Convocation 2008

Provost Teresa Amott
September 4, 2008

Good afternoon, and let me add my own welcome to our students, faculty, administrative and staff colleagues, to the Geneva community, to members of our Board of Trustees, and to our distinguished guests, Eric Liu and Carl Fribolin.

In recent Convocation exercises, we have asked the previous year's recipient of the Faculty Teaching Prize to speak on behalf of the faculty. Professor of History Gebru Tareke, who was honored by his colleagues with the prize last spring, is not able to attend this convocation, but it is entirely fitting as begin an academic year, to note the accomplishments of this remarkable faculty member even in absentia. In selecting Prof. Tareke, the faculty noted his thirty-year record of passion and seriousness as a teacher and scholar, and the many ways in which his work has brought to HWS and the larger scholarly community an historically rich and complex understanding of African and Middle Eastern realities. I am pleased to report that Prof. Tareke's latest book, Comrades against Comrades: A Military History of Ethiopian Revolution is scheduled for publication by Yale University Press this spring. The work is a continuation of his first book, Ethiopia: Power and Protest, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 1991. Let us take a moment to congratulate Prof. Tareke on his many honors and accomplishments.

In Prof. Tareke's absence, we have invited Professor Craig Rimmerman, Chair of the Public Policy Program, to speak today. The chair of the Public Policy program is an especially fitting choice in this election year, when voters will be asked to consider urgent matters of public policy in both the domestic and foreign policy arenas. Permit me a few opening remarks, and then I will more formally introduce Prof. Rimmerman and ask him to come to the podium.

For most students, this will be your first opportunity to vote in a presidential election; for international students, your first opportunity to observe this nation up close in the midst of our disorderly and noisy campaign process. I can think of no better place to be in the midst of a presidential election than on a liberal arts college campus. The choice choice that lies ahead engages many questions of deep import, questions whose answers are to be found in the day to day practice of liberal arts education. Let me provide a few examples:

To know how we should vote when stem cell research is at stake, we must develop a working understanding of the cell; to know how we should vote on energy policy, we must become environmentally literate; to know how best to provide health care for all, we must study economics and politics, to be sure, but also ethics. To avoid being manipulated by campaign ads, we must work toward a sophisticated understanding of racial, ethnic and gender dynamics. To chart America's foreign policy, we must learn more about the rest of the world - the history, politics, religions and cultures of many other nations. Much of this will happen in classes. Some will happen in lectures, HWS VOTES activities, performances and films, residential education, student government, student activities, athletics and in all the moments when we talk with one another. And in these different arenas, you will hear different voices and competing claims. You will need to mobilize every critical skill you have to evaluate these multiple claims to truth and the clashing demands for your vote and your support.

People will be talking at you 24-7, especially as the election nears, so I encourage you to hear one another out in the weeks and months to come. Try to turn the talking into a deliberative dialogue by the simple, but very difficult, act of listening. Try to listen empathically when someone very different from you is talking, try to listen critically to yourself when you are talking, try to listen for evidence and logic, and try to listen openly so that you hear from as many voices as you can. If you do that, we will move from simply voting toward a much deeper practice of deliberative democracy. And if you want to know more about deliberative democracy, ask today's speaker.

Professor Craig Rimmerman, who holds the Joseph P. DiGangi Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences, is above all, a dedicated teacher and mentor to our students, but he is also a scholar and an advocate whose work engages some of today's most complex issues, including youth activism, gay rights and the United States presidency, Professor Rimmerman has published numerous articles and books, the most recent three entitled The Politics of Same Sex Marriage, The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation and The New Citizenship: Unconventional Politics, Activism and Service Another book, scheduled for publication this fall, is a collection of essays from HWS faculty on their experiences with service learning entitled Service Learning and the Liberal Arts.

I am honored to introduce Professor Craig Rimmerman as the faculty speaker for today's Convocation.