Dear MSU family and friends,
I recently received a letter from more than 75 concerned MSU faculty and staff members who asked if I would consider addressing the post-election cultural climate on our campus. In response, I want to share that at a recent gathering of statewide leaders in Jackson, I had occasion to witness a remarkable exchange between two political rivals that should be a teachable moment for all of us. Former Governor William Winter, a proud Democrat, and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, a proud Republican, were political rivals in a 1984 U.S. Senate campaign in our state.
At this event, both Senator Cochran and Governor Winter were jointly honored for their long and distinguished careers in public service. Their policy views strongly differed over the years on some questions. They supported different candidates in elections. They both held fast to their principles. But their mutual respect, their genuine friendship, and their sense of the common good endured, grew, and thrives to this day. They remain friends who respectfully disagree – and that reality was fondly exhibited to the applause of all attending the event.
That example is one that I hope will be embraced by all of us as our country moves forward after the divisions of the recent election. Clearly, the election produced strong emotions and reactions across our nation and our university community is not immune to those feelings. I take heart at the fact that our students, faculty, and staff have approached those significant differences from a standpoint of civility and mutual respect that is in keeping with our university’s long-held values.
As a reminder, earlier this year I wrote to our campus family in response to passage of HB 1523 by the Mississippi Legislature, and those comments are still relevant today. I said, “Let me assure each of you that Mississippi State University’s mission and our core values are unchanged. MSU is committed to creating and maintaining a campus community that reflects the rich diversity of this nation – an environment in which differences are welcomed, embraced, and valued. Progress toward a campus that fully welcomes and respects differences and embraces the concept of inclusion is contingent on each individual’s commitment. All of us must work together to that end – and I remain committed to that goal."
All Americans are free to disagree over political and social matters and to do so with great passion and fervor. Free speech is a pendulum that, at times, swings widely across the political spectrum. It isn’t always pleasant. But civility and principled disagreements are the hallmarks of our democracy. I call on all members of the Bulldog family to continue to cling to those core values as we move forward as a nation.
As the holidays approach, I hope we can all resolve to unite in the spirit of the season and in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding throughout our proud and very diverse Bulldog family.
Mark E. Keenum, President
Mississippi State University