For the past 30 years, the University of Missouri/South Africa Education Program (UMSAEP) has made possible a remarkable array of academic relationships between the four UM System campuses and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.
This fall I welcomed the University of the Western Cape delegation to UMKC. The visit allowed us to celebrate and reaffirm a longstanding and vital partnership – a point of pride for us.
I consider our partnership with the University of the Western Cape special because of its pioneering nature. There is so much happening in our world that calls people of conscience to take a stand. The partnership with our friends from Western Cape reminds us that the University of Missouri System took a stand 30 years ago. Our university was the first in the United States to forge an academic cooperation agreement with a non-white South African university.
Let me give you some idea of what those Curators did, back in 1986. South Africa was still in the grip of the apartheid system, a rigid and violently enforced form of government in which people of color were relegated to second-class status with virtually no rights. The University of the Western Cape was one of the few institutions of higher learning which served the black community. And it was the University of Missouri System, all four campuses, which led the way for American universities to take a stand against that unjust system.
I was not a part of UMKC or the UM System at the time, so I claim no credit for this partnership. But I stand proudly as Chancellor of UMKC, as an institution that took a stand for justice, at a time when justice was in short supply. Let that example forever be a beacon, for all of us to follow, in the great state of Missouri. Let us always be first to take a stand when justice is hard to find.
The real excitement, however, is not about looking back, but looking ahead. We have done much together, learned much together while learning from and about each other. And the potential is there for us to do so much more.
Our two institutions share a number of strong interests and areas of emphasis ranging from bioinformatics to the performing arts, from entrepreneurship to astronomy. But the most important thing we share is a commitment. It is a commitment to teaching, research and service in the finest tradition of institutions of higher education around the globe. And it is a commitment to serving all people, from all communities, recognizing the essential worth of every single member of our human family.