A Call for Diversity and Diplomacy

Eight university presidents join statement on values they and others hope to see in next U.S. president. The statement doesn't name a candidate, but it's hard not to see who is being talked about.

October 20, 2016
 

Eight university presidents -- some of them prominent -- have joined with leaders in national security and foreign policy to issue a joint call for the next U.S. president to embrace diversity, diplomacy and globalism.

"The undersigned individuals … believe the United States is stronger and safer when we recognize that we are a part of an interconnected, interdependent global community. Collectively, we urge the next president to pursue policies and practices that embrace the diversity within and outside our borders and that build on our ability to communicate with allies and foes alike," says the statement, which was organized by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. (The list of presidents is below.)

"We believe that protecting our health and prosperity will depend upon the next president’s commitment to fostering mutual understanding and global cooperation. Epidemics don’t recognize national borders, our climate is shared by all, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials threatens our security, and a healthy global economy lifts up our own. Isolation diminishes us, and we seek a president who leads with an appreciation that we increase our own power when we find common cause and common ground with others," the statement says.

It also stressed issues that are, for American higher education leaders, closer to home. "Our next president must value diversity in our nation and in our world, honor our tradition as a nation of immigrants, and be willing to deliberate and collaborate."

Those who read the entire statement will not find the names Clinton or Trump or a reference to a political party. But the statement strongly suggests which candidate will receive the votes of those who signed -- and which candidate scares them.

Marlene M. Johnson, NAFSA's executive director and CEO, said via email that the omissions of candidates' names and parties were intentional.

"The rhetoric of this campaign season has resulted in many discussions about whether our place in the world is one of interconnectedness or isolation. This statement reflects our belief in the former and encourages whoever is elected to address ways to create a more globally engaged United States," said Johnson. "The letter is designed to be nonpartisan and reflects the values of those who signed it rather than any particular political position."

The issue of how overt presidents can be about their views on the 2016 election has been the topic of much discussion in academe. Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, wrote in an April essay in Inside Higher Ed that this election is different enough from others to have him moving beyond a position of neutrality. "While speaking out about a presidential election can be difficult, for me remaining silent in the face of so much behavior and proposed policy that is antithetical to the mission of higher education is infinitely more difficult and ultimately more dangerous," he wrote. "A higher education president who opposes some of the offensive behavior that Trump engages in or the policies he promotes might run the risk of being too outspoken. But passively observing Trump creates a risk that is in my view much greater: that of failing to speak when the values most important to the institution within one’s care are imperiled."

The most prominent president backing Trump -- Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. -- is facing considerable criticism from students on his campus for doing so.

Privately, many college presidents have told this reporter and colleagues that they are aghast by Donald Trump but are constrained by trustees, donors or traditions of their institution from saying that in public. The letter released Wednesday was signed by presidents of public and private institutions -- including public presidents in states that have Republican governors.

Those presidents who signed are:

  • Roslyn Clark Artis of Florida Memorial University
  • Richard H. Brodhead of Duke University
  • Michael Crow of Arizona State University
  • Michael V. Drake of Ohio State University
  • James T. Harris III of the University of San Diego
  • Cornelius M. Kerwin of American University
  • D. Mark McCoy of DePauw University
  • Leslie E. Wong of San Francisco State University

They were joined by others from a variety of fields, including two heads of international education organizations, Johnson of NAFSA and Kristin M. Lord of IREX. The full list may be found here.

The list includes the presidents of a historically black college (Florida Memorial), an institution that enrolls more than 27,000 minority undergraduates (Arizona State) and an institution with campuses in China and Singapore and programs all over the world (Duke).

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