Posted on August 16, 2017
To: SNHU Community
From: Paul LeBlanc
Date: August 16, 2017
Subject: In the Aftermath of Events in Charlottesville
Like so many, I watched with outrage and near despair at the violence and hatred of those who marched on Charlottesville last weekend. Those emotions were exacerbated by a lack of moral leadership and the false equivalency between the alt-right marchers, using the First Amendment as a platform for hateful vitriol, and the small number of counter-protestors who engaged with them. The former, who marched into town, are to be reviled. The counter-marchers were there to protest the evil that is the alt-right and defend American values.
While I made my opinions immediately known on social media, I’ve wanted to be thoughtful about this more formal message to the SNHU community. It should go without saying that we condemn the alt-right marchers and the movement in all its forms. This is not a political stance. This is an American stance and one taken up by Republican and Democratic leaders alike, the CEOs of companies like Wal-Mart, Merck, and Under Armour, and military leaders like USMC General Robert Neller. While the marchers’ speech may be protected – and should be protected – those constitutional protections do not make them any less vile. Those who went beyond speech to attacks, murder, and threats are domestic terrorists and should be prosecuted with the same zeal we use in suppressing foreign terrorism, and other threats to American life and liberty.
With the fall semester soon approaching, I want to reaffirm SNHU’s commitment to ensuring a safe and welcoming living-learning environment for every member of our community.
Let me be clear about what SNHU stands for today.
We stand for inclusivity. We are working hard to be more supportive and embracing of difference. This extends from small things, such as how we manage restrooms, to big things, like diversity on our Board of Trustees. It means the very basic, like ensuring the safety of all our students, faculty, and staff to the complicated work of building culture and community, especially one that embraces all, while tolerating difference in opinion. We commit to being intolerant of intolerance. Which means we will actively work to prevent hate speech, while ensuring that we protect speech – civic and civil – across the political and intellectual spectrum.
We stand for the marketplace of ideas. Universities have struggled with those from both the left and the right who interfere with conference speakers or others with whom they disagree. Disagreement, discomfort, and dislike are not a basis for barring speech, and while we will not tolerate hate speech, we will promote – we desire – a robust exchange of ideas. We want that exchange to be civil, constructive, and respectful – that’s part of a diverse and pluralistic community. It feels like our society has lost a lot of that ability, and we will in this next year spend more time in workshops and other teaching venues developing the skill of having difficult conversations, and navigating sensitive and fraught topics.
We stand for social justice. This University is built on the core transformational power of education to help people achieve a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. The greatest instrument of social mobility in America is education, so we remain committed to innovating and finding ways to bring education to first generation college students, to low-income students, and to students of color. Economic justice is one aspect of this work, but so is the work of extending rights and freedoms to those for whom they have been long denied, including members of our LGBTQ community. At a time when wealth inequity is reaching record levels, we commit to being part of the solution.
We stand for rationality, science, evidence, and facts. The world is a wondrous place full of mystery and awe, and the best scientists and researchers are humble in the face of what we do not know, but we should make policy and advances on the basis of what we do know. Unfortunately, we live in a time of willful ignorance. The alt-right movement promulgates lies about climate change, immigrants and crime, and sews seeds of doubt about fundamental institutions of our democracy. In these times, universities have to stand as beacons of light against that darkness.
Standing for a pluralistic society, the free exchange of ideas, social justice, and facts are core American principles; they are also core SNHU principles.
Universities do not only stand for things. They also take care of their people. Right now, too many of our students and employees feel frightened and under assault, and it is incumbent on us, as an institution, and as colleagues, and friends, and peers, to reassure them that we have their back, that we are allies. We have to do it in words, speaking up when we see their safety or rights under threat, and in deeds. Our actions will be louder than our words. Tomorrow we will announce an important new initiative to support refugees and immigrants in our local community. We are welcoming to our Board of Trustees Maribel Duran, child of immigrants from Mexico, and former head of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellent for Hispanic Americans; and Rick Banks, an African-American Stanford School of Law Professor, who writes about race and law. We will work diligently to recruit more students and employees of color, to better support our LGBTQ community members, and to stand by their side every time their rights, and their freedoms are under threat.
Earlier today, I had the opportunity to tour the Fidelity Investment facilities in nearby Merrimack. At one point, I was introduced to an engineering team. On the team was a mix of men and women. Two of them were of Indian descent, another was Chinese, the team leader was Latino, and two team members were joining by video-conference from Poland. They were doing impressive work and they were doing it with laughter, respect, and efficiency, using agile development techniques that they had developed as a team. In our complex and globally connected world, this is what wins. Research shows that diverse teams are smarter teams. History shows that American success has been built on the success of immigrants and refugees and the castoffs of other lands. Meeting them felt like an antidote to this weekend’s headlines.
I had another recent opportunity this year when I spent the day touring the beaches of Normandy. Standing on those beaches which had been blood-soaked, where so many Americans died saving the world from Nazis, and then thinking about those who walked the streets of Charlottesville giving the Hitler salute and parading the swastika, I can’t help think about those who sacrificed so much, and what they would think of our country today. What would they think of those who remain silent in the face of such a threat to our country? As a community, please join me in raising your voice and reaffirming the goodness of who we are as a diverse and richly supportive community.