At the end of 2023, I spent a fair amount of time commenting on the issues surrounding campus politics, free expression, protests, and what it’s like to be a college president these days. As I said in this Boston Globe article, “It’s a great job if you love education…But what worries me is that we’re facing a public sphere that will become so intemperate in the coming election year that if college presidents . . don’t participate in the public sphere, then [it] will be further degraded by the loudest and dumbest voices.” I spoke to the press a lot just before the holidays. Links can be found here, and I wrote this for Slate and co-authored this in Time. I have long believed that people lucky enough to be in positions like mine should speak out on issues in the public sphere that are relevant to higher education. As one can easily see from the comments on this blog and elsewhere, it is impossible to please everyone or to represent all constituencies. I try to learn from those who disagree with me, and not take to seriously those who hurl the slogans or the insults of the moment.
We are now in the middle of our intensive Winter Break during which people are studying everything from botany to directing for the camera. Faculty and students will soon begin thinking about the semester ahead, and I am looking forward to teaching Philosophy and the Movies again. This week I head to Washington, DC to talk about my book The Student: A Short History at the American Association of Colleges & Universities convention. I’ll also be meeting with education and political leaders about our efforts to inspire students to participate in the electoral system in the coming year. We calling this initiative Democracy 2024 [D2024] and we expect to have a few hundred schools helping students to learn about democracy by practicing democracy. This is a crucial moment in American history, and college students across the country should be doing their part to make our democracy work as well as possible. You’ll be hearing more about that in the coming months.
It’s MLK day, and I thought I’d end this post with a photograph of Dr. King during one of his visits to Wesleyan in the 1960s. His practice of democracy has inspired millions. May his memory be a blessing.