UA chancellor issues note calling for ‘civility’ during the ‘current political climate’

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 291 views 

University of Arkansas Chancellor Dr. Joseph Steinmetz sent an e-mail note to employees seeking to address “concerns about the current political climate” and “strive for civility” in dealing with differences of opinion.

The note, sent Saturday (Nov. 12) before the home football game against LSU, does not specify if it is intended to address the outcome of a contentious presidential election, the controversy surrounding kneeling during the national anthem by some members of the UA women’s basketball team, both, or no incident or issue.

“The message was sent to reinforce to our campus community that even when we don’t agree we can still be civil and united, that we value diversity of thought and opinion, and that we believe in the power of thoughtful inquiry and productive dialogue and problem-solving,” Steve Voorhies, the UA manager of media relations, told Talk Business & Politics.

The election of Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton sparked protest in several cities and universities. Some university incidents included hostile acts and/or language directed at minorities. Anti-Trump protesters caused damage in some cities. Several universities, including the University of Tennessee, held counseling meetings for students upset at Trump’s win.

“We’re hearing a lot from our students, particularly our Muslim students, given the rhetoric of the campaign,” said Michael Quick, provost at the University of Southern California, which held a meeting for students concerned about the election outcome, according to this report from the New York Times.

Prior to the election, the UA faced fallout from basketball players kneeling during a national anthem before a game in Fayetteville. On Nov. 3, six Razorbacks, all of them African-American, knelt during the national anthem to protest police shootings of African-Americans and other minorities. The players, though not necessarily the protest, were later supported by Coach Jimmy Dykes and Athletic Director Jeff Long.

Joseph Steinmetz, University of Arkansas chancellor
Joseph Steinmetz, University of Arkansas chancellor

College officials on Nov. 9 announced “Project Unify,” a “community engagement program” designed to address concerns that fueled the protest. The move, which will see the players no longer kneel during the anthem, could also quell backlash against the team and the university that included one Arkansas senator threatening to put a hold on the university’s budget.

Steinmetz mentioned Project Unify in his letter, saying it is part of a broader effort.

“We will soon be launching a campus wide series on social issues in which a variety of topics will be discussed from many perspectives. I hope you’ll participate in that as well and help create additional venues for discussion,” Steinmetz noted.

Nate Hinkel, spokesman for the University of Arkansas System, said he is not aware of any other institutions in the system sending out similar notes. As to if System President Donald Bobbitt had a comment about the letter, Hinkel said “that’s an individual campus issue and prefer not to comment.”

Dear University of Arkansas Community:

Over the last few days, some members of our community have expressed concerns about the current political climate and the future moving forward.

The purpose of this letter is to assure you that our values at the University of Arkansas have not changed. We still value our diverse community of faculty, staff and students, representing many faiths, beliefs, and nationalities. We still value a culture of this richness of diversity and inclusion and want to remind our community that our policy is to provide an educational and work environment in which thought, creativity, and growth are nurtured and stimulated, and in which individuals are free to realize their full potential.

The university must be a place of work and study for students, faculty, and staff, which is free of all forms of discrimination, intimidation and exploitation.

We must work together. We must help each other and strive for civility, give each other a hand. I’m not talking about “political correctness.” I’m talking about being kind to each other. We can embrace our differences, talk about them productively and find a path forward. We must look out for our friends in all communities, those of all political stripes, and religions.

I encourage you to to seek out the many resources on our campus to share your thoughts and concerns. We will soon be launching a campus wide series on social issues in which a variety of topics will be discussed from many perspectives. I hope you’ll participate in that as well and help create additional venues for discussion. One example I’m excited about is called “Project Unify,” which will be led by our women’s basketball team to create discussions around social injustice.

Please keep an open heart and an open mind.

Joe Steinmetz