Provost Lynch's Closing Comments at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fellows Dinner

Jan. 18, 2019

I thought that a good way to close out our program celebrating 50 years of the Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship on our campus would be to reflect on what Dr. King said about education.

In the last 50 years, many things on this campus and across our country have changed for the better.  But some things unfortunately have stayed the same.  As Dr. King said in 1963 in his book Strength to Love, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  Well there seems to be no shortage of both of these characteristics these days and so Dr. King’s warning is as powerful now as it was then.

As a university we are in the business of taking on sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity and replacing it with open inquiry and teaching.  As a school that carries the name of a Supreme Court Justice who stood for the rights of individuals our mission statement says that we must be distinguished by academic excellence, by truth pursued wherever it may lead and by awareness of the power and responsibilities that come with knowledge…[In addition] we believe that diverse backgrounds and ideas are crucial to academic excellence and we recognize the need to analyze and address the ways in which social, cultural and economic inequalities affect power and privilege in the larger society and at Brandeis itself.

But as a Provost I must say that the words of 18 year old Martin Luther King when he was an undergraduate student at Morehouse College in 1947 resonate as much or even more to me and I hope with you about how an educational institution addresses ignorance and stupidity today.

He said in an article in his school newspaper (the Maroon Tiger January-February issue 1947), “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals. We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

Being a Martin Luther King Fellow means that you have been recognized for your academic performance and commitment to community engagement – or as Dr. King would say – your intelligence and character.  It is certainly an honor to be an MLK Fellow.  But it is also a responsibility to carry on the hopes and aspirations of our student activists of 50 years ago whose willingness to challenge the status quo resulted in many positive changes on our campus including the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship program.

So returning to the powerful words of Dr. King, there is a phrase that is often attributed to him that goes, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  In fact it is likely that this is a paraphrase of an even more powerful statement he made in a sermon he gave in Selma, Alabama, on March 8, 1965 that went as follows, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

So I thank you for not being silent, for supporting each other as you raise up your voices, for empowering others whose voices might be silenced, and I urge you to use your intelligence and character to stand up for what is right and true.