MORGANTOWN — In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attempted coup on the U.S. Capitol, the president of West Virginia University took the opportunity to remind the WVU Nation that democracy prevails.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee began his open letter to the Mountaineer community by saying he was at a loss for words after watching what unfolded during the insurrection on the Capitol Complex.
"I have repeatedly said that we must protect the right to free speech and the right to protest — but we must do so civilly and peacefully. There is never a rationale worthy of the violence, mayhem and flagrant disrespect demonstrated that day," Gee said.
The attack took place after a rally in which President Donald J. Trump encouraged thousands of his supporters in attendance to march to the Capitol and interfere with their ceremonial act of certifying the Electoral College votes from the Nov. 3 general election. Five people, including a member of the Capitol Police, were killed in the melee.
"Yesterday, I reflected frequently on what can only be described as an attack on our nation’s democracy. It was incomprehensible and inexcusable. I have also given much thought to what our role as a university should be in the aftermath," Gee said. "I believe that our democracy is sacred, strong and will always prevail — even in the darkest of times."
The mob attack forced members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to take cover in undisclosed locations in the Capitol Complex as the unleashed mob broke windows and furniture and went to the members' offices while sharing the carnage on social media.
Gee said he knew democracy would prevail when he saw members of both chambers return to the building to continue carrying out their Constitutional duty.
"Though interrupted, the people’s representatives were undeterred," Gee said. "I view that determination as a symbol of hope — and as a calling for those in higher education."
Gee reminded the WVU family that education has been a cornerstone of the American Experiment since the nation was founded.
"Our founders knew that our radical experiment in self-government would only succeed if its citizens had the knowledge to reason and debate, to think and to act," Gee said. "Educators at all levels have a covenant with our children and our children’s children: To prepare them to uphold our nation’s wholly connected ideals of individual accountability, collective action and informed debate."
Gee went on to state that universities must provide environments that allow students to continue to develop critical thinking skills, especially in this era of caustic, vapid rhetoric.
"At a time when much public discourse is caustic, fragmented and devoid of real meaning, universities must empower students to develop the ability to think critically and understand compassionately, but also provide a forum for balanced discussion and debate about issues of importance," Gee wrote.
Gee also said universities "have a responsibility to create campus cultures free of racism, bias and social injustice."
"We must encourage people to nourish change by recognizing and stepping beyond their biases. We must forge inclusive communities, where everyone is valued and every voice is heard," he stated.
Beyond seeing through dangerous rhetoric, Gee sad universities are duty-bound to teach students how to discern between a lie and the truth, fact from fiction.
"In a world where information is derived from thirty-second soundbites and unverified postings, a free press is a valued and necessary cornerstone of our democracy. Knowing how to be careful consumers of information will lead to more thoughtful and vibrant discussions of the important issues we face," Gee said.
According to Gee, the tasks he laid out in his letter will involve strong leadership and a great deal of buy-in from the entire university community.
"I urge our faculty, staff and students to see every challenge as an opportunity to think differently, to connect more deeply and to reinvent ourselves for the long-term benefit of our nation," Gee said.
Gee went on to thank federal and state legislators for their continued commitment to passing laws that support an educated society in a democracy. He said the university and lawmakers must continue to work together to develop solutions that will lead to student success that haves them graduate into becoming contributing members of a free society.
And, as an act of contemplation, Gee urged the WVU Community to sit and simply reflect about what happened Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol and what that act of insurrection means to the U.S. long-term.
"When you return to campus, consider how you can work with others to show the world we are better than what they saw," Gee states. "I have no doubt what the world saw that afternoon does not have to be what the world sees today, tomorrow and every day forward.
"We can pioneer change right here on our campus and throughout West Virginia."