Tuesday, April 30, 2013

From the President's Desk

Washington, DC; West, Texas; and Boston, Massachusetts
April 24, 2013
From Union Institute & University President's Desk

It has been a rather dreary, rainy cold week in Cincinnati, which is probably appropriate given the dramatic recent events in the United States. From the defeat of gun controls in the Senate, to the explosion of the fertilizer plant in Texas and the bombings at the Boston Marathon, President Obama summed it up at a White House news conference when he said, “This has been a difficult week for the United States.”

As I think about all of the events above, I know that many of our students at Union are not only affected, but also impact crises of this type each day. From first responders to members of police departments, to those who serve in the military, and volunteers across the nation, Union’s students are often on the front lines of helping others survive in an increasingly violent society. 
Approximately 52 percent of our undergraduate students are enrolled in Criminal Justice Management. They are risking their lives each day for all of us. I thought of them when we learned that 14 first responders, mostly volunteer firefighters, lost their lives in West, Texas when the fertilizer plant exploded. News reports indicated that they knew that the plant would explode, and they were fighting the fire in an effort to give a nearby nursing home time to evacuate residents. They sacrificed their lives for others. They went into the fire.

Regarding Boston: I think we are all still struggling to make sense out of the chaos, damage, especially the deaths and devastating injuries of innocent people who gathered together to celebrate the competitors, the competition, and Patriot’s Day. And again, I was inspired by the instant heroes who reached out to those who were injured, providing lifesaving efforts until professional medical personnel arrived. They could have run from the sites of the two explosions and the ensuing melee; instead, they ran in place to assist where they could. They ran in. This is America at its best.  

What is not America at its best is the issue surrounding gun legislation and background checks; an issue which approximately 90 percent of the American people supported. It died in the Senate from a serious lapse of courage and conviction and the power of lobbying influences. I agree with President Obama that it was a day of “shame” in D.C. We need courageous leadership in Washington right now – people who will ‘run in,’ – and instead we continue to get bickering, finger-pointing, and partisanship that is eroding American’s confidence in government. Where are our heroes in Washington?

In cases like the Boston Marathon bombings, we all want to know who, how, and why. We apparently know who and how, but the why question is the haunting one and will probably never be answered completely to our satisfaction. The young bombers changed the city of Boston for a brief time and many lives forever; however, life in Boston is already beginning to resume. The city will grieve for its victims and the city will heal. In time, the city may ultimately forgive the perpetrators. Individuals with grievous injuries will heal over time and face their altered lives with courage. There are no victors in these kinds of incidents—only victims. We will discover the “why” in due time, and the other important question is how we will prevent these senseless acts from happening in the future. If these events are based on a lack of understanding of differences; then, we have to learn to understand that we are all different and we all come from very different backgrounds, religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and intellectual perspectives. We should begin each day with the clear understanding that diversity is the one thing we have in common, and we should celebrate it each day. What is it about human nature that we so often turn to violence to settle our differences?

For those of us who are older, it is worth remembering that we have experienced senseless violence in the United States before, and much of it came in the 1960s – a decade of upheaval, violence, and change. We experienced the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Robert F. Kennedy; we witnessed civil rights marchers beaten in the streets of our cities; we watched the use of fire hoses and the releasing of attack dogs on American citizens who were only demanding recognition, equality, respect, and human dignity. Reacting to these dramatic challenges and tragic assassinations Americans persevered and worked together to build a stronger and more open society. While we have made progress, we have a long journey yet to undertake, and we need to be aware of how we perceive one another and how the rest of the world perceives the United States.

Much of the violence and disenchantment of the 1960s came as a reaction to a different foreign war – the war in Vietnam. It appears that the actions in Boston may have emanated as a misguided reaction to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Americans, we are still shocked by the death of innocent people. We have not become so hardened in our beliefs that we engage in hatred or revenge in seeking to understand the “why.” That probably is a good thing because it indicates that the soul of America, while a bit damaged, is still healthy. And yet, the lack of civility that is brought into our homes each evening by 24-hour news programs where people engage in shouting over one another is damaging the way that civilized people communicate around differences. I understand first amendment and second amendment rights, and I know I also have the right to turn off the television each evening. I usually do. I also have the choice not to own a gun. At the same time, I am appalled at the numbers of violent deaths that occur through the use of guns in the U.S.— far more than in any other civilized country in the world. Why do we tolerate this level of violence? That is another “why” question that I think Americans need to find answers to as well.

There are no easy answers to these questions, and no easy answers to what happened in Boston and why, but the American people must stop and listen to reasonable voices, hold elected officials accountable at the ballot box, and demand cooperation and collaboration among our leaders who must start acting on behalf of the best interests of the American people. 

What we can do at Union is to support all of our first responders, criminal justice management students, alumni, and faculty, as well as the hundreds of veterans who have served in foreign wars and helped keep our nation so safe since 9/11. We need to thank them each day for their service, and for representing Union – their university – throughout the nation. These folks are creating the courageous legacy that represents the very best of the human spirit each day.

Please join me in expressing our collective appreciation to Union folks who work for our safety and security each day so these ‘difficult weeks’ are kept to a minimum.

Roger H. Sublett
Union Institute & University

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