Dear Centre College Community:
It is an honor and privilege to officially join the Centre College community today as your twenty-first president. Over the past months, I have increasingly grown to appreciate the interconnected and dedicated support network made up of Centre alumni, students, families, faculty, staff, and many other friends of the College. Your shared commitment to supporting each other and to improving our world has provided me with a guiding light of hopefulness through these months of physical distancing brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.
Today, as I walked onto our beautiful campus, I have never been more appreciative to be part of a community that strives to learn and grow together, dedicating ourselves to being actively engaged in improving our world. This is a place with a clear purpose! And pursuing a purpose-driven education has never been needed more in our world. Dina and I are extremely humbled by the warm Centre welcome you have extended to us, and we are dedicated to working with you to achieve a very bright—and purposeful—future.
When I gratefully accepted the opportunity this past January to serve as the president of Centre College, my intention was to take office on July 1 under the relative calm of summer, when classes are not in session, and ease into my new role, pondering how best to begin efforts in support of my passion for purpose-driven education. Little did I know that my arrival in Danville would involve, on day one, navigating significant challenges that have devastated the health and well-being of millions, crippled economies, and exacerbated already simmering tensions along the lines of race, ethnicity, and other identities. I’m speaking, of course, not just of the global pandemic but also the sustained protests against racial injustice that have spread beyond the streets of Minneapolis and Louisville to all corners of the earth.
But if life is all about timing, I would strongly suggest that never before has there been a moment when a focus on purpose and meaning is more necessary in the context of education. As a dedicated champion of the liberal arts, something shared in common with the Centre community, I am a firm believer in the notion that learning should be devoted to higher causes and purposes well beyond our own particular interests and desires. The world needs help, and I know that Centre can and must play an important role in being a force for good to treat and heal those things that seek to undermine our health as individuals and as a nation. At Centre, I will be dedicated to helping us move the world forward.
This spring as I have met and learned more from a wide variety of students, alumni, faculty and staff in anticipation of this day, I have been proud to see so many members of the Centre community actively working on issues related to our societal ills of racism, bias, prejudice, and institutionalized inequities. I look forward to contributing to the creation of a more just and equitable campus, a place where all students, faculty, and staff can work and learn in an environment in which they will thrive. Our community of scholars and learners flourishes when we are dedicated to ensuring that each and every one of us experiences an inclusive campus. I am grateful to all of you who have already committed yourselves tirelessly to advancing the work of anti-racism at Centre and in your home communities. I look forward to joining you in this work as we strive actively to implement helpful ideas into our daily practices and policies. In the coming months, working with our Board of Trustees, students, faculty, alumni, and staff, I will be fully engaged with you in this ongoing work at Centre. I look forward to partnering with you in this great moral challenge and social demand.
As I join you today, it is important to acknowledge that for many of us it is a critical moment to learn more about the history of racism and contribute to lasting societal change. For me personally, as a scholar-teacher and college administrator who strives to better understand and address issues of racism, inequity, and injustice, I am dedicated to learning from inspirational scholars, artists, and thought leaders on these topics. As I start my work in the President’s Office, I am reflecting on the ideas, stories, and even data from scholars and thinkers like Paul C. Taylor, Imani Perry, Eddie Glaude, Jr., Ta-Nehisi Coates, Claudia Rankine, Jesmyn Ward, Colson Whitehead, Kiese Laymon, Ijeoma Oluo, Toni Morrison, Ibram X. Kendi, and Sarah M. Broom, all of whom I have read or re-read in the past few months. By referencing these authors in my opening note to you, I hope that our mutual interests in the important work from these writers and thinkers might inspire many productive future conversations about our desire for Centre to increasingly provide an excellent educational experience for all of our students. As we get to know each other in the coming months and years, I eagerly anticipate every opportunity to talk with you about these and other authors.
Now that I’ve shared my recent reading list, I hope you will do the same with me. I will also be interested in hearing from you about the values that energize this learning community and how they can be rethought and reimagined so that the purpose of a Centre education is focused on developing the skills and tools needed to heal divisions and promote greater understanding. Our work of recreating a valuable and meaningful educational experience at Centre is a constant social project. I want to join together with you to listen intently, valuing compromise to find common ground and seeking to build bridges.
Indeed, as I begin serving in this new role that I consider the privilege of a lifetime, I look forward to working with the widest spectrum of the Centre community to listen and learn about how we continue to educate thoughtful, compassionate leaders who serve their communities with humility and respect as they work to build a more just, humane, safe, and healthy world.
Since I begin from the premise that the study of the liberal arts is rooted in the search for truth and purpose, I am convinced that the residential liberal arts college setting is the perfect model to bring people together in a shared space to grapple with difficult questions. Working together, eating together, and living together are essential to better embrace our differences and promote respect for our shared humanity. The more Centre can represent the diversity of experiences and backgrounds of our nation, the better we will be positioned to find what purpose each of us is here for and how this is tied to the ideals that make life worth living. I am dedicated to joining you as we strive to make the Centre community a model for how to live together in a nurturing, challenging, and purposeful community.
At the same time that I see urgency in all our efforts, I ask for some degree of patience as we plan best how to move forward, whether it’s for our reopening this fall or strategies for our future. But let’s commit to doing it together. By tapping the fullest breadth of our resources as a community, we stand the best chance to realize a brighter tomorrow and honor the legacy of those who established our foundations. While I look forward to joining this unique and historic community as it begins its third century of service devoted to preparing young people for lives of learning, leadership, and service, above all I anticipate the many and marvelous ways in which we will move this institution forward one step at a time, in leaps and bounds, driven by purpose.
And speaking of our plans for the fall semester, I am thankful today for the many faculty, students, staff, and senior administrators who have worked non-stop for the past four months to assure that our educational experiences remain exceptional during this time of pandemic disruptions. As previously announced, we are expecting to start the fall semester on campus and in-person in August, ending our semester just before Thanksgiving. We are also making plans and arrangements for many other possible scenarios that may come our way this year due to the uncertainties with the pandemic. With strong partnerships and advisors in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the city of Danville, and the incredible medical staff at our local regional medical center, the College is well positioned to take on the challenges of our time. Moving through this global health challenge together, I am grateful for your patience as we develop and implement new learning and social processes and policies. During this moment of uncertainty, I greatly appreciate your ongoing commitment to Centre College. And for our current students and families, and those soon joining us for the first time, I am extremely grateful for your understanding and perseverance as we plan for all the challenges of the next few months.
As Dina and I moved to Danville this week with our dog, Blue, we reflected on past transitions and new beginnings in our lives. One memory feels particularly apt right now. About twenty years ago we moved into a new city and home with only a few friends and family in the region. The feelings of isolation that can happen during a big transition were quickly overcome as a result of a major windstorm that hit the area, toppling hundreds of trees throughout our neighborhood and cutting off power to most of the city. Within minutes of the storm passing, all of our neighbors came out of their houses. We banded together with saws and rakes, and began the arduous work of reclaiming our homes, yards, and streets after “Hurricane Elvis” wreaked physical havoc. In the aftermath of the storm, new friendships were formed and lasting bonds were made between strangers who quickly began to identify as part of a lively neighborhood community.
There has never been a more important time for the Centre community to have a bold, positive, and lasting impact on our world. It is a perfect time to put aside our differences and join together in our mutual work to build an even better, purposeful campus community, a stronger network in Danville and the greater region, and an increasingly vibrant and supportive worldwide community of Centre alumni and friends. As we hope that the pandemic storm recedes and we all come out of our houses again in the coming months, I look forward to meeting you in person and joining you in the continuing growth and evolution of Centre College.
Dr. Milton C. Moreland
21st President of Centre College
July 1, 2020