85th Annual Watchorn Lincoln Dinner

FEBRUARY 12, 2017 | ORTON CENTER 6:00pm

Good evening all. 

The University of Redlands is proud to host the 85th Annual Watchorn Lincoln Dinner—as it has for nearly 70 years.  On behalf of the Board of Trustees, our faculty, and proud Bulldogs, we welcome you to Redlands.

I acknowledge The Board of Directors under Bill Hatfield’s leadership and his team for their dedication and enthusiasm; each year you bring us together in celebrating Lincoln’s legacy.  Thank you for all your work.

On behalf of the University of Redlands, I thank all of you for being here and the role you play in making this annual celebration an ongoing part of our history and community.

Each year we pay tribute and celebrate a beloved president who led our great nation during some of its darkest hours.  There is timelessness . . . and relevance to his ideals and vision today, something we find ourselves aspiring to and continually reaching for, more than a century and a half later.

These are curious times in our history, filled with many contradictions.  On the one hand, we live in a country perhaps beyond what our forefathers could have ever imagined.  We live in an unprecedented era of discovery and global economics, as the architects of technology-driven solutions and breakthrough cures, and we are surrounded by unheard-of levels of resources and knowledge.  Yet on the other hand, we also live with the undeniable persistence and reality that racial and religious prejudice still exist—limiting access to that very same abundance and opportunity.  But if anything at all characterizes our abundance of wealth and knowledge and health and now even jobs, it is the adverse, disproportionate maldistribution of all of those, leaving some regions left out.  So, it seems only appropriate on this night to channel the wisdom and mindset of one of our great leaders as we look to the future and rise to the challenges ahead:  he said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

In preparing remarks for this evening, I looked back to my message in 2016.  This time last year, I spoke of the duty we have to improve the cultural climate of our campus by redoubling our efforts to improve everyday acceptance of one another at the University of Redlands.   Since we last gathered, our University-Wide Council on Inclusiveness and Community continues to seek a higher level of inclusiveness on one of the most diverse campuses . . . in the most diverse state in the nation.

Now, that’s not easy to do when many in our nation fear “the other,” focus their fears on the immigrant (and we are all immigrants in this nation by the way, except for Native Americans).  And so we become a nation divided, yet again.  Many of you outside of the higher education may not realize how totally analogous we are to the high-tech sector symbolized by Silicon Valley.   Why are they, and we, so activated by threats to immigration?  The truth is that universities are inherently international.  Current moves against global political engagement, immigration, and trade have real impact on our University in terms of stifling potential diversity of thought, hampering recruitment and retention of skilled faculty, and threatening study-abroad programs, global faculty research, and international student enrollments.  Those cut to the core of our mission.  We therefore re-commit ourselves to what we stand for and believe in as we face yet a new set of hurdles and threats that impact higher education in unique ways.

Lincoln is most often credited as the Civil War President and the Emancipation President.  He should also be credited for enacting sweeping change on the higher education landscape.  He signed the Morrill Act, also called the Land Grant College Act of 1862, giving each state 30,000 acres of public land, and provisioning that land toward funding universities that would teach agriculture, home economics, engineering, and other professions, in effect, laying the groundwork of this country’s public university system.  As a result, in California, we have the entire UC system and the agricultural and wine industries to be thankful for.  It’s no hyperbole to say that one seminal act marked a crucial turning point in our history and profoundly impacted future generations’ attitudes towards both access to higher education in America and greater class and racial integration in America.

It is in that same vein that the University of Redlands holds the unshakeable belief in the value that intellectual diversity and inclusiveness of one another bring to our community.  The valuable contributions that our international students, scholars, and employees make to all our campuses across southern California are as no less important than the Steve Jobs type of immigrant entrepreneurs have made to everyday lives.  So now, more than ever, it is our calling to defend the same principles Lincoln espoused for fairness, decency, and honesty more than a century and a half ago.

The big picture about Abraham Lincoln is his extraordinary statesman-like manner, preserved in his words for us in perpetuity.  Can we find guidance in those words, in these times?  When I hear the familiar lines “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” I want to think so.  As divisive and contentious as racial or religious issues can be in higher education and beyond, it’s what also brings us together in meaningful dialogue.  And I remain hopeful in those day-to-day interactions that we have with our colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family that we strive to rise above the noise and stretch our own limits to better understand each other and our differences, yet find ourselves collectively leaning toward each other, not away, toward what is just and right.

And as for leaning, may you now lean in to your dinner, and with not a whiff of partisanship of the left or right, lean in to your neighbor left and neighbor right in conversation, and enjoy your evening.