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Maintaining a Healthy Democracy: Part 2

Dear Mavericks,

On October 16, 2020, we described how democracy is strengthened when Mavericks assess the way we think, speak and act during and after elections. Our previous communication described a belief that peaceful transitions of executive power are “essential hallmarks of a healthy democracy.” We offered a call to action too: When political leaders fail to promote a functional society, we must not fail in our own responsibilities to continue building a civil society.

We shared these sentiments at that time because of our lingering concerns about the future. Those concerns were no longer hypothetical as violence erupted in Washington, D.C. during the very transition of power we had marked as being so critical to democracy. While expressing concern, the previous communication was motivated by an optimism that no matter what challenges are on the horizon CMU can and must do better than some of our nation’s leaders. Today we reinforce our previous message that democracy begins right here with education. We reiterate that the antidote to destructive political ideologies is learning to think, reason and discern while studying at CMU. We agree with Emma Goldman when she suggested that the most violent element of society is ignorance and we actively work to end that ignorance.

We understand condemnation of violence and political chaos is important. We condemn what transpired in Washington, D.C. in the strongest and clearest terms. We also maintain that solutions begin by acknowledging that faulty thinking begins in the minds, speech and actions of individuals. Every one of us collectively constitutes the nation’s political body, which means we each have a role to play in fixing the faulty thinking that plagues our political discourse. This collective responsibility is good news because its means each of us can do something to help.

As Mavericks, we condemn the behaviors of those who perpetrated violence and harm last week. We condemn the desecration of public property. We condemn the senseless injury and loss of life that occurred as a result of political recklessness.

As a learning community, CMU stands in contrast to the violence and chaos that took place in the nation’s capital last week. By our actions we can demonstrate that there is another way to address our disagreements. Our campus continues to value free speech, free expression, civility and equality of opportunity. We live these values every day in our respect and kindness for each other when we disagree, and in our commitment to safely and responsibly learn from our differences together. We offer an alternative to the violent demands to address the problems of our society. In our commitment to these values we proclaim that people don’t improve their lives by storming the halls of power, but by going to school to learn and build a better world together. A majority of our students are the first in their families to go to college, and it is an investment in a brighter more hopeful future rather than the dystopia of a society torn asunder by irreconcilable differences expressed in violent ways.

Today we call on the campus community to launch the spring semester with renewed belief that exploration of knowledge, wisdom and learning have their rightful place here. As we define and redefine what those virtues are, we might do so together with an eye towards a future free from violence, chaos, oppression and malevolence while looking on with a hope for a better future.  


Tim Foster, CMU President

Tim Casey, PhD, Professor of Political Science


Editor's Note:

An incorrect, previous version of this joint commentary was published on January 14 that included errors. This corrected version was updated and republished on January, 15, 2020 at 12:45pm.


Written by Tim Foster and Tim Casey