National Events

To:  University Community
From:  Ralph Kuncl, President 
Date:  July 8, 2016
Subject:  National Events

Yet again . . . we sigh collectively . . . and I write in the midst of national events of the most wrenching kind.  Last night the city of Dallas, like other cities across the nation, witnessed non-violent protest against the week’s latest alleged abuse of police authority against minorities.  And then, in a nearly simultaneous eruption of violent mayhem, a sniper – openly stating his intent to kill white police officers – carried out his purpose, killing five and wounding many others including civilians.

How can we ever collectively respond to the increasing social stress?  Let us consider our own university community in Jeffersonian terms.  Our mission is broader than classroom teaching or granting degrees.  Our purpose is to educate globally responsible citizens, whose thinking is liberated.  And we are party to a social contract with the nation to provide educated citizens in exchange for a particular tax status.  My comments here will take us to that Jeffersonian purpose, I hope.  But first, I cannot help but note the déjà vu some of you may have, as do I.

I feel as if transported back to the 1960s – the bi-directional abuse by police and of police, the toxic mix of violence and the non-violent protests, the national crisis of racism and gunfire of the civil rights struggles, the assassinations, and even the contested conventions of the 1968 presidential election. 

It surely was déjà vu today, when U.S. Representative John Lewis, an activist in the non-violent Civil Rights Movement who nearly died from the unbridled hatred and violence directed at that movement, said memorably, “The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in American society . . . .  We have to deal with it . . . .  [I was] left bloody, unconscious by police officers, but I never hated . . .  I said ‘Thank you for your service.’” 

Here we are again.  We mourn and lament the loss of life.  We deeply empathize with all who have died this week and with the families torn apart by violence.  But what can colleges and universities actually do?  Can we suggest that our fall courses tackle the vexed topics of gun violence and criminal justice?  Can we ask ourselves to read the report of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing?  Shall we hold a symposium?  Another vigil?  We can do all of these things.  But mostly, let’s remind ourselves of the community spirit that defines us. 

Who are “we?”  Our family of alumni includes a number of students recruited from law enforcement, and some have become strong leaders in that community, like San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Berguan, our double-alumnus and recent School of Business Commencement speaker.  Our university includes students and employees of many races, ethnicities, genders, sexual identities, and religious backgrounds.  Some of our graduates will become leaders who make policy.   But some of our graduates might also find themselves in harm’s way when their car is pulled over for a broken taillight.  And some of our graduates, as trained and educated police officers, might find themselves tested in the most ambiguous of situations.

Yes, we are privileged to be part of a liberal arts university that is a civic resource for the dialogue and leadership we need in these troubled, troubled times, and in the perhaps even more difficult ones that lie ahead.  Yet we are those victims of the past week.  We are in solidarity.  How do I know that?  We are chastened by President Obama’s question to international reporters yesterday: what would it feel like to each of us if this happened to our family? 

All of us are joined together and made equal in this community by our simple desire to learn.  Provost Ogren is advocating that we engage in planning late this summer to identify all of the programming, including classes planned for 2016-17, that may in some way address violence and unrest.  This societal problem is not going away.  The Deans and Kathy will work with faculty and many other individuals and programs across campus to determine how the University of Redlands can do its part to make sense and take action in these times.  We look forward to updating you on these efforts at the start of the school year. 

Chaplain John Walsh has invited the University and the Redlands communities to a candlelight vigil in observance of this week’s tragedies, Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Labyrinth at Memorial Chapel, on the Redlands campus. 

I’ll end by quoting, and agreeing with, the sentiments and the watchwords of Attorney General Loretta Lynch today: 

“After the events of this week, Americans across the county are feeling a sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear. These feelings are understandable and they are justified. But the answer must not be violence. The answer is never violence. 

“Rather, the answer must be action: calm, peaceful, collaborative and determined action. We must continue working to build trust between communities and law enforcement. We must continue working to guarantee every person in this country equal justice under the law. We must take a hard look at the ease with which wrongdoers can get their hands on deadly weapons and the frequency with which they use them. We must reflect on the kind of country we want to build and the kind of society we want to pass on to our children. We must reject the easy impulses of bitterness and rancor and embrace the difficult work of finding a path forward together. Above all, we must remind ourselves that we are all Americans – and that, as Americans, we share not just a common land, but a common life. Those we have lost this week have come from different neighborhoods and backgrounds – but today, they are mourned by officers and residents, by family and friends – by men and women and children who loved them, who needed them and who will miss them always. They are mourned by all of us.” 

In the spirit of our shared mission and community,