Thoughts on Charlottesville

Date: Monday, August 21, 2017
To: THE NYU COMMUNITY
From: NYU President Andrew Hamilton

Dear Friends,

Over the years, certain habits have come to mark the end of summer for me: updating my notes for the coming year’s classes and academic duties; final catch-up reading of new chemistry research or higher education commentaries; working on a note of welcome to you all, filled with optimistic thoughts about the coming academic year. The end of summer and the beginning of a new semester is a time that has always filled me with a happy sense of promise.

But this year is different. The horrific events in Charlottesville – the raw display of racism and religious bigotry, the hate-fueled violence – rightly command our attention now.

What happened in Charlottesville is in itself tragic, dispiriting, and frightening. However, its awfulness and our heartbreak are compounded by the false equivalence that has been drawn between those who stoke bigotry and those who oppose it. Nazism, neo-Nazism, white supremacy – whatever is the term of the moment – is now and has been through history, an abhorrence. How, I have wondered, have we come to lose our bearings so thoroughly that anyone, let alone a national leader, is unable to comprehend the terrible wrongness of what has transpired?

And then just a few days later we saw the terrible events in Barcelona and other parts of southern Spain. Any of you who have strolled down Las Ramblas, as Jennie and I have done on several occasions, know what a beautiful and lively part of the city it is. The violence that unfolded there is a further, stark reminder of the consequences of blind hatred and intolerance.

So, as we approach the start of a new academic year, let us take heart at the opportunity it affords us to make NYU’s position clear. Racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic hatred, religious intolerance, and extremist violence are an offense to all that is decent. While they persist, let us commit ourselves to standing united in our commitment to diversity, our rejection of hatred and intolerance, and our renunciation of violence.

I fear my breezy letter of welcome will have to wait a while. We have too many things that matter too much to us on our minds right now. But be assured of one thing: the work of the University, its teaching and scholarship, will continue no matter what events are happening in the wider world or what misguided and hurtful words are spoken by our leaders. Our commitment to reason; to knowledge; to unfettered freedom of intellectual enquiry, of speech and robust debate even on topics that are difficult and challenge us – these are our contributions to understanding and human advancement, and they will continue. This has been the way at NYU for the past 186 years, through civil war and world wars, and it will be so now.

This week we are in the midst of many events and moments that have echoes from past years as preparations for the academic year move ahead in full swing. As NYU presidents have done for many decades, I and my wife, Jennie, will be enthusiastically greeting arriving families and brand new students next Sunday on Move-in Day. Let us hope we will not see another Charlottesville or Barcelona, but whatever the new year brings, I take comfort in knowing we shall confront it together.

Enjoy the last few days of your summer break. We’ll see you very soon.

Sincerely,

Andy