Colloquy Podcast: How Universities Can Address the Crisis in Democracy
According to the 2023 Democracy Report of the VDEM Institute based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the advances and global levels of democracy made over the past 35 years have been wiped out. Seventy-two percent of the world's population now live in autocracies. Freedom of expression is deteriorating in 35 countries. Government censorship of the media is worsening in 47 countries. Government repression of civil society organizations is worsening in 37 countries. And the quality of elections is worsening in 30 countries.
Dame Louise Richardson, PhD ’89, believes that universities have a key role to play in addressing this crisis. Formerly the head of the universities of Oxford and St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, and now president of the Carnegie Corporation, Richardson says institutions of higher learning can forge a path to more sustainable democracy by modeling a fairer and more representative society, generating and sharing deep knowledge, and advocating for democratic systems.
When I was a child growing up in rural Ireland, one of seven children, university really was a dream destination—a place where Cinderellas could dance with ideas from all over the world and return transformed, empowered to leave their old shoes behind and step into any profession they chose. University offered me a ticket to a new world. A social sphere not defined by religion, or region, family income, race, or gender. A world that held out a different model of belonging. An expanded vision of my own possibilities.
It also offered a newly complex and safely disputed vision of national history, politics, international relations. I loved the way university made me doubt. It challenged my preconceptions. It robbed me of my certitudes. I arrived at university schooled in a version of Irish history entirely at variance with the one I would encounter there, a worldview that attributed blame to Britain for all of Ireland's ills. The irony of this in light of my subsequent career is not lost on me.
My education enabled me to make the journey from County Waterford to where I am now. And it's perhaps because of these beginnings that I tend to think of education as the solution to most problems. Before I begin, though, I'd like to invite you to answer a question in your own mind: What was it you learned at university that changed you the most? I'll come back to that at the end.
Tonight, I'm going to consider the question of how universities can address the crisis in democracy. I'll be making various suggestions. But, fundamentally, I'll keep coming back to the ideas of openness, and mobility, and transformation. Universities are, or should be, models of what participatory democracy looks like. They bring people together from all walks of life to learn, reflect, debate, and think through how we move forward together.
They are places of encounter—social fora as well as research institutes, labs, and libraries. The health of the university, in this sense then, is already a major contributor to the democratic commons. I'd like, if I may, to plant an image in your mind. I think of universities as like rainforests in an overheated political landscape. They are vibrant, complex ecosystems that support diversity of thought that can help clear the air of the toxic emissions of false rumor and support a cooler climate of reasoned debate.
Just as we need to maintain rainforest to help biodiversity loss and climate change, I believe we need to maintain and support our universities to help fight democratic decline. But, first, why is democracy declining? And what are the symptoms that we need to check when we pronounce it to be in failing health? When I speak of a crisis in democracy, I have in mind both the global decline in democratic governments and the national decline in democratic politics in the countries I know best.
When I speak of a crisis in democracy, I have in mind both the global decline in democratic governments and the national decline in democratic politics in the countries I know best.
The heady days not so long ago when American presidents spoke of exporting democracy around the world are long gone. According to the VDEM Democracy Report of 2023, the advances and global levels of democracy made over the past 35 years have been wiped out. Seventy-two percent of the world's population now live in autocracies.
The report demonstrates that freedom of expression is deteriorating in 35 countries. Government censorship of the media is worsening in 47 countries. Government repression of civil society organizations is worsening in 37 countries. And the quality of elections is worsening in 30 countries. The Economist’s Democracy Index of 2020 recorded similar results. Indeed, the worst global score since the index was begun. I think it's in this global context that we witness a decline of trust in politics both in the UK and in the US.
We've witnessed increasing inequality and increasing polarization with the erosion of norms of political accountability. I'll spend a little time considering these factors in turn. But, of course, they're linked to problems that collectively undermine democratic structures just as acid rain, increasing heat, and novel disease can undermine our trees. I've been very struck while living in the UK but remaining closely connected to the US at how the patterns of polarization have altered recently.
Prior to the pandemic, political polarization was acute in both countries as evidenced by the vote for former President Trump and the vote for Brexit. But I think it has accelerated in the US and declined in the UK. And I attribute this difference—now this is a hunch I can't prove it at all—to two institutions, the BBC and the NHS.
Through the BBC, for all its failings, the country came together daily to hear the latest updates on the pandemic. The struggling NHS brought the country together too through its rigorously fair distribution of vaccines and uniform treatment of the sick. Volunteers in the thousands came together to help the NHS help the public. There were no similar unifying institutions in this country.
Now in the UK in particular, one key factor in declining faith in democracy has been declining trust in politics and politicians. Sleaze and corruption and scandals have abounded, such as the VIP lane through which lucrative public contracts were handed to favored private firms. Meanwhile, Partygate has clearly left a lasting bruise on public feeling and a sense of trust being abused.
At the same time, honors are bestowed and official appointments made that are transparently matters of political favor rather than earned by public service or fitness for office. So one shouldn't be entirely surprised when the public start to detect something rancid on the greasy pole and disengage. In 2021, the IPR report warned that the decline in political trust is undermining liberal democracy in the UK. The poll, carried out by YouGov, replicated the historic Gallup poll of 1944, which asked people across Britain whether they thought politicians were out for themselves, their party, or their country.
In 1944, 35 percent of British people saw politicians as merely out for themselves. By 2014, that number was 48 percent. And in 2021, 63 percent. Now, the decline in public trust is not, of course, limited to Britain. In America, the Pew Research Center reported in 2022 that 2 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always. Most of the time, 19 percent.
As Robert Maynard Hutchins once argued, the death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. When we fight the decline of democracy, one of the key factors that we have to contend with is public apathy. People tend to feel that they can change things. If they don't believe that government is anchored in public concern and committed to the public good, then they naturally turn to protecting only the people closest to them, seeking influence through private channels, or supporting anti-democratic charlatans claiming to speak for them.
If [citizens] don't believe that government is anchored in public concern and committed to the public good, then they naturally turn to protecting only the people closest to them, seeking influence through private channels, or supporting anti-democratic charlatans claiming to speak for them.
In the anger and mistrust that many feel about politics and the effectiveness of their vote or their voice in driving political action, there has been increasing polarization with a visible move away from the centrist or bipartisan politics—and increasing normalization of what would once have been considered extreme positions. We've seen this with Le Pen in France, Meloni in Italy, the Vox Party in Spain, the Freedom Party in Austria, Law and Justice in Poland, Pacification in Greece, and so on and so on.
Recent electoral retreats for what were the outliers in Spain, Poland, and even the midterm elections here don't undermine the general trend of the extremes becoming mainstream. As [William Butler] Yeats wrote at the end of the First World War and on the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence, "Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity."
This does not seem like an exaggerated description of American politics at the moment when the polarization of political opinions has deteriorated into what's called affective polarization, when one actively dislikes those with whom one disagrees. As we know, what happens in the US reverberates around the rest of the world. In 2022, two-thirds of Americans believed that political divisions in their country had gotten worse since the beginning of 2021. More disturbingly, few saw things improving in the coming years. Sixty-two percent expected an increase in political divisions.
Now while only 14 percent of Americans said that a civil war was very likely in the next decade, 43 percent said it was at least somewhat likely. Where people foresee a future of struggle rather than adventure, they will be less likely to invest in bridges and more likely to invest in fences or, worse, guns. US institutions survived badly weakened one Trump presidency. It is difficult to have confidence that they would survive another.
My first initiative on becoming president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York has been to launch a Carnegie Fellows Program in which we will select 30 scholars each year and support their research for two years as they conduct research on political polarization in the US and make recommendations to us on how it might be ameliorated. And we will then use their ideas and insights to inform our future grant-making.
We badly need to rebuild the forces of cohesion and return to a politics in which people can listen, talk, and negotiate across party political divides and find common ground, even while respecting each other's differences. We're certainly not the only foundation trying to step into this yawning space. We have joined a number of other foundations and two other collaborative initiatives, one to invest in local news and another to invest in local civic infrastructure, in an effort to redress the collapse of the center ground in local politics.
The background to this increasing polarization of political views is entrenched and deepening inequality in most Western democracies. In 1989, in Britain, a rich person had 6,000 times the wealth of the average person. Today, they have 18,000 times the wealth of the average person. In 1965, a typical corporate CEO earned about 20 times the salary of a typical worker. Guess what the ratio is today. It's 278 to 1.
Today, the US ranks towards the bottom of industrialized countries in terms of social mobility. Young people in both the US and the UK feel the intense heat of the property market and the uncontrolled fire of global warming as threatening to scorch their life ambitions before they've even had a chance to bloom. Where people perceive fault lines hardening in financial terms, they're less likely to come together ideologically to perceive their fortunes as linked.
They may participate less often in democratic fora, both locally and nationally, whether it's joining a community board, a trade union, or voting in an election. The crisis in democracy is then underwritten by a growing sense that shared interests and mutual decision-making are less powerful than the actions and personalities of key players who hold the most valuable political cards and will play them according to the rules of their own making.
There are signs in more than one country that the norms of accountability that once governed democratic processes are beginning to be eroded. Politicians and lawmakers withdrawing from long-established treaties and laws protecting human rights, seeking to strengthen their own hand, and weakening that of anyone challenging them. Client journalism replacing open public interrogation of political policies by a free press and opposition parties.
Often the picture that emerges reflects the fact that many democratic institutions—and I can't help thinking of the electoral college or the Supreme Court here—were created in an earlier era and are now like tall ships creaking at the seams to navigate the twenty-first-century reality of digital democracies. The US Supreme Court, for example, is tied to no formal code of ethics . . . There need to be better laws protecting democratic rules and norms, limiting the power of individuals and cliques, regulating money in politics, and ensuring that all votes really do count. If not, democracy becomes a mere flag flown by a ship that to many people seems rigged by pirates to whom they have no connection and who do not have their best interests at heart.
What can universities really do in the face of this multifaceted crisis in democracy? Surely, we are canoes before the rough seas of political power and the winds of global change.
Well, my talk is now going to take a slightly less gloomy turn, which will probably relieve you. For I really do believe that universities have a greater ability than they realize to alter outcomes and secure positive change when it comes to our democracies and how they function.
But it will require courage, and determination, and, wherever possible, a united response to external pressure in order to leverage the full power of the sector for good. One measure of universities’ power is what is called the diploma divide. In the US, it has become clear that in addition to securing between 65 percent and 70 percent higher income, educational attainment is increasingly the best predictor of how Americans will vote.
If an American has a college education, they are more likely to vote Democrat. Those without a college degree are more likely to vote Republican. Crucially, the more educated are also more likely to vote in the first place. They are also more likely to volunteer and to participate in civic society. Interestingly, the same effect has been studied in both Britain and France, in both general elections and in the Brexit referendum in 2016.
In these countries, the college-educated tended to swing towards more liberal views and those without a college degree to more conservative ones. One can posit many theories why this is so and, of course, there will be socioeconomic factors at work too, but financial stability and social class don't in themselves explain the diploma divide. Whatever the active ingredients are in the mix, higher education is a mind-altering substance.
Certainly, education has a major effect on democratic outcomes. It's not altogether surprising that this should be so. Education exposes us to differences and ideally makes us more open to diversity of origin, skin color, belief, religion, gender, sexuality. It doesn't surprise me at all that college graduates in the UK voting in the Brexit referendum were keen for Britain to retain membership of the EU. They were likely to have traveled and studied in Europe and shared classrooms with Europeans. Their feelings about Europe were, on balance, likely to be more positive than those of voters who resented governance from Brussels or who feared a dramatic influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Now, before you cry foul, I'm not suggesting that universities should pack in more students to obtain any specific political outcome. I'm merely noting that college education does have a potent political effect, and that one of the effects seems to be to increase participation in democracy in the first place. Another effect seems to be to increase liberalism in its broadest sense of support for social inclusivity.
College education does have a potent political effect . . . one of the effects seems to be to increase participation in democracy in the first place.
If we are looking for a way back from polarization, extremism, and mistrust in politics, to build a new platform for openness and democratic thought in which a wide range of ideas can safely be tested, then we could do a lot worse than look to universities as spaces that have a proven record in fostering belief in the possibilities of political participation and civic discourse. When we make the benefits of a university education as widely available as possible through increased accessibility, digital outreach, part-time study options, and so on, we shrink the diploma divide, which seems such a potent source of mistrust and polarization.
It's also very likely that we will be expanding the views of those who have studied with us. That expansion includes equipping people to understand political ideas and systems and to participate better in democracy at a local and a national level, whatever their political sympathies and with greater access to a wider range of ideas. In view of the fragile state of our democracy, I think universities must confront our responsibility for the diploma divide. In light of the grave difficulties and differences, the grave differences in life trajectory, in income, in health, even in longevity between those who do and do not have a university degree, is it legitimate to continue to ignore those who do not benefit?
Arguably, quite aside from ethical considerations, it may well prove to be in our self-interest to assume some responsibility for these outcomes. The declining trust in universities . . . as you probably know, a recent Gallup poll has indicated that confidence in higher education institutions has dropped by 21 percent in this country since 2015, by 37 percent among Republicans. This suggests that we could well be harmed by public policy and playing to those who have not benefited from a university education and seeing themselves as subsidizing.
Universities, then, are already key nurturers and preservers of democracy. They are, as I've suggested, complex ecosystems in which a diverse group of people can find habitats that support their intellectual and imaginative growth. They are, from an ideas point of view, species-rich. Just as rainforests are essential sites of biodiversity that help us to conserve and generate a host of life forms, some of them new to human eyes, so universities are essential sites that help us to conserve and generate living knowledge to the greater benefit of humankind.
We need to preserve them. And more than that, to preserve their health, to resist attempts to destroy their long-term benefits for short-term gain. Just as rainforests sequester carbon—helping to support our atmosphere, removing toxins, and making air breathable—universities are crucial to supporting a healthier atmosphere in civil discourse based on facts, reasoned debate, and broad-mindedness. But to achieve this, universities need to consciously foster tolerance and encourage participation.
In their teaching, particularly their insistence on teaching respect for global histories, the legacies of peaceful protest, and the evolution of democratic thought, universities can educate students to a wide arc of cultural traditions and a less Western-centric idea of development than was once the norm. They can train students to see issues from multiple perspectives, to practice shifting viewpoints, to argue from one side and then the other. They can help students to develop their mental flexibility as well as strength. They can foster understanding of different political practices and consider how to improve democratic systems. They can teach students how to dispute civilly and well.
We need to be nimbler at creating more welcoming, less gladiatorial spaces and better constructive models for debate in which there is room for more shades of opinion and more diverse faces and voices to be seen and heard. If we are to be convincing in this endeavor, we need to have more ideological diversity among our faculty and a greater willingness to engage publicly and respectfully across different perspectives.
Universities can also consciously help students gain experience in thinking collaboratively as well as individually. Students benefit from learning how to negotiate, how to make concessions, how to change their minds and enjoy doing so, how to find a workable solution to a problem that has many different actors with different priorities. Not merely scoring points but building consensus.
Students who have this experience in university will surely translate it into political participation post-university and arrest the escalating rise in youth disillusionment with politics. Universities can model democracy, the good society, the fair workplace, the well-run debating chamber where everyone feels welcome to speak. They can also model equal rights and fairness, particularly in being inclusive and committed to policies that allow access to higher education on the basis of merit and potential rather than the advantage of social class, prior educational privilege, family connections, or sporting prowess.
Universities also need to make it easier for disadvantaged students to get there and to get on once they are there. We need to see this as an investment in democracy in its widest sense. It is part of how we keep our institutions and public spaces open, fair, and inclusive. If we want a more representative parliamentary democracy or any kind of democracy, universities are a really good place to affirm equality of opportunity and help create a more diverse cohort of leaders, managers, and voters.
It goes without saying that universities as wealthy as this one are in a position to be extremely generous, but the numbers Harvard touches are relatively small. But the question is whether institutions like Harvard have a responsibility to those beyond its gates. In addition to being accessible, universities need to be safe. They have a long and proud tradition of acting as sanctuaries for scholars suffering from repressive governments and political threats to their safety, and for those who've been forcibly displaced by war, famine, or other forms of social collapse.
Many universities during the Second World War took in eminent scholars fleeing from the Nazis. Some of the most generous American colleges in accepting Jewish refugee scholars were historically Black universities. Teachers who have themselves known discrimination stretched out a hand of friendship to those of a different skin color who had also faced repression.
Resisting tyranny is another important way that universities address the crisis in democracy. They enable voices to be heard and research to progress that would otherwise be silenced. One of my most uplifting experiences at Oxford was watching the central university and the colleges come together, which doesn't happen very often, to support Ukrainian students and scholars.
We decided to offer up to 20 full scholarships to Ukrainian students, and we did this in the confident assumption that we'd get a handful of applications. And we got over 800 applications. More than 200 of them were qualified, and we took 20 students. At Carnegie, we are supporting some programs, including one based here at Oxford, to help both Ukrainian and Russian scholars who are displaced by the war. Here, our efforts are focused on supporting scholars to remain in the region so we can better facilitate their return post-conflict to rebuild their universities.
And then freedom of speech. I believe that universities should be places where freedom of speech is practiced daily, and students and staff have the right to challenge—and offend—one another intellectually in an open forum. There are naturally well-established legal limits to all freedom of speech, and I'm not suggesting for a moment that we violate them. But I do believe that we should facilitate the expression of all legal speech.
We need to have more ideological diversity among our faculty and a greater willingness to engage publicly and respectfully across different perspectives.
Surely, it is better to hear an extreme view expressed openly and challenged robustly than for unpopular speakers to be canceled before they can say a word or for zealots of any hue to speak only behind closed doors to a loyal following. The British government, as you may know, has recently appointed a free speech czar to regulate universities. Personally, I find this difficult to see as anything other than a populist move in the culture wars and an effort to undermine the autonomy of universities.
It comes from the very same government that gave us the Prevent legislation, which prohibits the expression of views antithetical to British values at British universities. I fear the UK government's commitment to freedom of speech, and they are very far from alone in this, is limited to speech with which they agree. Recently, in Britain, free speech has become a weapon in the arsenal of the right against the left. But we must never allow freedom of speech to be owned by the left or the right. All universities, I believe, should see it as their mission to uphold.
It's also the privilege of universities to keep open channels of academic communication in which international conflict or dispute means that other forms of diplomacy are narrowed or closed. Never underestimate the power of universities to continue intellectual and social dialogue that benefits democracy and diplomatic relationships. Brexit, as you know, has threatened relationships between Britain and Europe in the worlds of commerce and politics. But British and American universities continue to exchange ideas, colleagues, students—fewer students but still students—providing wildlife corridors that allow—I know you're getting fed up with this metaphor—free movement and collaborative projects to thrive. It's imperative that they continue to do so.
Major threats to future human peace and security transcend national borders. From climate change and biodiversity loss to invasive species, new diseases, microbial resistance to antibiotics, hostile developments, and AI warfare, we need the open knowledge sharing and the trusted partnerships that universities provide to respond quickly and effectively. As threats to peace and security are typically also threats to democratic function, universities could probably be regarded as circuit breakers for sudden global shocks. In strengthening their international partnerships and soft diplomacy, they protect our global commons.
I tend to think that a good example of this is the COVID vaccine developed by Oxford University during the pandemic in collaboration with global partners in business and research, including the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, research centers in Kenya and Thailand, testing centers in South Africa and Brazil, and manufacturing centers in India. Universities are also reliable knowledge banks that stay open even during an international crash. They provide remarkable services, often at cost. Again, the Oxford COVID vaccine, which was distributed at cost, in this regard, is both a literal example and a metaphor. I think universities can help us to vaccinate people against disease but also against the viruses of misinformation and hate speech.
Universities are or should be havens of research, reason, debate, knowledge-based evidence, and planning for the future. This research serves many ends that actively support democracy. It can show us how to understand our world, how best to alleviate poverty and enhance public health, explain voting patterns, democratize digital access to information. It can help the world to predict the energy needs plus the likelihood of pandemics and other catastrophes and protect them from their worst effects.
In addition, of course, the curiosity-driven research that belongs in and is nurtured by universities often has unintended but significant benefit through technological and scientific discoveries—from batteries to radio waves, not to mention gene editing. Universities also investigate and disseminate the truth of history, of identity, of culture making it less easy to spin false narratives. This has never been more important.
Conspiracy theories are rife, and the digital attempts to confuse and manipulate the public with misinformation and conspiracy theories have been far too successful. We've all read reports of the percentage of the American and British population who believe things that we know to be fanciful, such as that COVID was a hoax. The pernicious and widespread effect of this toxic rumor-mongering via social media includes fanning climate change denial and, equally worrying, spreading the message—apparently believed by one in seven British people and one in five Americans—that violence is a fair response to these government conspiracies.
These days, investigative journalism is underfunded, and media control is in too few hands. In many countries, journalists fear for their lives when they report on politically contentious issues. Even in the heart of Europe, it is possible for journalists to be murdered in cold blood. Journalism is further undermined when important stories, such as those about the climate crisis, simply don't run because they are blocked by editors who think it's too risky, too downbeat, or too offensive to powerful patrons.
At Carnegie, we have a program called Bridging The Gap through which we fund the policy-relevant work of academics to ensure that public policy will be informed by the best academic work available. We're also supporting efforts to encourage American universities to follow their British counterparts by incorporating political impact, or sorry, public impact into criteria for academic promotion, and to move away from the view still widely held in the social sciences that applied work is somehow less worthy.
I would love to see universities step up and help supply the gap in the digital newsstands with reliable fact-based, long- and short-form takes on subjects of public importance. We need to get better at communicating our research on climate, science, and new technologies to a wider public readership not only in journal articles but in accessible digests and thought pieces. It goes without saying that to be credible, our research has to be objective and evidence-based. You can imagine funded research fellowships and partnerships with trusted journalists in which evidence is properly peer-reviewed, for example.
Universities have been in the habit of using their communications teams largely to disseminate information about their own achievements, prizes won, goals met, gifts received, buildings opened. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But what if we regarded our media potential differently and became— instead of self-advertisers—trusted advisors, whose readers turned to them for weekly information without a political party agenda or audience numbers to keep up? We can become staunch bastions of truth holding the eroding line of balance and accountability, preventing the flood of misinformation from overwhelming the digital commons.
[Universities] can become staunch bastions of truth holding the eroding line of balance and accountability, preventing the flood of misinformation from overwhelming the digital commons.
These issues that I have discussed constitute a crisis in democracy and clearly are a great deal more than universities alone can tackle. But I persist in believing that we have a key role to play as there is everything to play for. To return to Hutchins's quote, "The death of democracy is not likely to be assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."
In a way, this is actually quite empowering. The more we care, the less likely extinction becomes. The more we nourish democracy’s roots, the more likely it will continue to spread and shelter us. Democracy isn't a totem. It takes no pleasure from our belief in it or our worship of it. It won't go on working like a charm whether we notice or not. Rather, it is like all relationships; something we have to keep committing to. We make it afresh each day in each generation. We have to keep choosing it, advocating for it, strengthening it. We have to be politically present and actively engaged even when things are far from perfect.
Supporting democracy is also a continuous process. It's about being willing to speak up and be heard. It’s about holding politicians to account and improving the systems that force them to negotiate, to serve all their constituents fairly, to adhere to national and international rules and norms, to accommodate a wide range of public voices. Democracy isn't just what happens at the polls every four or five years. It is government by the people on the principle that political authority stems from them, and the ground up as a tree is held fast by its roots.
Clearly, no one university can solve the crisis in democracy, but perhaps many universities can. I think that together we are greater than we allow and wiser than we think and stronger than we know. Our universities have knowledge that all governments need. Our research shapes the future. Our staff and students are among the best minds of every generation.
We can advocate for the democratic systems that we need to thrive. We can channel our work into preserving, promoting and enhancing democracy. We can be models for the fairer and more representative society that we want and sowers of the seeds of the rainforest of the future, both academic and literal. These outcomes won't be handed to us. On a planet in crisis, sudden unforeseen stresses, tipping points, and abrupt political changes are likely, as we have seen in the past few weeks.
But I think we ought to see it as part of our job as universities conceived in its widest ethical dimension to be ahead of the curve, staunchly to defend experts and the deep knowledge they represent, and to keep the public well informed, the policy options visible, and the channels of communication open, clear, fair, and tolerant between the many different actors who participate and benefit from universities.
We must, above all, be democratic ourselves and true to the highest ideal of what the university represents. We're more than research centers. More than businesses. More than factories producing well-trained future employees or saleable patents or generous alumni. We are, as the etymology of the word university suggests, whole entire encompassing multitudes. We offer a space for all different forms of knowledge, and where people from all over the world can come together to think, study, share, write debate, come closer, and work together to become their best selves.
Inherent in that citizenship of learning and sharing of knowledge is the pathway to a more sustainable democracy. It's a path we urgently need to find and to follow. In closing, let me return to the question I posed at the beginning: What is the thing you learned in college that changed you the most? I know what it was for me. When I went to Trinity, I learned that to see the Irish and English history separately, purely as that of colonized and colonist, was to draw a line through an intellectual map that ignored the interplay of ideas and cultures that had formed our shared heritage.
I began to integrate myself intellectually to be able to see from both sides. Never has that ability been more important than it is now. At a time of international conflict, when ideological battle lines are drawn, the specter of global shortages hovers over the future. Extreme nationalism and resistance to freedom of movement is growing. Higher education and the literal and figurative mobility it enhances is crucial to a more hopeful, broader sense of belonging, a curiosity about other languages, other histories, other cultures.
Thank you again for so kindly inviting me and for listening so attentively tonight.