2016 was quite a year … a startling presidential election, the deaths of so many notable celebrities and public figures, a World Series crown for the long-suffering Chicago Cubs. While the rest of the world sometimes struggled to find hope in the events of the last 12 months, here at Trinity the year was full of excitement and great achievement. The short (5+ minutes) video linked above shows the highlights — from winter commencement to the dedication of the Payden Center to welcoming our new students, each month heralds a new opportunity for Trinity to grow and flourish. Thanks to everyone who made Trinity’s year in 2016 so successful and memorable!
2017 dawns today with challenges on the horizon. In just a few weeks the United States will inaugurate a new president, Donald J. Trump. As is our history and tradition, on January 20, Inauguration Day, we will set aside political differences to observe the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next. As contentious as the presidential campaign was, as worrisome as the present political moment may seem, our duty as good citizens of this nation and the world is to stand in solidarity to work for peace, to advocate for justice, to participate in the processes of democracy to be sure that we do not lose our fundmental rights and liberties.
Our challenge in 2017 is very clear. Beyond the political divisions that are sharp and unbending in our nation, we face threats that we do not understand from nefarious actors using weapons we cannot see. An article in today’s Politico by Molly K. McKew “Putin’s Real Long Game” is a trenchant analysis of the strategic threats to our rights and liberties as a result of a new kind of warfare — information warfare, the manipulation of facts and truth, the social debilitation that comes from a long seige against freedoms we have taken for granted. McKew writes,
“What both administrations [meaning both Obama and Trump] fail to realize is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests.”
Many recent analyses of the 2016 election illuminate these sad facts about the American electorate today: too many citizens who did not go to college resent and view with suspicion those who have a college education. Those with a college education are not always happy with the results. And even a college education cannot protect the nation against the rising tide of fake news, manipulation of truth and even reality. There are days when we all seem to be trapped in a sci-fi move like “The Matrix” where the protagonist struggles to know reality from fiction. But we don’t need sci-fi to recognize that tyranny across the ages has always started with the manipulation of truth and the insistence that people accept what The Leader says is true.
In this environment, the need for higher education to step up our sense of purpose is very clear. I spoke about this in November at a Middle States conference. In my talk, “An Agenda for Higher Education in the Trump Era,” I urged colleges and universities to remember our fundamental purpose as places of academic and intellectual freedom, the great counterweights to government in a free society. We may agree or disagree with any particular policy, but what we cannot have any confusion about is the fundamental need to speak the truth as we know it, to call out deception and outright lies, and to demand that those who have the precious responsibility to be in positions of governance for a brief period of time use their power wisely and only for the sake of the people they serve.
Academic freedom is not just a privilege for elites safely ensconced in the faculty lounges of America. Academic freedom is a manifestation of our sacred obligation to protect and defend the freedom of all people to know what is true, to make independent decisions based on facts, to choose to live their lives as they wish without governmental interference or oppression. We also need to call upon the press to stop dancing around this issue. Today an editor of the Wall Street Journal is quoted as equivocating on the question of whether to call a false statement a lie. We have lost the entire point of a free press if there is even a question about telling the truth and calling out lies.
Trinity cherishes our Honor Code as the most important value underpinning our mission and traditions. We stand for truth and integrity, and we have a practice of confronting dishonesty vigorously. Some people consider this old-fashioned; we consider it essential to be true leaders for justice and peace in the community.
In 2017, let’s redouble our commitment to honor and integrity along with using the power of our academic freedom to seek out and proclaim the facts, to expose lies and dissembling, to stand up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, to renew our purpose in social justice each day.