From the Director: A pathway forward
The Miller Center's director on the power of respect in our democracy—and our community
Two weeks after the midterm elections, America stands at a crossroads. As we have just explored in a two-day conference with the Hoover Institution and James Madison’s Montpelier, the country is struggling to come up with a shared vision in the face of intense polarization.
Last week, the Miller Center demonstrated one pathway forward by doing what we do best: bringing together our leading scholars on the presidency with a bipartisan group of both senior former White House officials and members of Congress. We not only discussed issues, but also sought common ground and practical solutions.
Bridging contending visions of what should unite us is not easy. Our democracy depends on a national political culture that emphasizes viewing others as equal partners in our shared enterprise. Speaking personally, I believe that the Miller Center is uniquely positioned to ask hard questions and bring an independent perspective precisely because our scholars are willing to work closely with leaders from across the political spectrum.
The only way we can live up to that high calling is if we’re willing to practice what we preach in all that we do. To be great, we must first be good.
Internally, that means addressing instances where some in our community have not lived up to basic rules and norms of respect. Like too many other organizations, we have recently confronted disturbing incidents of sexual harassment. Our board and staff leadership have acted promptly to address those instances and have taken additional steps to ensure a harassment-free workplace. We have done this in collaboration with the University of Virginia’s senior leadership, especially with the Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights. In recent years, we have placed an emphasis on recruiting and promoting women, in particular, into senior leadership positions—both scholars and administrators. We are committed to doing more.
To help make sure the behavior we’ve seen in the past doesn’t happen again, we have redoubled anti-harassment training for all faculty, staff, and board members. The Miller Center Governing Council and I have enthusiastically supported a faculty- and staff-led effort promoting transparency and equity. We will seek external guidance in surveying our climate and in pursuing additional steps to make the Miller Center the best workplace of its kind.
To that end, Dorrie Fontaine, dean of UVA’s School of Nursing, and Susan Kools, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, have agreed to help us. I will rely on both to bring a fresh set of eyes, independent voices, and remarkable expertise and experience. Under their leadership since 2008, the School of Nursing has become the gold standard for promoting respect, compassion, and equity.
For me, it is essential that everyone at the Center feels safe and valued, and that they feel secure in raising concerns when that is not the case. Together, we will continue to build a workforce and Governing Council that represent the racial, ethnic, gender, and philosophical diversity of our country.
Respect is, after all, fundamental to our mission. Advancing democratic self-governance and promoting civil discourse start with treating others with dignity and respect. Fostering greater mutual understanding across the political spectrum requires engaging liberals, conservatives, and independents who are open to true dialogue, as well as calling out voices of intolerance, bigotry, and hate. We must expect that of our leaders and also expect it of ourselves.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “All of our humanity is dependent on recognizing the humanity in others.” Ultimately, our work requires us to ask hard questions of ourselves while also respecting others who hold opinions different from our own.
I’m proud to be associated with our scholars, staff, and Governing Council members who all remain committed to that inclusive mission.
William J. Antholis, Director & CEO