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November 23, 2016

Post-election thoughts



Editor’s note: This is an edited version of remarks that Don Bialostosky, chair of the English department, presented at a department meeting on Thursday, Nov. 10.

Yesterday, the morning after the election, I attended a very glum meeting of the Humanities Council. Before the meeting began, Katie Pope, Pitt’s Title IX coordinator who addresses sexual assault and harassment, said she was worried that the federal administrative mandate that led to the creation of her position might well be revoked in the next administration. She also commented that it would be hard to address a group of 19-year-old men about sexual assault with a president-elect who has bragged about committing it and been repeatedly accused of doing so.

These were hard words at a hard moment for all of us there.

But I told the group that the University policy adopted in response to the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX is now a University policy that we can continue to uphold because it addresses a crucial issue of the safety and good treatment of all of us here, an issue we should be concerned about as a university. We can hold to it because it’s a good policy or modify it to make it better without a federal mandate.

The University enjoys a degree of autonomy to make its own commitments and policies, and I am determined to defend that autonomy. Pitt, like some of the hopeful blue spots on the electoral map Tuesday night — Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Centre County, Pennsylvania, where Penn State has turned a once red county blue — has a crucial role at this time.

Universities have long been bastions committed to values that Tuesday’s election undermined, and those of us committed to university values need to rededicate ourselves to them. Modern universities were founded to foster the careful and collective testing of claims to truth and to educate young people to respect the results of that testing and to learn to participate in it. We need to hold the political realm as closely as possible to that standard and to redouble our educational efforts in higher and in secondary education — a domain many of us have too long neglected — to widen respect for it. The voting patterns show just how far we have to go but also how important our efforts have been. We also are committed to making special efforts to bring women, people of all races, religions and nationalities, and people of diverse genders and abilities into this community not just as students but as the next generation of teachers and researchers, and we must hold fast to this goal in the face of newly stirred bigotry. We are committed to vigorous and civil exchange of divergent views, and we must do all we can to encourage vigor, practice civility and bring divergent views into the arena of investigation without keeping discredited views in circulation.

The motto on Pitt’s seal is Veritas/Virtus, and perhaps I’ve said enough about our commitment to the first term. Our commitment to the second one opens ambiguities that can be troubling or edifying, but parsing ambiguity is one of the things we learn and teach at the University. A quick look at, dare I say it, Wikipedia reminds me that the term virtus originally was “used to describe specifically martial courage” and associated with “masculine strengths” but eventually grew to include a range of virtues such as prudence, justice, self-control and courage. We must be especially wary of the masculinist reading of the term while taking pains to think through the more inclusive reading. We are mandated by our motto to cultivate the virtues on that list in our own conduct and in our students, and we need to mobilize these virtues now. We would be prudent to measure warily and patiently the threats we anticipate and not to attack them quixotically. We would be just to weigh thoughtfully what has moved half of our voting fellow citizens to repudiate so much that we value and put us all at what we feel is such a great risk. We must restrain ourselves from overreacting with rage or despair to the position in which we find ourselves. We must be courageous in standing up for our values against strong opponents with the power to do them and us great harm.

I feel braced and ready for the struggle we face, and I hope you do, too. In my sixth year of chairing this department and my 12th of chairing in my career, I sometimes feel that the job is tiring, tedious and occasionally thankless. There’s so much paper to push that says what other documents already say. There’s so little to give to colleagues who do so much. It’s hard to disappoint your friends. It’s hard to face uncertain changes in the upper administration on which the department depends. It’s easy to envy those who are just teaching and doing their research, not to mention those who are retiring.

But I can tell you that after these reflections on what the University and our department stand for and on what universities mean to our fragile civil order, I am determined to stick it out to the end of my term and do everything I can to clarify and act upon what it means to be committed to veritas and virtus. There is no more consequential place to cultivate these values not just for their own sake but for the sake of the nation and the world we love and fear for.

Today I see more clearly than ever that the University to which our department belongs and the universities like it are all crucial to our future. I hope you will join me in defending what this University and all good universities stand for in the dark days ahead and work with me to make our department and Pitt more worthy to defend.

—Don Bialostosky


Editor’s note: Hillman faculty librarian Robin Kear, who is vice president of the University Senate, submitted these thoughts on the role of libraries as keepers of the community in times of crisis.

When Pitt students spontaneously reacted to their overwhelming emotions early on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 9, they marched and chanted. They cried and argued. They ended up on the plaza of Hillman Library in a peace circle, heatedly discussing politics, identity, race, sexuality and gender. I was very proud of the restrained and constructive way they handled the night and even more proud of where they ended it.

Students at Pitt often use the sidewalk space around Hillman Library as a peaceful public forum. Not only are we a central physical place on campus, we are a space that is central to intellectual freedom. We actively cultivate a space where students can explore ideas that may challenge the boundaries of their experiences. It’s a space that is central to our ability as a university to support our students. We welcome all students from all disciplines to be curious, discuss, explore, research, write, learn and collaborate. Hillman is a space that students deeply respect and where everyone is accepted and equal. Dare I say it, it is a common space where they grow, mature and tackle difficult questions.

We as librarians assist students no matter the question, without regard to our own personal opinion, expertly and efficiently. The library is their third space, not home and not work, but a community. I love to walk through Hillman on a busy evening, seeing students of all types, sensing the creative intellectual energy. It is one of the joys of my role here in the University and an inspiration for me to do the best I can for them, to match their drive and curiosity.

In times of crisis, libraries, academic, K-12 or public, are near by. We are second responders and people come to us as a community hub. We stay open, keeping watch over our community, vigilant over the threads of what bind us together. Our new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, kept the doors of Baltimore public libraries open, when so many doors were closing, in response to the protests and anger of the death of Freddie Gray. Library director Scott Bonner used his public library branch as a way to keep his community together during the protests and anger in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown. You can check #LibrariesRespond to see how libraries today are helping communities take a deep breath, reflect and connect. The Association of Research Libraries, of which Pitt is a member, recently reconfirmed its commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice.

Many issues related to libraries, information and the academy confront us and new ones will continue to confront us: fake news presented as journalism; data used in faculty evaluations; the sheer overwhelming amount of information available; difficulties discerning bias and origin; the value of human analysis versus the algorithms of massive social networks; understanding and researching the nuances of complicated issues; and living in a sometimes seemingly post-factual world. Libraries will face these issues as they always have, by adhering to our values, providing equal access, expert curation and unwavering privacy, in a common space. We will steadfastly continue in this vital role for the academy and our students.

—Robin Kear


Editor’s note: The day after the election, Melanie Weiser Krugel, president of Pitt’s Hispanic and Latino Professional Association, sent this email on behalf of the HLPA leadership team. Krugel is assistant director of student and diversity recruitment in the Katz Graduate School of Business MBA admissions office.

To our HLPA Familia,

When we awoke this morning we found our world changed. For some of us it may have been a happy occasion; for others like myself, a time of sadness, anger, frustration, fear and disappointment.

At this point it no longer matters whom we voted for or why but that we come together and strengthen our familia and our comunidad.  To support one another, fight for one another, and be there for each other.  I can’t promise to know how things will turn out or what policies will come about or how it will impact us, but I can promise that we are here for you, I am here for you and that I hope that our country can move forward in peace, understanding and hope.

If you need anything, a hug, a coffee, to talk, to cry or laugh, we’re here. We are your familia at Pitt and are here for you.

Melanie and the HLPA team



Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 7

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