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A Commitment to Discourse

By UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

Published Apr 1, 2017 8:00 AM

By sharing ideas and learning from those different from us, we can find answers to society’s difficult questions.


Photo by Amanda Friedman.

Our campus has always been a beacon of ideas, a source of inspiration for those seeking solutions and looking for answers.

From heads of state to renowned physicists to internationally recognized artists, UCLA has welcomed the world for nearly a century. We do so because we believe that it is only through the sharing of ideas, the free exchange of opinions and theories, and learning from those with a past different from our own that we begin finding answers to some of the most difficult questions that face our society.

The next few months exemplify our campus’ commitment to such discourse. At first, the examples I’m about to share may seem like a disparate hodgepodge of unrelated conferences, lectures and celebrations. But they are far more than that: In their own way, they each help create a portrait of the kind of university we strive to be every day.

In early April, we will welcome civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis, whose work with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960s ushered in a new era for our country. He will be presented with our university’s highest honor, the UCLA Medal, during the 5th Annual Winston Doby Lecture, presented by the UCLA Academic Advancement Program.

Just across campus, the “Disability As Spectacle” conference will bring to UCLA more than 200 experts, artists, activist and community members to discuss the future of disability rights and the positive impact disability studies can have at a time when this community continues to make advances in mainstream culture.

This spring, UCLA launches its newest center, one that will study all aspects of the Iranian world. The Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World, established through a private gift, will tap into academic resources across campus to research and understand one of our planet’s richest cultures.

Meanwhile, the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies continues to strengthen its ties with our local and international community, bringing all aspects of Jewish history and culture to campus. The 6th Annual ucLADINO Symposium, held in March, explored the ways in which the Judeo-Spanish language fosters community and creates relationships.

Finally, in May, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of our most celebrated centers: the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. In more than two decades, this center has led the way in our understanding of the politics, culture and religion of this complex and vibrant society.

At first glance, all of these events — a visit from John Lewis, the gathering of thought leaders in disability studies, the creation of a center in Iranian studies, the celebration of another in Japanese studies and the continued strength of the Leve Center — may seem unrelated. But they share one undeniable quality: They will teach us something new, something that may help us navigate these uncertain times.

At UCLA, we strive to be a model of how to bring diverse people and ideas together: arts and sciences, ancient history and high tech, students from East L.A. and east Asia.

We are working across disciplines and cultures to find new understandings and solutions to common problems. The examples here embody the themes of inquiry and inclusiveness that are essential for a healthy society. They represent the breadth of experience that we stitch together into the fabric of a vital institution, providing cutting-edge leadership and insight and nurturing the connections that help sustain our society.

I hope you will engage with our campus over the coming months. I hope you will learn something new and grow in the experience. If that happens, we will have done our duty.