Dear Montclair State University Community:
I am certain that most of you were as horrified as I was yesterday, watching as a violent mob stormed the nation’s Capitol and disrupted the formal certification of the presidential election. The event was a vivid demonstration, if we needed one, of how fragile the line is between the rule of law and chaos, between the exercise of democracy and tyranny.
You will note that I said most of you were as horrified as I. I said that because I am sure that there are, among the University’s community, some who may not have been horrified, that is to say, some who hold views that are different than mine or perhaps different than yours. In a University community, and in a free society, we accept that there will be differing views. As members of a democracy, we will always be called upon to share our communities with those whose views we may abhor. Indeed, doing so is a fundamental requirement of a free society. But what we do not accept, what we absolutely cannot accept, is the violent expression or imposition of anyone’s views on others. All that stands between us and mob-ruled chaos is our commitment to the rule of law and the practices of democracy.
Here at this University we teach and we learn how to search for the facts, how to develop our views, how to speak to and listen to and debate with and influence others. We learn how to build a consensus; we learn how to put issues to a vote and how to live with the result. We learn, through the study of history, the terrible consequences of tyranny and violence, and we explore the very difficult questions about if and when and why it might be justified to resort to violence in defense of our rights.
Over recent years, the University, working with our students, has put tremendous effort into educating our community about the importance of elections and the obligations of citizenship. The reason behind that effort was made compellingly evident yesterday in so many ways.
There is nothing perfect about our society or our democratic practices. They are both flawed, but they must be defended and perfected because they are all that we have to give us and our children a chance at a life in a free society. Tearing down the house because we don’t get what we think is our right only leaves us homeless. Here, our daily task is to teach and to learn a better way.
In the days to come, I urge us to use this deplorable incident as an opportunity to reflect on how we engage in teaching and learning about the values and traditions of our democracy. A starting point could be to read Associate Dean and Professor Leslie Wilson’s thoughtful commentary, published this morning on NJ.com.