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Newest Doctorates Challenged to Embrace Discomfort

June 15, 2016

James Herbert, executive vice provost and inaugural dean of the Graduate College, encouraged Drexel’s newest recipients of the highest degrees to be the intellectual leaders of the future, in his keynote address at the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony on June 9, held for the first time at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

"The academy is founded on the free and open exchange of ideas," Herbert stated to open his remarks, "where frank discussions and vigorous debate are encouraged, when bad ideas are met with better ideas rather than censorship."

An ideal endorsed by ancient Greek philosophers, fostering this healthy marketplace of ideas is critical to the functioning of the academy. However, according to Herbert the academy currently finds itself at a crossroads, attempting to balance the commitment to freedom of speech as well as the effort to ensure all voices have the opportunity to be heard.

Herbert explains the complexity of this vital balance. "The commitment to total and unfettered freedom of expression runs the risk of favoring those with the loudest voices and the tallest soap boxes. On the other hand, any effort at censorship--no matter how well intentioned--runs the risk of favoring one perspective over another, and begs the question of whose perspective will be privileged, and who will make that decision."

In recent years, colleges and universities across the country have been seeking to find answers amongst increasing demands for unpopular ideas to be silenced and for uncomfortable feelings to be avoided. Herbert urged Drexel’s newest doctorates to be a part of the solution, while acknowledging the greatness of this undertaking.

"We must model how to have constructive conversations about difficult issues, without pulling punches or whitewashing, and always in a spirit of mutual respect. You are now in a position to model the kind of open discourse that is at the heart of the academy, and that is vital to a well-functioning democracy. And we must inculcate these critical values by practicing them ourselves. Doing these things will entail embracing our own discomfort that will inevitably arise when our own cherished ideas are challenged. But we owe this effort to our students, to the academy, and indeed to the vitality of our society as a whole."

Herbert’s final words to graduates were optimistic and reflected on the experience they have gained during their time at Drexel. "You are graduating from a very special place – a university that situates itself at the crossroads of theory and practice, of academia and industry, of our campuses and our communities, of Philadelphia and the world. As such, you have developed a sense of perspective and maturity, and an appreciation for both cultural and ideological diversity. I believe that you are uniquely positioned to address the profound tensions facing the academy and our democracy."

The celebratory ceremony also included remarks from special guests Rabbi Isabel Koninck, director of Hillel; Richard Greenawalt ’66, chair of the Board of Trustees; Jamie Kennedy, electrical and computer engineering PhD recipient; Laila Abdallah, president of the Graduate Student Association; Ludo Sheffer, chair of the Faculty Senate; and Paul Gondek ’74, member of the Alumni Association Board of Governors.

Supervising professors and mentors partook in the hooding ceremony and were joined by faculty and deans dressed in colorful academic regalia. President John Fry congratulated each graduate and Provost Brian Blake presented the Graduate College awards for Outstanding Dissertation to Lauren Jablonowski, Maria Lukatskaya, and Tyson Mitman, as well as for Outstanding Promise to Boris Dyatkin, Xiang Ren, and Bryan Spinelli.

This academic year Drexel awarded 250 doctorate degrees across arts and sciences; biomedical engineering, science and health systems; business; computing and informatics; education; engineering; nursing and health professions; and public health. Degrees were officially conferred at Drexel’s University-wide Commencement ceremony on June 11, held for the first time at Citizens Bank Park.