Voices, words, and the content of our character

01-14-2011

Calls for justice, like spirited debate, long have found safe harbor on college campuses. In an imperfect world, the academic ideals of respectful disagreement walking alongside challenges to the status quo find their most reliable haven in these precincts.

It is appropriate that MSU’s 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative celebration focus on the theme “Global Voices for Justice.” It is a dreadful coincidence that it comes at a moment we again are reminded of the value of a civil discourse and nonviolence during days of profound grief for victims of public violence.

Like the assassination of Dr. King, the shootings in Tucson, whatever the cause or combination, should make us pause again to consider the value of simple respect in how we treat others, be they cherished or despised.

The very existence of land-grant universities including Michigan State speaks to the importance of respect, and thus justice, in opening access to higher education and the resulting opportunity it affords to all with the will to pursue it. It’s a hollow value if access is compromised by regulation or intimidation reflecting prejudice against race, gender, or creed. On the political front, there is no doubt in my mind that the civil discourse we expect in academia is wounded by incivility given voice in the public sphere. It is collateral damage in a long-running cultural war, and at times like this we are best able to judge the value of its loss.

Michigan State is guided by values embedded in its rich heritage as a land-grant university and its continuing position as an institution standing among the best in the world. Foremost among our core values, as I’ve said many times, is inclusion––a value that embraces both respect and justice.

Reflecting upon this commitment is vitally important, and it is in this spirit that we forgo classes on the Martin Luther King national holiday.

Our leaders of tomorrow are developing an awareness of their own missions today, so we’re particularly proud to sponsor the MLK Student Leadership Conference Jan. 15, bringing high school students and educators from Lansing, Flint, and Detroit together with many of our own students, staff, and community members. We welcome all these voices to campus for this occasion of discourse and contemplation.

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