Unsettling Times: Higher Education and Democracy

Dear Faculty and Staff,

The violence that unfolded in our nation’s Capitol yesterday horrified and disappointed me, and I am sure many of you felt the same. This is not who we are. This is not how we behave. This is not what our country is about. I am happy that democracy and rule of law prevailed and that both Republicans and Democrats came together to do their job in certifying the Electoral College results. At the same time, I am uneasy about how we move ahead to find calm and preserve the democracy that we may have taken for granted.

The core reason I write is to underscore the central principle upon which our country and university are built: the ability to disagree, to engage in radically different opinions and world views, through civil discourse and respectful exchange of ideas. These are the bedrocks of our democracy. Absent them, chaos and disorder swiftly move in. Hence, our role—your jobs and livelihoods as educators, researchers and staff who all contribute to UWM’s special role in transforming students’ lives—is more important than ever. Democracy relies on an educated citizenry. We need to make higher education more accessible and affordable to all, to broaden our citizens’ exploration of facts and ability to think critically.

Long ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian and political writer, studied our political and social systems, writing what many consider to be the definitive analysis, Democracy in America (Vols 1-4, 1835-1840). One of his views that gives me hope is: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” This is where we are today. We have a moral and ethical obligation to widely throw open our doors and educate our citizens to a greater degree.

I thank those in Congress who supported democracy and offered clear paths for moving forward. May the darkness of yesterday be followed by many brighter days. Recognizing the fragility of democracy and acknowledging the specter of possible anarchy should motivate all to commit to our core values of democracy, freedom of expression, searching for the truth and respect for each other.  That UW-Milwaukee’s Guiding Values embody these qualities makes me proud and even more committed to our mission and goals.

Best regards,

Mark A. Mone, PhD