can assure you that I will do everything in my power, working with our campus police, student affairs and other offices to head off the potential for violence that wracked Charlottesville. Perpetrators of hate and violence will not be welcome at UW-Stout.
One final thought: As I was growing up, I can remember my parents often celebrating the many freedoms that we enjoy in this great country. Free expression is one of these coveted freedoms. But I can also remember my parents cautioning me that with every freedom comes great responsibility. For example, while we have the right to speak our minds, that freedom comes with the responsibility to do so respectfully. Free expression at a university allows us to openly debate even the most controversial issues of the day. But we have the obligation to engage in those debates civilly. Uncivil discourse, hate speech and even threats and acts of violence have no place in our forums of debate. I hope you agree and together that we exercise our right of free speech in a responsible manner.
I am sure that we will have the chance to discuss these issues in more depth as the academic year continues.
Thank you for all you do for our students and have a great year!