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Maintaining a healthy democracy

Dear Mavericks,

We believe magnanimity in victory and dignity in defeat are essential hallmarks of a healthy democracy. Peaceful transitions of power after elections, and the decorum of civil debates leading up to elections, are critical to civil society and seem lost by some political leaders today. We believe CMU Mavericks are and must continue to be different.

We can and should be magnanimous victors and dignified in our political defeats. We must continue to recognize and respect the humanity of each other no matter who we voted for and no matter who wins elections. Pendulums swing and the next election is always around the corner.

Having established our hope for how we might act in spite of all the vitriol around us, we are often reminded of what a wonderful experience it is to be on a college campus in the fall. Despite COVID-19 disruptions, football is back, students have settled into a new routine of learning at a safe social distance and every few years the political discussions on the campus become active again as we face another election. While there may be no disagreement about who we want to win the football game next weekend (Go Mavs!), there is plenty of disagreement on the campus about who should win the next election. The disagreement is a healthy sign for our democracy — the ability to voice our opinions about these matters is a cherished right we hold dear, but the right to intimidate others through hateful speech or violent action has no place on our campus. That does not mean the mere sight of a table or signs for any particular candidate rises to the level of speech that cannot be tolerated. Freedom of speech and lively discourse are critical to the health of a university campus.

In 2017 the CMU Board of Trustees adopted a resolution regarding hate speech and discrimination on campus. It is an important guiding document for how we engage in respectful conversation about our differences, and about CMU's commitment to free speech and the marketplace of ideas that is the hallmark of our campus community. We encourage all of you to read it and reflect on the value our diversity of opinions brings to everything we do here at CMU. We were also recently recognized as a national leader among college campuses for our commitment to these values.

We are proud of our commitments and remain confident that students will continue to voice their passions in this political season in a way that also respects other students whom they might not agree with.  We believe that all people are enriched for the ability to express ideas and learn from those who see the world differently than we do. This is at the heart of what makes democracy so strong, and one more reason that makes CMU a place like no other. As we enter the final stretch, we should focus on the words used in the beginning of this message. Magnanimousness in victory and dignity in defeat. Let’s all reflect on what that means and how we can practice embodying those attributes in the coming weeks. By doing so we will also be doing our part of making democracy stronger.


Tim Foster, CMU President

Tim Casey, PhD, Professor of Political Science