Chancellor's Friday Letters

Simple courage, huge change

Simple courage, huge change

November 12, 2010

Dear Friends:

We are fortunate when we find those among us who enable us to think more deeply and clearly than we otherwise would. This past weekend I was privileged to meet two such people during their visits to the Riverside campus of the University of California. It was inspiring to contemplate lessons of the past as they apply to the issues of today… and tomorrow.

One message that came through clearly in both of these encounters was the importance of personal character and courage, combined with pride, hope and perseverance.

It was powerful to see how those factors help individuals navigate the unfair – and at times seemingly impossible – and while doing so lead to important and sustained improvement for society.

Following several hours of private discussion with UCR students, Princeton University Professor Cornel West spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in the Highlander Union Building.

While it is difficult to summarize his presentation and the ensuing discussion, his own words provide a good sense of the evening: “We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”

Whether or not you agree with Dr. West’s provocative approach, his message of courage and hope is one from which we all can benefit.

My second opportunity arose because we recently established a Tuskegee Airmen Archive at UCR, and University Librarian Ruth Jackson hosted the sixth annual UCR celebration honoring these courageous pioneers. It was a fitting event for the campus as it set the tone for Veterans Day, which of course was celebrated yesterday.

UCR’s annual event honors men and women who were a part of the famed Tuskegee Experience at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. Between 1943 and 1945, the program trained the first African-American pilots, who established a stunning record of success during World War II.

Retired Colonel Charles McGee, a nonagenarian, was the keynote speaker and, as he stood before the audience, you knew you were hearing and feeling a story of pride, courage and hope. The Tuskegee Airmen faced segregation, prejudice, and worse. This was history in the flesh, history of a time in America that I am not proud of, and to which we cannot return.

The Tuskegee Airmen were famed for their courage and piloting skills. At the outset, they were sent into combat missions that were viewed as futile, in part because they were considered expendable. But when the Airmen repeatedly succeeded in these seemingly impossible missions, a respect began to emerge.

It was clear they excelled not only because of their personal character and courage, but because of their pride, hope and perseverance.

As McGee said, “At Tuskegee we wanted the opportunity to train without standards being changed and be graded on that performance, and I think getting to know and understand one another eventually showed in our performance.” Their bravery led to breakthroughs in the integration of the U.S. Air Force, not only for pilots but for ground support personnel and the medical corps.

Cornel West. Charles McGee.

Two very different men.

Two very different approaches.

One common theme: character, courage, pride, hope and perseverance can overcome adversities, create opportunities, and lead to social and cultural change that betters our world.



Tim White, Chancellor

Share your thoughts: http://fridayletters.ucr.edu/leavefeedback

Careful Cuts, Careful Protection
While budget constraints are prompting proposals to raise student fees and to lower retirement benefits for new employees, the University of California is careful to protect access for low-income families with the Blue and Gold Opportunity plan. Read a recent letter from UC President Mark Yudof to the community.

Thinking Outside the Box
Computer Science and Engineering Professor Eamonn Keogh has won a highly competitive Gates Foundation grant by showing that simple sensors, made from modified laser pointers purchased at a 99 cent store, can measure the frequency that insect’s wings beat from a distance. This information can help target resources to combat malaria and other insect-borne disease.

Have You Seen a Robot Wrestle?
Middle and high school students will be on campus tomorrow for the annual MESA Robotics Invitational at the Bourns College of Engineering, which will include wrestling robots. The Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement (MESA) School Programs at UCR are organizing the events, in conjunction with the San Bernardino Community College District and FIRST LEGO league.

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

More Information

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Career OpportunitiesUCR Libraries
Campus StatusDirections to UCR

Department Information

Office of the Chancellor
4108 Hinderaker Hall

Tel: (951) 827-5201
Fax: (951) 827-3866

E-mail: chancellor@ucr.edu