Reaffirming Our Core Values

To:  University Community
From:  Ralph Kuncl, President 
Date:  November 21, 2016
Subject:  A Message Reaffirming Our Core Values

As we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday, there is much I am grateful for, despite our post-election state of national and world uncertainty.  To start, I am grateful for the privilege of living my professional, personal, intellectual, and emotional life in a community founded on and guided by a set of unshakeable principles.  As a nation, we have been through two years of what some people have called the most bitter and disconcerting presidential campaign in people’s memories. Yet, we possess core values that I know will bolster and uphold us in the face of any seismic shift in the foundations below us – the foundations of democracy and a civil society, our belief in individual human rights, the Constitutional right to freedom of expression, the long history of academic freedom in America, and an openness to inclusiveness characterized by our hundreds of years as a multicultural “fabric” – a nation formed and fashioned of immigrants.

I am hearing from many members of our community who are disheartened and even fearful, and of course I am hearing from many faculty and students with requests and suggestions about how to keep UR safe and whole in this era that for some feels so precarious.  Surely, not everyone is disheartened.  But I am taking the pulse of our community, and we are feeling at risk.

Already, our community is coming together in the way we do best to prepare for whatever may come.  The Faculty Assembly of the School of Education, for example, has met and considered a formal statement.  The Faculty Senate holds under consideration some suggestions regarding our undocumented students.  I am meeting soon with ASUR, and I am sure the subject of support for undocumented students and students who have undocumented parents will come up.  The University-wide Council on Inclusiveness and Community will soon distribute their statement on the aftermath of the election and how it impacts the climate of inclusiveness on campus as well as the challenge to those core values that inform us in troubling times.  The Faculty Assembly is gearing up for an “extraordinary” session within a few weeks to discuss issues related to student protection.  The University has seen two marches on campus and a demonstration march to Market Night in downtown Redlands.

There will be many other letters coming to me and statements to be made by all of us.  It is important that we prepare our hearts and minds.  But it is also prudent to be patient, not to prejudge, and to await what the new presidential administration’s actions might be before we assume any particular posture, adopt legal positions, or enact any fundamental change in our University.

In the meantime, I want to reassert that our core values of fairness, inclusiveness, respect, freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protest – and our mission of educating both the mind and heart – will never change.  And, in anticipation of further public statements and actions, I want the community to know that I was an early signatory to the college and university presidential “Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and Our Undocumented Immigrant Students,” linked here:  https://www.pomona.edu/support-daca.

There are many national calls – and some local ones, too – to become a “sanctuary campus,” like the status some cities (including Los Angeles) have decided to declare.  We are not a government, so we cannot and do not need to behave like one, but we are certainly a sensitive location because of our openness to all.  Sanctuary is a construct; it is fraught with embedded codes of meaning to some people.  We are looking into what this construct could actually mean, but it likely would not significantly change our historic behavior.  A spokesperson for the American Council on Education, Terry Hartle, has said of the vast calls and emails to them about DACA that it has surpassed any other issue.  Today’s Inside Higher Education quotes him as saying there is a “widespread consensus … that DACA has been very beneficial.  It’s helped roughly three-quarters of a million Americans begin to find a path toward a better future…. The problem is DACA provided ‘quasi-legal’ protection … [but] quasi-legal is meaningless.  You either have legal protection or you don’t…. DACA has created a database that has been used to help a large number of people.  It could obviously be used now in a way that could harm those people, and that is the concern.”

In consideration of all the above, I write today to assure you what is in our “spiritual” core:  We already recruit and offer financial aid, counseling, academic support, and visa/immigration advice to students who are internationals or who may be undocumented or here under the DACA.  We already protect student privacy.  We already would decline requests from the federal government to identify and root out undocumented students.  Our Public Safety officers are not like a police force and do not ask individuals about their legal or immigration status.  We already have a community of students, professors, and employees who love, value, and affirm the dignity and worth of all individuals.  We will continue to be thoughtful, but not reactionary, about how we engage with new realities. But one reality is clear:  the national rhetoric has destabilized some people and created an atmosphere of increasing fear and insecurity.

But please remember to return to where I started in this message.  Despite any anxieties or unease many of us in the University family may have, we are united by a common tether onto which we all hold tight: the privilege of living in a university community founded on and guided by a set of bedrock principles.  If one of us is “undocumented,” we are all undocumented.  We sail on one ship.

I wish you all a peaceful and thankful holiday week.

With great affection,
Ralph