Building a More Civil, Open and Respectful Society

Category: Column

At the start of each year we reflect on where we are as a University, and how we can help to solve grand challenges facing the people of Tennessee, our country, and our world – and how we can come together, focus our efforts, and be willing to learn from one another, to truly Be One UT.

But coming together is a challenge in our current culture, where deep-seeded division can be the norm; where vitriol and outrage are often encouraged, and listening and engaging with those who differ from us is considered a sign of weakness. It can be difficult to be open to listening, communicating and even compromising with those that have a different point of view to actually get things done. We need to both model and instruct behavior that is open, civil and respectful so that we can find solutions to tomorrow’s challenges.

Our universities are not immune from this. Our leaders at UT, myself included, are committed to coming together to model a better way. After all, civility is one of Tennessee’s great legacies. The late U.S. Senator Howard Baker said it best, “If we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree… we would soon stop functioning altogether.”

We live in a vast country and a dynamic state that reflects a wide range of people, interests and ideas. Difference should not mean division, it actually makes us stronger. Our strength comes from our diversity. It is something to be celebrated – not something that divides us.

As president of the University of Tennessee System, our goal is to bring people together to find solutions for real world issues. Unity does not come from an echo chamber of thought, rather a collection of varying viewpoints contemplated to achieve a better understanding of one another so that we may move forward, together. We believe in diversity—of people, thought, opinion and intellectual pursuit. We do not shelter those who do not want to hear and discuss differing points of view. But we also recognize there is an important difference between honoring diversity and promoting one particular ideology over another. There is no singular answer to the challenges we face as a society. As such, the university should never require students or faculty to adopt a specific ideology to be successful on any of our campuses. This is not the role of a university nor is it an effective strategy to prepare our students for the interconnected world they will face upon graduation.

Our great university system was created to serve ALL of the people of Tennessee. We are accountable to our students and their parents, to the state and nation, and to the taxpayers.

We must take a leadership role in creating a more civil, open and respectful society…and we will.


Randy Boyd
President, The University of Tennessee System