Fiat Common Ground

As our nation prepares to celebrate its birth and foundational commitment to the sanctity of each citizen’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know about an important step Alfred University will be taking effective this fall to better promote such a commitment, thereby further harnessing the diversity and inclusivity that have been at the core of our University’s mission, vision, and values since our inception in 1836.

In generations past, Alfred University students met on the “common ground” of Alumni Hall for their first class in the morning, Western Civilization. It was a required course for all of our students, irrespective of major. Students at the time professed to hate it, perhaps because it was scheduled for 8 a.m. Alumni today, though, often tell me it was among  the most impactful courses they took at Alfred University, with a host of outstanding faculty—Mel Bernstein, Gary Ostrower ‘61, Gary Horowitz, Myron Sibley, Stu Campbell, Tom Peterson, and others—and due to the role that the class played in building community.

For a number of reasons, our required Western Civilization course ended in the late 1990s, leaving our students without that metaphorical “common ground” needed to establish shared values, and create a unifying experience.

Near the end of the spring semester, a racist video shot off-campus but involving Alfred University students appeared on social media, and we knew we needed to take action to address the issue. Education—awareness that, as our values and mission make clear, “respects every individual, fosters intellectual curiosity and growth, promotes and models good citizenship, and encourages enlightened leadership”—is at least part of the answer.

Through the work of a five-person steering team consisting of Hope Childers, professor of art history; Melissa Ryan (professor of English), Oumar Soumahoro ‘17 MBA ‘18 (assistant dean of the College of Business), Bob Stein (professor of political science), and S.K. Sundaram (Inamori professor of materials science and engineering), came the proposal for Common Ground. Underwritten by the Board of Trustees, the extended orientation program will consist of a facilitated discussion that runs through the fall semester and culminates with a gathering on Martin Luther King Day in January 2019. All new undergraduate students, first-year as well as transfers, will be assigned to groups of 15-19; each group will be as diverse as possible in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, geographic background, intended major, extracurricular interests, and so on.

Initially, we had hoped to recruit 15 instructors, each facilitating two Common Ground groups. We were thrilled when more than 35 faculty and staff members, including two vice presidents, and four deans, volunteered. We will choose 30, with each to facilitate one group, and I look forward to being among them.

All incoming students this fall will be asked to read selections from an anthology, Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, which features major contemporary writers like Roxanne Gay, Joyce Carol Oates, Anthony Doerr, Rebecca Solnit, Manuel Muñoz, Richard Russo, and others. Each offers ideas about how to rediscover our common humanity, our common ground.

Our objective is to promote our University values of respect, inclusivity and kindness, as well as a sense of community. We want all students to see themselves as members of an intellectual community, and we want to underscore the unique opportunities Alfred University gives them—getting to know students from different backgrounds, different majors, different ethnicities. One of the objectives of Common Ground will be to have each of our facilitated student groups identify the values that they will commit to living by as citizens of our Alfred University community.

One of the things I have found most attractive about Alfred University is our sense of community. Through Common Ground, we will build on this strength and seek to assure that all incoming students feel as though they are fully invested members of our community and to convey that they have important roles to play in advancing our mission, vision, and values.

Our new students will not find common ground at 8:00 a.m. every weekday morning, but they will share great ideas, be guided by some of the best mentors Alfred University has to offer, and make friends from across our University. We also look forward to publicly posting the syllabus for the program so that any interested members of our community can follow along with the reading assignments and lend your input and support with regard to the endeavor.

Fiat Common Ground!

P.S. I am pleased to inform you that we achieved our record-setting objective of $1.7 million for the Alfred Fund for the 2017-2018 academic year. As of the weekend, we have received $1.703 million in contributions with some additional checks still expected in the mail. Thank you for the nearly 4,000 of you who helped with this worthwhile cause over the course of the recently completed academic year. The members of our Board of Trustees played pivotal roles, notably Carolyn Clark ‘90, Greg Connors ‘92, Kevin Livingston ‘93, and Neal Miller, with some significant incremental contributions down the home stretch. Ed Mandell ’65, a member of our Athletic Hall of Fame, also surprised us with a generous check at a dinner in New York City last Thursday that assured us of reaching our Alfred Fund objective.