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Friday, January 8, 2021

On the events of this week

(Message sent to CLA faculty, staff, and students on January 8, 2021.)

On Wednesday afternoon of this week, Americans, and indeed people around the world, looked on in shock and horror as rioters took the U.S. Capitol under siege. Across the political spectrum, these violent actions were appropriately denounced as an outrageous and vile assault on democratic norms, the republic, and the rule of law. I was angered and outraged, and also deeply saddened, by what was happening in our nation’s capital.

On Wednesday evening, the process of the transition of power resumed as the votes of the Electoral College were certified. It was what the country needed to see at that very time and in that very building.

As a political scientist, I have a disciplinary and intellectual interest in the study of institutional resilience and reform, campaigns and elections, political parties and advocacy groups, the competition of ideas, the political behavior of the public, and the forces driving public opinion and public policy.

My appreciation and study of how these various aspects of our public life work have given me a deep commitment to the important role of politics in public life and how politics provide an arena within which policy differences and dissenting views can be thrashed out without physical violence in a democratic republic. People can disagree robustly and heatedly about philosophy and policy and candidates and elections, but I fervently hope that seeing the appalling scenes of rioters in the Capitol on the afternoon of January 6 will, albeit tragically, remind Americans that a system of healthy and robust politics is something to be nurtured and valued. We saw that system in place on Tuesday with the conclusion of a vigorous and hard-fought election in Georgia that motivated historically high turnout for runoff elections, and we saw it in place on Wednesday evening. 

As dean of the college, the events of this week underscored further to me the importance of our collective work in advancing those values of discourse, discussion, and debate. In our research, creative work, instruction, and engagement across the arts, humanities, and social sciences, we in the liberal arts promote the values of justice, dignity, and respect. We pursue the creation of knowledge and opportunity.

These commitments have been the ongoing work of the college over the years across the disciplines and in interdisciplinary pursuits. And, as with the issues of the pandemic and the focus on racial justice in 2020, CLA’s scholars have been in the public forefront of helping us understand and respond to this week’s events in all its dimensions from political beliefs and cultural values in the public, the country’s evolving demographic and geographical shifts, the functioning of political institutions, the power of speech for good and ill, the variations in policing of protests, and more.

Through this ongoing work and through new projects such as The Public Life Project, CLA faculty, staff, and students are bringing life to our collegiate purpose as defined in the college’s Constitution: “to advance a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and engaged society.” And you are doing so through exemplifying our core collegiate values of “freedom of thought and expression, respect, diversity, and social justice.” I am grateful for what you do and proud to be with you on this journey.