Maine Memo — September 16

Thank you to all as we move into week three of the fall 2020 semester. It is because of everyone’s collective efforts that we are able to continue our learning, research and outreach. Classes are meeting in several modalities, research is underway and our partnerships across Maine are growing. As Maine’s research university, we are continuing our leadership through the pandemic, and we constantly search for new ways to grow. The pandemic forces us to grapple with a changed world and we cannot expect to return to some former state. Rather, we need to evaluate how our new circumstances bring new possibilities and opportunities. As we explore new possibilities and opportunities, we learn more about our past.

And while we make progress, we also learn more about why such work must be undertaken. Recently, Karen Sieber of UMaine’s Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center shared with me her important research about Red Summer events nationwide, including an incident of racial violence that occurred at the University of Maine in 1919. She provided press accounts of a horrific act in which two Black UMaine students, brothers Roger and Samuel Courtney, were “tarred and feathered” by a large group of white students and community members.

Both personally and as president of our university, I am appalled by this egregious event in our history. I extend my deepest apologies to the family of Roger and Samuel Courtney. We should all be alarmed by how such abhorrent local violence resonates not just with similar and widespread events in the past, but also with recent events in contemporary America. There is much in UMaine’s past for which we all can be truly proud. But we cannot shy away from confronting and atoning for our university’s more painful moments. For me, while learning about this piece of our history leaves me angry and embarrassed, it also strengthens my resolve to pursue diversity and inclusive excellence today.

Despite the dynamic nature of the challenges we face, UMaine retains important constant values: inclusive excellence at the core; unambiguous commitment to equity; and recognition of the centrality of diversity to a great university. Last week, the newly formed President’s Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion held its inaugural meeting. This standing council is charged to do many things, all with an emphasis on actions that advance excellence, equity and inclusion. The first part of the council’s charge is: “What are areas of systemic racism and other structural impediments to diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Maine, and what policies and practices must be changed and reformed? In particular, what positions, realignments of responsibility and other changes are most urgently needed?” Watch for campuswide opportunities to engage with the council’s work. And watch for change.

Engage in the many initiatives and activities underway across campus, and be part of making change.

No single effort will by itself move the university to a place of full inclusive excellence, but collectively and cumulatively they move us closer.

History helps us better understand the present and the work to create a future that more fully realizes our best values. We are poised to make a difference today. I urge everyone to contribute to defining the better tomorrow that we want for the University of Maine.