Chancellor's Friday Letters

Unfettered Intellectual Discourse

Unfettered Intellectual Discourse

April 23, 2010

Dear Friends,

Our University is at its best when deep understanding – based on research, readings, writings, travel, and conversation – is brought to bear on difficult, contentious issues.

We bear an obligation to create fora, both formal and informal, that facilitate and encourage civil discourse – pointed, heated, respectful, informed and earnest. But not silence.

Such fora will trump, any day, shallow rhetoric and attempts at close-minded ideological indoctrination that can appear in our university from time to time – based on some combination of ignorance, bias, or pre-conceived notions… or an agenda other than honest, open, and difficult intellectual debate.

The willingness to expose one’s intellect in such settings is a hallmark of academic life, and accompanies a commitment to be willing to persuade others to think more deeply and perhaps differently, and to be open-minded and willing to accept the same challenge oneself. In this way, knowledge advances.

Regrettably, it seems that the exceptional fora – the ones where such tenets are not adhered to – get more attention in the traditional and new media these days. Such events make headlines, and third parties are often required to come in to restore order or end the event. Because these aberrant occurrences make the news, they create an unbalanced perspective for many on- and off-campus as to how such discussions typically occur at our University.

Let me use the words of a highly distinguished member of our faculty who wrote me this week, unsolicited, about an event that occurred Tuesday on our campus:

“I am writing about a very stimulating event that occurred this afternoon in our college [College of Humanities, Arts and Social Science].  Georgia Warnke, associate dean in the college and interim director of the Center for Ideas and Society, organized a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The panel consisted of Michael Alexander (religious studies), Reza Aslan (creative writing), Jeffrey Sacks (comparative literature), Michele Salzman (history), and Howard Wettstein (philosophy).  Our dean, Steve Cullenberg, moderated.

“The event drew a standing room only crowd in 1500 Humanities. What I heard was a serious, thoughtful, engaged exchange of ideas.  Students, faculty, and staff were equally involved in the discussion.  While very different points of view were expressed, the panelists treated one another with respect.  The questions from the audience were provocative and searching.

“In the end, two ideas captured much of the interest of the audience.  One was the idea that although the prospect of a two-state solution seems dim at this time, the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians desire this solution.  Efforts to keep it alive, on the personal level, are important, even if governments, who so often live in fear of extremists, fail to follow the wishes of the majority of those they lead.  The other was the idea of a single-state, binational solution.

“I was struck by the extent to which students, faculty, and staff, coming from a variety of backgrounds and political positions, listened seriously to one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect.  People representing a range of positions had the opportunity to speak and be heard.

“This event made me proud to be a member of the UCR academic community, an academic community in which we show that we want to learn from one another, even when we disagree.”

But alas, Professor Warnke informed me that at the end of this panel discussion a third party had to be called in to close things down… but not for the reason you might think. After several hours of discourse in which it was clear the panelists were very thoughtful and smart, and the audience serious and engaged, a spontaneous informal discussion broke out. Participants were so engaged and engrossed that our good folks from physical plant finally had to chase everyone out of the room, so they could prepare it for classes the next early morning!

Best regards,


Tim White, Chancellor

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A Chancellor’s Legacy
Engaging speakers and panelists are scheduled today, organized by Professor Juan Felipe Herrera on the subject of Latino health in 2010 at the 23rd annual Tomás Rivera Conference, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the HUB. Local elementary school students will participate in the conference’s ComalArte (Frying Griddle Art) contest featuring word-art about healthy exercise.

Engineering Prowess on Display
Best of luck to UCR’s engineering students competing in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contest today through Sunday on the National Mall. One project relates to purifying water with solar power, and the other turns green waste into ethanol. The prize? A $75,000 grant for research.

More Opportunities, Environmentally Speaking
Opportunities will increase because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has committed to offer more internships, projects and scientific research because of UCR’s status as a Hispanic Serving Institution.

Find out what else is going on at UC Riverside at http://www.ucr.edu/happenings/

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