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President lauds student engagement in light of recent controversy

Dear Students,

The academic integrity of your college has been called into question of late by spurious digital media posts and the social media virus that ensued.  I write to share some of what I have learned, and what I would urge you to consider.

I learned that you care deeply about your college, its mission, principles, and values, and that you are not easily duped by media posts lacking journalistic integrity.  I could not be more proud of the seriousness of purpose you have shown in your engagement with the issues, evidenced in the Tars Talk on the subject, in the incisive letter to me that came from that discussion and was published in last week’s Sandspur, and in the article written by Jojo Peloquin, also published in last week’s Sandspur.

You knew from the outset that Rollins would never, ever, take disciplinary action against a student for disagreeing with a professor over textual interpretation or ideas.  You live the practice of academic freedom every day in your studies, and you know that Rollins invites diversity of thought and the respectful contest of ideas as core tenants of our mission.

A thorough investigation into the claims made in the initial blog post found that none of these claims could be corroborated.  The conclusion of the inquiry is that what was reported simply did not happen in the classroom in the manner portrayed.  Unfortunately, many people who came across these claims believed what they read on the face of it, and some good and honest people may have lost faith in the College. This is a wrong we must all work together to correct.

Contrary to our affectionate self-criticism that Rollins is a “bubble,” nothing could be further from the truth.  The most basic troubles of our nation, indeed, of global civil society, were thrust upon us with tremendous ferocity.  We have seen how ideological stridency can overwhelm reason and respect.   We have seen how passionately held opinions and misinformation can overrun facts, and how a blind desire to drive an agenda can make truth seem irrelevant.

You did not create these rents in the fabric of our society, but I trust you will show positive leadership in mending them.  All of this makes your Rollins education keenly important and relevant.  Our nation and our world urgently need you, educated as you are, and equipped with the tools of intellect and character necessary for global citizenship and responsible leadership.

It is appropriate and important that Rollins is a campus community where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and practitioners of all faith traditions, in all of their variety, are encouraged to study and teach here.  We could not pursue our mission with integrity without this diversity of thought and belief.  We must, however, seek to be a positive model for the world of what a respectful multi-faith community of learners can look like.   

Your engagement with these issues is also part of your Rollins education.  Your Rollins education is the totality of your academic inquiry and your experience living and learning as members of our campus community.  Just as we expect you to think critically and explore different points of view respectfully in your academic study, so too should this approach, which epitomizes our mission, apply to everything you do and think about here.

Finally, I will leave you with this thought.  H.G. Wells said that “civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”  Let’s work together to make sure education is the victor in this race, and that as we seek to restore equilibrium, we do so with an ethic of care and respect.

Fiat Lux!

President Cornwell

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