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UR President's Post-Election Letter Strikes Sour Note for Some

Nov 10, 2016

A letter sent to the University of Rochester community from University President Joel Seligman Wednesday has sparked some sharp criticism on social media.

The university tweeted out Seligman's letter a day after the presidential election. Seligman directed students, faculty, and staff who feel saddened by the outcome of the election to take advantage of campus resources if they need support.

The letter drew some scorn from people on Twitter, who accused the university of coddling students and failing to consider other political views.

Strategic communications expert Amit Chitre, CEO of R3 Communications, says Seligman missed an opportunity to send a more inclusive message.

"The letter itself said he was not speaking as a partisan; he was speaking to all members of the community, but when you got into the context of the letter, it really wasn't all members of the community,” Chitre said. “In fact, the folks within the U of R community that might have been pleased with the election results were not represented in that letter at all."

Chitre said he has spoken to several physicians at the University of Rochester Medical Center who were pleased with the results of the election. “There may be some alumni who are pleased with the election results,” he said. “There is probably a significant number of donors who are pleased with the election results.  While the initial letter may have been well intentioned, I think there are several audiences within the University of Rochester community, and the letter failed to speak to all of them.”

When asked about the backlash against Seligman’s letter Thursday, a University spokesperson said they are letting the message stand on its own at this time.

RIT president Bill Destler also sent a post-election letter that university's students, faculty and staff.

Chitre said that message struck a more optimistic, appropriate tone.  See both letters below.

Date:   November 9, 2016

To:                   The University Community
From:              Joel Seligman
Re:                  Message to the University Community

I write to our University community, not as a partisan. It is my responsibility as a University president not to champion any political party.

The election results last night were deeply felt by many on our campus and among our alumni.

Universities like ours are special places. We are committed to our values of academic excellence, academic freedom, respect for diversity, and commitment to our community.

It is important today to emphasize that all of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors are welcome and supported here. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or any other basis.

We welcome and support you as human beings. Regardless of what happens in an election, you will always be welcome here.

In this sense, we are a safe place. Politics can be ugly, deprecating, cruel. Our role here is to honor and respect each of you.

For some today, there is intense pain and confusion. The Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center and others will be there for you. Please make use of the resources and people available to you.

For those of you who today feel the world is a sadder and more lonely place, most of all, I proverbially reach out to you. We are family. We support each other.

TO: RIT students, faculty, and staff
FROM: Bill Destler, President
DATE: November 10, 2016
SUBJECT: The Presidential Election

As President, I need to represent all of RIT, and I therefore do not express preferences for political candidates. I do feel it important, however, to represent and reinforce RIT’s shared commitment to the value of inclusive diversity. I have heard from many in our community that the result of the recent election has raised concerns from those in our minority populations, those who come from immigrant families, those from countries outside of the U.S., those in our LGBTQIA+ community, those who practice Islam, and even those in our female population about whether they should be concerned for their safety and well-being as a result of the horrific discourse that accompanied the presidential election process and some of the specific views and proposals presented.

At RIT, we have treasured the diverse contributions of members of these groups to our campus community, and I want to reassure all that one of RIT’s highest priorities is to demonstrate the extraordinary value of inclusive diversity and that we will continue to respect, appreciate, and benefit from the contributions of all. Anyone who feels unsafe here should make their feelings known to me and to others in a position to address their concerns. Concerned members of our community can also take advantage of opportunities to engage in open discourse about the election in the MOSAIC Center and at tomorrow’s Grey Matter discussion.

Each year, I tell prospective students that if they are afraid to immerse themselves in a community of students, staff, and faculty from widely different backgrounds, ethnicities, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, and religions, then RIT is not the place for them. I also tell them that if they are willing to fully participate in our remarkably diverse community, it will be one of the most valuable experiences of their lives.

Let’s make it so.