Message from Provost Ducoffe: "An American Dream"

Published: September 1, 2020
By: UW-Parkside Marketing & Communications

(Note: This message was originally shared with UW-Parkside Faculty & Staff on Monday, August 31 as a "Monday Update.")

COVID-19 is still beating us and another terrible shooting, this time close to home, has sparked protest, rage, and destruction in our community. I am thinking about what this means to me, what it says about our country, and what we might do about it at UW-Parkside.

I’m from Montreal, about an hour from the U.S. border. Like most Canadians growing up, I was awash in everything American. I meandered through as an undergraduate commuter, the first in my family to attend college. When it was time, I left to learn more, married, dug into a career, became a U.S. citizen, raised a family, and chased the American Dream that has attracted and excluded countless. I got a good deal of what I came for and increasingly understand that a good deal of it depended on others as well as on access to a high-quality, higher education. 

I wonder about the American Dream for others, for our students, and for those who could be our students?

When I emigrated, the U.S. was the only superpower, democracy was ascendant worldwide, and nations were opening their markets to American goods, services, culture, and science. Today, the vision for our nation’s role in the world has contracted, wealth and influence continue increasing among the few, and our democratic institutions seem less up to their tasks. Many of us don’t believe we can address our biggest challenges. About half do not even vote in presidential elections, almost the lowest rate among highly developed, democratic states. And African Americans, who for most of our nation’s history have been subjected to laws intended to limit their access to the benefits of our more perfect union, are waiting impatiently for the rest of us to recognize this and do more about it.

How well we address our national problems is the report card for our democracy. I don’t think we’ve done that well in recent semesters. Some think we’re doing really poorly. They protest and offer powerful input on what we should do to make improvements. A small number that don’t believe they have another way to be heard, use violence to tell us what they want. If we condone this, we condone lawlessness and dissolution of civil society. We can’t and don’t. But, if we don’t seek to understand why this is happening, how can we move forward?

As a society, we need to better educate ourselves to understand the complex issues we face and participate as citizens in the solutions. Universities, especially those engaged in their communities like UW-Parkside, are institutions well positioned to do this work. This is our work! 

Our Academic Plan elevates strengthening student success, enrollment, curriculum relevance, and campus community as goals. It is based on a theory of change implying more education improves quality of life and the health of our region. We’re making progress in measurable ways on all these goals and will hopefully continue to do so.

This moment in history calls us to reflect more deeply on the health of our democracy and what we can do to create greater access to an American Dream for all our students. And if our next academic plan focuses on the needs of students of color, we can model civic engagement our country will need to heal our democracy.

Rob Ducoffe
Provost & Vice Chancellor, Academic and Student Affairs

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