At this critical moment in history, let this reflection serve as a snapshot in time of my evolving thoughts, to document the events around me as I’ve experienced them.

Ongoing world-wide anti-war protests have erupted on university campuses with the broad goal of establishing new productive standards regarding university investments and relationships. Some protests have ended peacefully with successful negotiation between protestors and university administration, while others have been met with violence and the forcible removal of students and faculty by police.

Today, the encampment at Hopkins has come to a peaceful resolution with an agreement for an accelerated Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee (PIIAC) review process. Historically, such student-led divestment campaigns through the PIIAC has contributed to the divestment of university funds from publicly traded companies operating in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s as well as total divestment from tobacco companies in the 1990s. More recently, a student-led proposal for fossil fuel divestment submitted in December 2015 and with continued pressure via peaceful protests and sit-ins in November 2016 ultimately led to a response from the PIIAC in September 2017 agreeing to divest from bond holdings in Carbon Underground 200 companies. I hope these previous student-led divestment campaigns provide current students with hope that change is possible but also remind them of the need for continued engagement, dialogue, and de-escalation in order to hold administration accountable to their promises.

I am proud of our students for their collective hard work and selfless commitment to a cause much bigger than themselves.

I am thankful to fellow faculty who served as bridges to encourage adherence to principles of engagement, dialogue, and de-escalation both on the ground and behind the scenes. And I am grateful to administrative leadership for adhering to these principles, even under mounting pressure and uncertainty.

I am humbled by my discussions with students and faculty with diverse perspectives and their willingness to sit with temporary discomfort in order to find common ground regarding these complex and emotional issues.

But I am also saddened by the fear that I have witnessed percolating in the absence of trustworthy information and communication. I am reminded of the importance of all the hidden labor towards building and mending smaller bridges among faculty, among students, and among administration that are ultimately key for creating a stronger, unified collective.

I am personally left to reflect: why do some universities have multi-billion dollar endowments that are invested without the knowledge or input from stakeholders - its students and faculty? How come some university leadership can make unilateral decisions such as to bring police onto campus to suppress the peaceful demonstrations by their own students and faculty without adherence to shared governance and oversight? And ultimately: what is a university and who should it serve?

Short Film Video:


What is a university?
And who does it serve?

Is it an institution of higher education,
Serving the learning goals of the next generation,
Preparing them with the critical thinking and specialized skills
To make meaningful contributions to something bigger than themselves?

Is it an incubator for research,
Serving the public interest using taxpayer dollars,
Pushing the boundaries of knowledge and innovation
To enable breakthrough discoveries for the benefit of all?

Or is it (paraphrased from
“a hedge fund attached to a real-estate empire,
Serving the pockets of a select few billionaire donors,
Prioritizing the efficient maximization of financial returns,
To produce weapons for the military-surveillance state”?

[A combination of the above? Something else entirely?]

So let me ask you:
What is a university?
And who should it serve?