The World Needs Our Commitment to Truth
August 14, 2017
Dear Arts & Sciences Community,
The events of this past weekend have had a horrifically disturbing effect on those of us at the University, and I am sure all of you as well. The impact will linger as we enter the new academic year—and for a long time to come—and what transpired will be a subject of ongoing discussions on Grounds and beyond. During the next few days, I am scheduled to meet with all of my Associate Deans, Department Chairs and Program Directors to discuss specifically how we engage with our students and with each other in the aftermath of these events. Last night, I wrote to all members of the Arts & Sciences faculty and staff to remind them of our unbreakable commitment to our values. I am sharing that message with you below, and I will share updates about our latest actions as we move through this difficult time.
Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences
August 13, 2017
Dear Arts & Sciences faculty and staff,
What we have experienced and witnessed in the past few days is appalling and vile. The evil of racism, the evil of violence, the evil of hate visited on our city and University must be condemned and we condemn it.
It is time to mourn and remember the precious lives that have been so tragically lost, and we must continue to recognize the long and painful histories of intolerance and bigotry that led to this moment. The histories of slavery, Jim Crow, anti-Semitism, and nativism are part of our present—around the nation and the world. There is much work to be done to reckon with them, and the University must be part of that work. It cannot do otherwise if it is to be true to itself; true to what we understand a university to be. If there is one question that has animated me since I’ve become Dean, it’s this: what do democracies need from their universities? Particularly from their public universities? Particularly from this university? How are we being called to advance the unfinished business of democracy?
The world needs our thoughts. It needs our words, our ideas, and our knowledge.
Most of all, the world needs our commitment to truth.
We must put forth our undaunted determination to speak the truth as well as our unflinching resolve to build a place where all are free to speak and think together, free of violence and intimidation.
This weekend reminds us that all those things remain urgently needed. It reminds us that democracy—if it is to flourish, if it is to realize its truest promises—needs us. It needs what we teach in our lectures and seminars. It needs our research and the policies we shape. It needs the open conversation we pursue on-Grounds and off. It needs the exchange of thought we share in community halls, synagogue basements, school boards and teach-ins. It needs the truth we bring to the lies of racism. It needs the courage of free thought in place of the cowardice of the closed mind.
Almost a century ago, in the wake of the First World War, the poet W.B. Yeats wrote, with aching despair, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” As I look at you—as I look at our faculty, and our students, and our staff—I know that is not true, and that we will not allow it to become true. We will hold passionately to our convictions. We will repudiate racism and bigotry. Through our work we will brighten and intensify that healthier, more knowledgeable, open, just, and free world at the heart of the dream of democracy. That is what universities do. That is what they have always done. That is what we are asked to do now.
On Thursday I will be meeting with all of the Arts & Sciences Department Chairs and Program Directors for our annual retreat. We’re going to begin by talking about what happened this weekend and to discuss what we should be focusing on in the aftermath as we head into the new academic year. I will also be convening a meeting with our Directors of Diversity and Inclusion (DDI) so we can be pushing these conversations forward to action.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions you would like to share for those discussions, please be in touch with your Chair/Director and DDI. I will ask them to share those ideas. As President Sullivan noted in her message today, there will also be opportunities for further discussion University-wide over the coming weeks and months and we will be sharing information on those events as they take form. As she also stressed, we are profoundly committed to the safety and well-being of all our students, faculty, and staff. Important information on the resources available (including counseling services) is available in the President’s message here. I urge you to read it along with the message she sent this afternoon to alumni and the message from the University Rector, Rusty Conner (also available at this site).
One final note: just a few days from now the next class of First-Year students and the next cohort of beginning graduate students will arrive on Grounds to begin their UVA education. Next week, our newest faculty colleagues will teach their first classes as they embark on their scholarly careers here. They will all have spent the past days watching the news coming from their new home. In closing, I ask you to be particularly mindful of this arriving company. The welcome and openness we extend to them, the care we show them in their individuality and boundless differences, the commitment we make to them that they can join us in the fearless pursuit of knowledge and understanding in a profoundly inclusive community—all this will mark for them who we truly are, and who we are inviting them to join us in being.
Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences
University of Virginia