At the start of each year, we reflect on where we are as a university and how we can help solve the great challenges facing the people of Tennessee, our country, and our world – and how we can come together, focus our efforts and be eager to learn from each other, to truly be a UT.
But coming together is a challenge in our current culture, where deep division can be the norm; where vitriol and outrage are often encouraged, and listening to and engaging with those who differ from us is seen as a sign of weakness. It can be difficult to be open to listening, communicating, and even compromising with those who have a different point of view to get things done. We must both model and instruct open, civil and respectful behavior so that we can find solutions to the challenges of tomorrow.
Our universities are no exception. Our leaders at the University of Tennessee, myself included, are committed to coming together to model a better way. After all, civility is one of Tennessee’s great legacies. The late U.S. Senator Howard Baker said it best: “If we can’t be courteous to one another, and if we stop dealing with those we disagree with…we’ll soon cease to function.” completely.
We live in a vast country and a dynamic state that reflects a wide range of people, interests and ideas. Difference shouldn’t mean division, it actually makes us stronger. Our strength comes from our diversity. It’s something to celebrate, not something that divides us.
As president of the University of Tennessee system, our goal is to bring people together to find solutions to real-world problems. Unity does not come from an echo chamber of thought, but rather from a set of various points of view contemplated to better understand each other in order to move forward, together. We believe in diversity – of people, thoughts, opinions and intellectual pursuits. We do not house those who do not want to hear and discuss different points of view. But we also recognize that there is an important difference between honoring diversity and promoting one particular ideology over another.
There is no single answer to the challenges we face as a society. As such, the university should never require students or faculty to adopt a specific ideology in order to succeed on any of our campuses. This is not the role of a university or an effective strategy to prepare our students for the interconnected world they will face upon graduation.
Our great university system was created to serve ALL Tennessees. We are accountable to our students and their parents, to the state and the nation, and to the taxpayers.
We must take a leadership role in creating a more civil, open and respectful society — and we will.
Randy Boyd is system president at the University of Tennessee.