These past several months have not been easy for our Northwood family. COVID-19 has emptied our beautiful campus of students, along with most of our faculty and staff. The dreadful floodwaters of the Tittabawassee River covered our campus, causing millions of dollars of damage. Yet even with these challenges, the Northwood family has been resilient. We have proudly and confidently set our sights on August 24, when we will be open for business and welcome students back onto our campus, and into our classrooms. Unfortunately, these challenges seem less important today and our contagious optimism is being tested once again. Sadly, we have been reminded of the enduring existence of inequality and injustice experienced by African Americans, and the subsequent violence and deaths that have occurred in cities across the country.
I write this letter knowing I am not a race-relations expert, and my understanding of the African American experience is limited. However, I do know the issue of racism is real and the mistreatment of any individual, especially if it is because of one’s race or ethnicity is deplorable, wrong and unacceptable. This letter will not address every aspect of the complex challenges facing the African American community and America, but what it does do is reaffirm to the Northwood family that you can count me and my wife Mary-Ellen, among those who share in the grief and sorrow that comes with any violence, including the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and most recently George Floyd.
Informed Listening and Reflection
Sometimes there can be an urge to respond immediately when we hear of these heartbreaking events. However, in this case I decided to first seek advice, and over the past week I have reached out and listened carefully to many members of Northwood’s African American community. I have spoken with our Black Student Union leaders. I have listened to African American staff, faculty, alumni, incoming first-year students, and other supporters of our university. All were kind enough to share personal stories and perspectives with me. I know their sorrow is deep. Yet, through these discussions, I also heard a message of hope; a collective belief that things can change, and that our Northwood family has the ability to do more to address the enduring issues of racism and inequity.
The challenges before us are complex and must be proactively addressed. In this regard, I received good advice from the leaders of Northwood’s Black Student Union and accepted their kind invitation to join other African American students and allies, at their first “Real Talk” series this fall. Our students will determine the topic most relevant to them later this summer, and I look forward to being present and contributing to the important conversation.
As many of you know, I have a research interest in higher education history. During the past week, I was reminded of education giant, Booker T. Washington, founder of the renowned Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University located in Alabama. Northwood created similar values to those Washington established nearly 140 years ago, including the need for critical thinking, embracing the role of the entrepreneur and being self-reliant in all that you do. Washington also left us with wisdom still relevant today when he said, “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up”. Now is the time for our Northwood family to collectively pull up. It is time for us to “cast down our bucket… [to] all races by whom we are surrounded”.
I am honored to serve Northwood. This is a great university that makes a difference in our society. It is also a place where we can explore topics that may make us uncomfortable. Yet, is that not the purpose of a university; to examine complex issues through honest discussion and civil discourse? I believe it is, and I look forward to seeing our students, faculty and staff return to campus this fall, when we can further explore what we want to be true.
Inclusivity, Unity and The Northwood Idea
Through challenging times, I often seek some hint of inspiration. Today, I found it in the mission of our Black Students Union: “Power in Inclusivity. Power in Unity”. Within our Northwood community, and among our caring students, I am confident that members of our small university can further embrace inclusivity and realize the good that comes from unity. In these challenging times, I again return to history to recognize the wisdom of V. Orval Watts; an educator who created the Northwood Idea decades ago. Dr. Watts reminded us that a Northwood education “is the one way to solve our problems of crime, poverty, prejudice, racism, and war”. This I hold to be true.
As we manage through a global pandemic and set about rebuilding America’s Free Enterprise University campus, my thoughts and prayers are also with the Floyd family, the African American community, our broader Northwood family, and the men and women in uniform, who bravely defend our liberty. More than ever, the Northwood values of Freedom – Respect – Empathy – Spirituality – Honesty – Achievement – Integrity – Responsibility serve as timeless and necessary principles to guide our behavior every day. Together, we must continue to live by Northwood’s unrelenting commitment to develop leaders for a global free enterprise society, while re-committing to our principle to not tolerate racism or injustice of any kind, on our fine campus or in the community.
There is a wonderful common thread that binds us together at Northwood. Yet, it is within our differences that our lives become more interesting, vibrant and fulfilling. During these difficult times, I look to the day when society celebrates equally, those magnificent common threads, and wonderfully diverse differences.