Major public universities like UB are in many ways a microcosm of the communities we serve. Through our ideological and cultural diversity, we mirror the complexity of the world around us. We model theoretical and practical responses to the challenges shaping our neighborhoods, our nation and our planet. And we provide a forum where issues and ideas of consequence can be freely and productively examined, questioned, debated and discussed.
Engaging our students as active participants in this intellectual forum is the essence of our educational mission. We seek to prepare our students to succeed in and contribute meaningfully to the world they will inherit as the next generation of leaders in their fields and in their communities. Perhaps we express this role most profoundly by fostering a space for them to openly voice and exchange differing viewpoints.
In an increasingly globalized world, what matters in the sphere of national and world affairs affects us locally, in a critical way and on a daily basis. Within this environment, public universities must be keenly focused on connecting our students to what is happening in our communities, and readying them to be engaged, thoughtful and informed citizens.
At UB, a critical element of the educational experience is helping our students find their own powerful voices in the ongoing dialogue about national and world affairs. And this begins by ensuring that they have a seat at the table where some of the world’s most influential voices lead these conversations.
These conversations start in the seminar room, where our students debate public policy with faculty experts who are actively involved in shaping it. They take place in the lab and out in the field, where students are directly engaged with scholars who are breaking new ground and challenging accepted knowledge in their fields.
And this dialogue grows even richer with the world-renowned artists, scholars, industry leaders and policymakers who come to campus throughout the academic year. UB has been proud to host leaders and pioneers in every conceivable field, including Nobel Laureates such as the 14th Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, Toni Morrison and President Barack Obama—the only sitting U.S. president to speak at UB. We also have had the honor of hosting many other world leaders, including four former U.S. presidents as well as former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair.
Just this year alone, we have invited a wide range of prominent voices to UB, from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to feminism scholar Roxane Gay to astronauts Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly. We hosted then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who cited Buffalo as a model of the positive impact of a vibrant refugee population. And as part of UB’s Critical Conversations lecture series, we hosted Theda Skocpol, the noted Harvard political scientist, who delivered a keynote lecture on the future direction of the Democratic and Republican parties post-election.
The communities our students will serve as citizens and leaders will be healthier and stronger for their engagement in this multifaceted dialogue, whether they are bringing a cross-cultural perspective into their workplaces and neighborhoods; collaborating across fields to solve the urgent challenges of the 21st century; or working to ensure equitable access to social, cultural and economic opportunities in their communities and on national and global levels.
And in today’s globalized world—and tomorrow’s—we need educated citizens and future leaders just like this.