Date: January 20, 2021
TO: The NYU Community
FROM: NYU President Andrew Hamilton

Today I watched the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president with a mix of emotions.

My initial feeling was one of relief that it transpired peacefully. Relief, too, that the many challenges of the last few years to NYU’s core mission of scholarship, openness and internationalism may be over, or at least of a different form. Relief that we may now see restored to public life some of the truth, integrity, and respect for scientific evidence that we hold so dear in the academy.

I had been feeling uneasy, of course, after the events of two weeks ago. Uneasy that something we took as a given — the honoring of a free and fair election, the peaceful transfer of power — turned out to be surprisingly fragile. We have hardly begun to reckon with that day’s defilement of our democratic processes, to say nothing of the broader mix of lies, baseless conspiracy theories, bitter partisanship, and outright bigotry that gave rise to that outrage and that will continue to undermine this country. I do believe the shock of those January 6 events will cause commonsense and decency to increasingly reassert themselves, but not as quickly or as certainly as we might wish.

Mostly, though, watching today, I felt hope. Hope is the animating force of a life lived in education. And today I felt hope that we might begin to make some progress on the enormous challenges we face: the pandemic, climate change, inequality, the persistent injustices against people of color, inequities in the criminal justice system, to name just a few. Hope that our leaders would less often substitute a pretty lie for a hard truth because it suited their political ambitions. Hope that we might reverse some of the divisiveness we face and instead that we might be called together, as Lincoln exhorted a bitterly divided nation 160 years ago, to find “the better angels of our nature.”

There’s a lot ahead of us to accomplish, in the coming semester here at NYU and beyond. Our best hope for success, I am sure, is to work on it together; I look forward to doing so with all of you.

Andrew Hamilton