‘The Worst Day for American Democracy in My Lifetime’

College presidents called the violent unrest at the U.S. Capitol building shocking, frightening and a “clear attempt to hijack the very foundation of our democracy.”

January 7, 2021
 
Samuel Corum/Stringer via Getty Images
Rioters storm the U.S. Capitol Wednesday following a rally with President Donald Trump.

College and university leaders across the country responded to the violent chaos at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday using unusually strong terms for higher education leaders. Many college presidents said they were saddened and frightened by the sight of supporters of President Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol and condemned the rioters’ actions on Twitter and in statements or emails to students and employees.

"I want to be clear: the storming of the Capitol complex is not merely a brazen act by a relatively small group of instigators. It is the direct result of a campaign to sow mistrust in our democracy and to overturn an election that was by all reasonable accounts conducted freely and fairly," Vincent Price, president of Duke University in Durham, N.C., said in an email to the campus. "These events are made all the more shameful by their futility -- they are based on falsehoods and conspiracies that have been rejected in local, state and federal courts across the country, and they simply will not change the outcome of our democratic process."

Price said he was "shocked by and condemn" the level of violence by the protestors and said it would not impede the inauguration of Joe Biden as president on January 20.

"In the coming days, I hope that our nation can move past the hateful, divisive, and false rhetoric and come together to address the pressing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic," he wrote. 

Mark Kennedy, president of the University of Colorado, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007 as a Republican representative from Minnesota, emphasized the importance of accepting the outcomes of every election.

“In Congress I was told ‘If you enter the Capitol and don’t feel awe and reverence, it's time to retire,’” he tweeted. “I never lost that feeling. I left when I lost a U.S. Senate race. The electorate spoke. I listened. The disrespect being shown to the temple of our democracy is heartbreaking.”

Several college presidents called the riots an attempted coup d'état.

“I can’t believe this attempted coup d’etat?” David Wilson, president of Morgan State University, tweeted.

“Law and Order, right. SMH. The President of the United States of America literally called for a political coup on our nation's capitol. My Lord,” A. Zachary Faison Jr., president of Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., wrote on Twitter.

Like many people, college leaders were glued to the news.

“Can't get any work done as I watch a mob storm the US Capitol,” tweeted John Comerford, president of Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. “This can't be our country.”

“So much work to do yet I find myself frozen, watching in horror,” Paula Pando, president of Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Va., said on Twitter.

Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, likened Trump supporters’ frenzy to a drug addiction.

“Chuck D of Public Enemy says celebrity is the drug of choice in America. Trump and Trumpism is a drug. Too many Republican elected officials and Fox News pundits were the drug dealers. A portion of America became addicted. The Biden win started to cut off the supply and today we saw these addicts fiending to keep the high,” Kimbrough wrote in an email. “America must now go into rehab -- of morals, ethics, truth and love.”

Christopher Eisgruber, president of Princeton University in New Jersey, wrote a blog post about the violence at the Capitol, the Constitution and democracy, saying, “We must rededicate ourselves to supporting and enacting the basic practices and values upon which our democracy and freedom depend.”

In addition to several other Trump administration officials, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for an end to the riots in a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday evening.

“The eyes of America’s children and students -- the rising generation who will inherit the republic we leave them -- are watching what is unfolding in Washington today. We must set a better example for them, and we must teach them the solemn obligations and duties that come with the title ‘American,’ "  she wrote. "..The disruptions and violence must end, the law must be upheld, and the work of the people must go on.”

Miguel Cardona, the Connecticut Commissioner of Education and President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for education secretary echoed similar sentiments.

 "Our kids deserve better," he tweeted. "History has its eyes on us."

Rioters attempt to enter the U.S. Capitol Building.

As the day continued, more and more presidents and chancellors reached out to students and employees to address the anarchy at the Capitol or expressed their disbelief, sadness and anger online. Read on for comments and statements from higher education leaders across the country.

Sylvia Burwell, president of American University in Washington, D.C., who previously held two cabinet positions during President Barack Obama’s administration: “Today’s reprehensible actions at the U.S. Capitol are an unacceptable threat to democracy. There is no place in our society for violence or attacks on our democratic institutions and the people who diligently serve our nation. We condemn the rioters and stand united in support of our democracy and those defending it.”

Yves Salomon-Fernández, president of Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Mass. (and an Inside Higher Ed blog contributor): “I have lived through coup d’états and served as an international election observer abroad with the United Nations. I am having flashbacks right now. Is this really happening in the U.S.? Jesus, Marie, Joseph!”

Beck A. Taylor, president of Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.: “As a leader, as an educator, and as a U.S. citizen, I must say that a violent attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power under the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and our democratic laws & institutions is a coup. It must stop now, and @realDonaldTrump must call it off.”

Brian McGee, president of Quincy University in Quincy, Ill.: “This has been the worst day for American democracy in my lifetime. The Constitution has been sullied. Violence has been done, literally and figuratively, to the rule of law and our most basic democratic values. We will overcome this ghastly assault on America, with God's help.”

Joyce McConnell, president of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.: “I join people around the country in calling for an end to this violence. I am so saddened for our nation today and remind us all of Dr. King’s words, ‘We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.’ Let us stand together, now more than ever.”

Miles K. Davis, president of Linfield University in McMinnville, Ore.: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. -- Abraham Lincoln”

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.: “Trump wanted more protection for confederate statues than for the entire United States Capitol and members of Congress …”

John C. Knapp, president of Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.: “As president of a college that has championed democracy and responsible citizenship for 240 years, I hope all Americans -- regardless of political party -- will condemn this attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power on which our democracy depends.”

Mark Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.: “I join elected leaders of both parties from our state and beyond in denouncing the violence in the Capitol and calling for the governance of our nation to proceed peacefully in full support of our democratic process. The sight of a violent mob taking over the floor of the U.S. Senate brought tears to my eyes. This is not who we are as a nation.

“What distinguishes our form of government is its inviolable respect for the will of the people, where we conduct elections with integrity, count every vote, commit together to uphold the U.S. Constitution and ensure that democracy always prevails. Today’s violence represents an assault on our liberty and the fundamental values of American democracy. We condemn all those who participate in or instigate such an attack on our nation.”

David Hoag, president of Warner University in Lake Wales, Fla.: “Praying for our country. What a mess in #DC.”

Brian Sandoval, president of the University of Nevada, Reno: “The situation in Washington, D.C. is a clear attempt to hijack the very foundation of our democracy. I am hoping for the safety of all members of Congress and law enforcement. Our democracy will remain firm. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’”

Thuy T. Nguyen, president of Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif.: “Just asked our college to have a moment of silence to pray for our country, our democracy during this chaotic moment in our #capitol. Finding some solace with students and faculty/staff right now as we open Jewish Heritage Month for our college.”

Félix Matos Rodríguez, chancellor of the City University of New York system: “Today’s violence has shocked & saddened all Americans of good will. The role of CUNY & public universities across the country in advancing the free exchange of ideas & the resolution of differences through civil dialogue & democratic engagement clearly has never been more critical.”

Tom Katsouleas, president of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn.: “Troubled by breaking news out of D.C. and a lawless attack on democracy.”

Rowena M. Tomaneng, president of San Jose City College in San Jose, Calif.: “This type of chaos is what’s been encouraged these last 4 years! #BidenHarris #restoredemocracy.”

Rioters sit in Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi's office.Joseph Harroz Jr., president of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.: “Peaceful transitions of political power are the bedrock of our democracy -- they are not a question of political party, but of patriotism and they underpin the American way of life … At our great university, we teach the fundamental importance of the rule of law, civil discourse, free speech, and civic engagement … What we have witnessed today is antithetical to who we are as a people and threatens our republic. We must call such acts for what they are -- lawless and destructive to our nation.”

Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system: “The actions of violent rioters who have trampled our nation’s Capitol and our sacred democratic process must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Our thoughts are with our state’s Congressional delegation, some of whom are graduates of our colleges, as they seek to carry out their constitutional duties. Community colleges are among the most democratizing institutions in our nation. As educators, these events reinforce the need to advance work of diversity, equity and inclusion in our colleges as we help build up communities and strengthen civic life.”

Suzanne Rivera, president of Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn.: “The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of US democracy. What's happening at the Capitol right now is frightening. People of conscience must not stay silent when the very fabric of our society is being unraveled.”

John J. Rainone, president of Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge, Va.: “This is domestic terrorism -- very sad day.”

Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas: “The fact that these people think they are patriots is yet another reason why we have to address what is being taught in our schools. The years of screwing with history and publishing alternative reality textbooks have robbed us of a common understanding in this country.”

John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.: “We are closely monitoring the situation at the U.S. Capitol and the safety and security of our community here in Washington, D.C. Over the past few hours, we have witnessed a violent attempt to disrupt the democratic process and prevent our Congress from fulfilling its Constitutional responsibilities. These acts are reprehensible and have no place in our country. I strongly condemn these criminal attempts to undermine our republic. For more than two centuries, our American project has been defined by our commitment to the ideals of democracy. Across our nation, there is an extraordinary depth of commitment to these ideals that, especially today, can be a source of consolation and solidarity as we pursue important and necessary work to build a more just and equitable future.”

Satish K. Tripathi, president of the State University of New York University at Buffalo: “The lawlessness and chaos that erupted at the U.S. Capitol today are truly horrifying. As we watch the violent disruptions to the certification of the presidential election, we ardently hope for a swift and peaceful return to order in our nation’s capital. May our elected officials, law enforcement and the public remain safe, and may all those who have been injured heal quickly. As we look beyond this dark day, may each of us do our part to uphold our nation’s cherished ideals and work tirelessly and peacefully to mend the divisions that threaten them.”

The Reverend John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.: “Today's assault on Congress was unworthy of our democracy. We pray for the nation and call on everyone, regardless of political affiliation, to condemn unequivocally the disruption of institutions designed to serve the common good.”

Christina H. Paxson, president of Brown University in Providence, R.I.: “Tonight many of us, along with our families, are watching the events unfolding in our nation's capital with shock, uncertainty, anger, fear and profound sorrow. We are deeply concerned for the safety of everyone affected, and are considering how these events will affect the nation as a whole, and us as a community and as individuals.

“The violence and riots in Washington, D.C., aimed at unlawfully blocking the certification of the election results, are abhorrent. Although I am confident these efforts won’t be successful, they are a reminder that democracy is precious but fragile. We may take it for granted, but we shouldn’t."

Philip Hanlon, president of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.: “Like so many of you, I watched with shock and sadness as lawlessness consumed the U.S. Capitol on what should have been a day of great symbolic importance for American democracy. As president of Dartmouth, I condemn the violent disruption of the democratic process. This unprecedented and reprehensible attack on the peaceful transfer of power undermines the foundation of our government and the verified results of our federal election. I believe -- and I hope more than ever -- that it is a reverence for the sanctity of our democratic process that unites us, not the result of any one election that divides us. Now is the time we must come together in the best interest of the nation.

“As the Dartmouth community begins another academic term, we are reminded of the importance of vigorous debate, the respectful exchange of ideas, and the elevation of facts and data. These are the tasks of institutions of higher learning and they will be essential for moving our country forward together.”

Andrew Hamilton, president of New York University in New York City: "In the worst desecration of American democracy perhaps any of us have known, a violent mob -- incited by a steady diet of lies and stoked grievances, indifferent to the will of American voters, unconcerned about the tenets of democracy -- stormed the Capitol, disrupted the work of Congress in duly certifying the election of a new president, and upended the peaceful transition of power that has been a centuries-long, cherished foundation of American political life."

Rioters storm the U.S. Capitol building.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education: ​"We are horrified and saddened by the assault on the U.S. Capitol, an attack on the very fabric of our democracy. America is better than this. But all of our elected leaders also must be better. President Trump has failed to act in the best interests of the country or respond to his constitutional and moral obligations.

“It is far past time for every American to respect our electoral process and accept the results of the election. This is not about politics or partisanship. It is about stopping the spread of misinformation, violence, and insurrection. It is about doing the right thing.

“One of the defining elements of the American experience is the peaceful transition of power. The unwillingness to accept that peaceful and calm transition is what led to today’s events. It must not be repeated ever again.​​”

Mildred García, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities: “Today was a sad and shameful day for our country. These rioters have done unimaginable damage to the U.S. Capitol and should be held accountable to the fullest extent of law. This is sedition and an attempted coup. Although horrific, our country and democracy will prevail.”

Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities: “The shocking violence that unfolded today at the United States Capitol is nothing less than an attempted coup, and every American should be horrified and humiliated by what is happening in the very seat of our democracy.

“President Trump and his supporters in Congress should immediately denounce the violence; demand his supporters cease and desist; drop all efforts to disenfranchise American voters; and provide all assistance necessary to the U.S. Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies to restore order and ensure the safe completion of the counting of electoral votes.

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities: “We are horrified, saddened, and angered by the events at the U.S. Capitol Building today. It is hard to fathom how this can happen in our country. All of us are struggling to process these events and hoping the situation fully and peacefully calms down. I join many others in calling on President Trump to accept the legitimacy and finality of the November election and to convey that to the American people. It’s imperative that he stop spreading false information that incited today’s violence and has led many others to deny the true election outcome.

“This is a very difficult day in American history, and it is imperative that the work of democracy continue unabated. Today underscores the importance of safeguarding our democratic values and procedures.”

 

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