Academy Article

A Message from President Oxtoby to Academy Staff

David W. Oxtoby

Dear Colleagues,

We have been away from the Academy and apart from one another for 12 weeks. Day after day, as we grew more accustomed to working out of the office, connecting virtually, and keeping informed about the novel coronavirus, it felt as if we were making progress and could envision emerging from this challenging time.

With the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, however, the pain and uncertainty of this difficult time increase and intensify. Our world seems more troubling and chaotic than ever. The hurt and fear take a toll on each and every one of us as we seek to understand what we can do, individually, to stand with others and act on our values.

It is hard to know what to say as the news keeps coming, in wave after troubling wave. And yet, I don't want to be silent. 

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences must recognize the privilege we possess and the standing we have and use it truly to advance the common good, with a recognition of what that means for equality, justice, and power in today's world.  As understandably proud as we are to have been founded in 1780, our origins also make it incumbent on us to do more to acknowledge injustice and address racism in America.

There are some clear ways in which our place in the world can advance causes that matter now more than ever. The Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship is the most prominent example but there are others, including the Making Justice Accessible project, the Commission on the Arts, the Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships project, the Public Face of Science project, and the Humanitarian Health initiative.

I commit to looking at all of our work through this lens – asking how we can do more, what else can be done – and I ask you to join me in this effort. While we remain a relatively small organization, if we are focused and disciplined, then we can have a larger impact on issues that matter to advancing the public good.

From all of your efforts, I know we are in this together. The strength of our community is one of the things that gives me hope. I feel fortunate to join with you and others in committing to meaningful work that can change how people think and act.