Interview with the President

Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury

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“Unity College has a very specific, very timely, and incredibly important mission: to prepare people to solve the world’s most pressing environmental problems.  Period.”

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Scientists and Refugees Are Not Our Enemies
A President’s Reflection

February 1, 2017

Unity College Community,

The current national state of affairs has given us all a lot to think about. Many of you have shared your thoughts with me, and several of you have encouraged me to share my thoughts with the campus community.

Clearly, there is uncertainty and worry on campuses and in communities all across our country right now, but while other campuses and other presidents are really troubled, I am confident. I am confident because I know Unity College is not every other campus. Because this community is not just any community. I am confident because of you.

This community is — you are — committed to keep Unity College a safe place to disagree, a place to have the hard conversations, a place to talk — or hug — it out. I’ve seen it more times than I can count. What scares other people, Unity College see as a chance for growth.

Informed free speech is the bedrock of civil society. Unity College has always leveraged the liberal arts to educate global citizens to engage honestly, critically, and compassionately in tough conversations armed only with science and fact. That has been our mission all along. It doesn’t change from one administration to the next. It doesn’t apply to one political philosophy or the other. Free speech and hard science isn’t only for the easy times.

One thing — maybe my favorite thing — about Unity College is that we don’t claim to have all the answers. One side or the other never has the entire answer, never has all the facts, never has a monopoly on truth. Natural resource management and nuisance bears; endangered species and indigenous peoples; climate change and Keystone Pipelines; behavior change and we stubborn, stubborn humans — this is the stuff of our time. And this is the work of America’s Environmental College.

My faculty is prepared and our curriculum is designed to give every student the opportunity and the confidence to explore his or her honest questions without judgment or fear — no matter her background, no matter his skin color, no matter hir gender. Everyday, my students think and work harder than any other students I’ve ever seen. Everyday, my staff challenges us all to be better human beings. Everyday. This is why I am confident.

As for me, I believe that America’s Environmental College and its president have an abiding responsibility to call everyone back to the science — everyone on all sides, no matter how many sides there are. We have an obligation to say the hard words when hard words need to be said. We have an obligation to avoid ad hominem attacks, but to answer untethered policy with the grounding that only science can bring.

Let’s remember who the enemy is. Scientists and refugees are not our enemies. Conservatives and liberals are not our enemies. Hunters and huggers are not our enemies. Let us not be our own worst enemy and let us not make our neighbors into our enemies. Who is the enemy? Apathy and ignorance are our enemies. Bad policy is our enemy. Junk science is our enemy. Suppression of good science and honest thought is our enemy.

It is easy to follow along, to shout when others are shouting, to give in to our emotions and forget compassion, to ignore the facts when the facts are inconvenient. Sometimes it is hard to sound the call for understanding, to take the long view, and to remind the world that the center can hold if we will only let it.

As lifelong students we know that it is always harder to do the math, get the facts, parse the poetry, learn from history, write good policy, and be good people than it is to guess, to ignore others when they don’t agree, and to take the quick win. To be America’s Environmental College requires that we do the right thing even when it is the hard thing.

This is not a time to censor ourselves. It is a time to speak up with brave honesty. It is also a time for bravery in compassion. Let’s all continue to be our best selves for each other.

As a first-generation American, I know I am probably prone to sentimentality when it comes to our history, but I can’t help thinking today of something Abraham Lincoln said:

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

Maybe because I grew up in a very different place, at times like this I am so aware of how fragile freedom can be and of how much work it sometimes requires of us.

As a higher education community, we live in a rarified atmosphere of thoughtful reflection and you have been generous in sharing your time and thoughts with me over the last several days. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a bit of mine, as I believe my primary duty is to provide a safe and inclusive space of all who care about our country, our natural resources, our planet to generate knowledge for a sustainable future.

In Unity,

MPK
Dr. Melik Peter Khoury
President
Unity College

Our Mission Through the framework of sustainability science, Unity College provides a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Through experiential and collaborative learning, our graduates emerge as responsible citizens, environmental stewards, and visionary leaders.

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