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Chancellor's Column: Building a community based on civility makes us all champions
(April 12, 1999)

e at the University of Connecticut find ourselves in the springtime of renewal; many voices are being heard throughout our land.

One of these voices, now stilled but whose intellectual reverberations still pervade our thinking, is that of the late Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Ernie Boyer contended that renewal at colleges and universities "is motivated, at least, in part, by concerns about the darker side of student life.

Mark Emmert
Mark A. Emmert

Confusion about governance and incidents of excessive drunkenness, incivility, and sexual and racial harassment could no longer be ignored, but more inspired motives also are involved.

"Everywhere, campus leaders have been asking how to make their institution a more intellectually and socially vital place," he said. "They understand that, in today's climate, new ways of imagining and creating community must be found."

Some of the strongest "imagining and creating" voices I have heard in recent weeks are those of the members of the Chancellor's Special Task Force on Community and Civility, who along with numerous other participants, have discussed and addressed methods to make this University a more civil and cohesive place.

We all have heard what the causes of a reduced sense of community and a decline of civility are. Among them: lack of a sense of belonging to something larger; the changing relationship between students and the university; the changed role of the university from "educator" to "enforcer;" the current division - rather than sharing - of labor in the academy: faculty only teach, student affairs staff handle student life issues, professional advisors advise; and national cultural trends such as the decline of respect for organizations.

No quick fix
There are no so-called "silver bullets" when it comes to addressing cultural change and community building. But based on the recommendation s of my special task force and on conversations we have had in Washington, D.C., with our counterparts at a number of other institutions of higher education, we must do a number of things.

Two main ones stand out. We must get the context right. Beer riots and such are symptoms of broader issues. We have to deal with grossly inappropriate behavior, but we can't assume that this alone will change things.

And, we have to create opportunities for open, frank, discussions among students, faculty, and administration. We are so doing. This month we are in the midst of a weeks-long period of reflection on critical issues of import to the University. Called "Husky Renaissance," it is designed to focus attention on building community and is one of the activities recommended by the Chancellor's Special Task Force.

"Husky Renaissance" began April 5 and runs through April 22. It features major speakers such as U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman who spoke last Monday on ethical and responsible behavior as the foundation of true community, and actor and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover, who will speak on Wednesday this week.

I am highly supportive of this renaissance in April because it will encourage dialogue about campus community and it will provide me with feedback from students, faculty, and staff on issues pertaining to our community. These are the voices I am very desirous of hearing.

It is up to all of us to assure the success of "Husky Renaissance;" our university community can only be the better for it.

Celebrating success
The voices heard most huskily - from one of the most literal derivations of the word, "with emotion" - recently were those cheering on Tropicana Field or in Gampel Pavilion for the men's basketball Huskies as they proceeded along the road to the Final Four and emerged - through impressive offensive alacrity, defensive capability, and coaching ability - as 1999 NCAA champions.

There was, without question, a triumph on the basketball floor in St. Petersburg; but there was an equally significant triumph on the campus at Storrs.

As chancellor, I most often pick up my morning edition of the Hartford Courant with more than a bit of trepidation. But, I must say that it warms the cockles of a chancellor's heart to see a headline that proclaims, as it did on Tuesday morning, March 30, "Students Celebrate With Restraint."

My congratulations go out to the student body and to the student leadership for making this celebration of athletic victory so successful and so sane.

I commend, as well, the Student Affairs staff, University police and fire personnel, and Facilities crews. They all worked long and hard to enable us all to savor the accomplishments and victory of the basketball team while announcing to all who would hear that we are a community capable of coming together in a multiplicity of ways in a civil and mutually constructive manner.

Let it be known that, in my view, you are all Number 1; you are the champions.