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President Vaidya wearing iVote facial covering with his ballot envelope.

Dear Campus Community:

In one week, our country will demonstrate the power of democracy as we hold our 59th presidential election. Americans have been exercising the right to select our leader since 1788, and I encourage all of you to participate in this longstanding cornerstone of our democracy.

Many of you may have already participated in this year’s election, either by absentee ballot or by voting early. In fact, I just submitted my ballot at the Campbell
County drop box, and in doing so, I took a moment to reflect on the significance of this act. Voting is a right and a privilege we have as Americans, and not every place in the world has that option. Our university deems it such a fundamental part of democracy that we mark the day by closing and giving everyone time on November 3 to take part in the process.

Arguably, democracy as a system of government has produced more desirable results for nations than any other form of government. The Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University argues that the democracy we strive for is an aspirational one – “a democracy that is informed and educated, equitable, representational and just, effectively and ethically governed, inclusive and participatory.”

Here at NKU, our goal goes beyond providing the education and skills to prepare you for your career. Our mission is to educate students for a just and inclusive democracy and the privilege of academic freedom allows for that to occur. We must encourage the learning and intellectual space to cultivate engaged citizens. That is what we mean when in our mission, we say - empower our graduates to have fulfilling careers and meaningful lives. I am so proud of how our faculty, staff and students are working to inform our community on the importance of the democracy and voting in this election:

  • The Scripps Howard Center, along with Enrollment & Degree Management and the New Student Orientation Office, worked this summer to send all incoming freshman an NKU VOTE imprinted face mask along with a reminder postcard with information about our #NKUVotes website. They are also driving a social media campaign where people share why they vote, and I was honored to take part in that effort.

  • We included an NKUVotes video with voter information in the new student Virtual Orientation program this year, and the Student Government Association (SGA) is also encouraging students to register to vote this semester.

  • Steely Library compiled a list of the Top 10 Tips to GearUp to Vote, so our students have the resources to make an informed decision on election day.

  • College of Informatics Professor Dr. James Walden, who is one of our top cyber threat experts, hosted a community conversation to take deep dive into election security issues and identify how we can improve the safety of our democratic process.

  • Professor Michael Baranowski’s Election 2020 class this fall, an upper-level political science class includes a weekly podcast about this election. The class was featured in an editorial in the Northern Kentucky Tribune.

  • And speaking of journalism, our outstanding students who run The Northerner are partnering with the Northern Kentucky Tribune to take a detailed look at all the local election races. Their work will inform voters of candidates and issues that impact their daily lives.

It is truly amazing to see the scope of what our campus community is doing to engage and educate our students and the region to uphold the values and principles that make an effective democracy. Many of these efforts started right at the beginning of the semester to show our students, many who are new to Norse Nation, what we value as a university. If you’ve already cast your ballot, please look for other ways to participate in the process. With the pandemic, many of the senior citizens who work the polling stations are unable to do so this year. Consider using the day off to volunteer your time to work at a polling station if you are able, or reminding your friends and family members to cast their ballots.

I believe our society benefits tremendously from having well-educated, engaged citizens. It’s at the core of our democracy. While I was a college student in India in the
1980s, my admiration for the United States was based on two fundamental tenets – no other country had a better system of governance, and no other country had a better system of higher education. What has become clearly evident to me over the years is that the two tenets are inextricably linked. One cannot have an effective, just and inclusive democracy without an engaged, educated and well-informed citizenry.

This year has challenged our democracy, perhaps like no other time in our history since the Civil War. We are battling a global health crisis, a national economic and social crisis, and an information crisis. And concerns about voter suppression and election integrity are exacerbating an already partisan and deeply divided nation. There is an anecdote, often told, that in 1787, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a group of citizens what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it." Whether or not Franklin actually said those words, their meaning is true to this day – the active and informed involvement of the people is absolutely essential to sustain our democracy.

To our students, especially those in the 18-29 year age group, your voice is more important than ever. You are now a larger group than the baby boomer generation, which means you wield significant political power and the ability to shape policy. Norse Nation – it’s game time! Let’s exercise our right and privilege to vote - our democracy depends on it.

Ashish Vaidya