It is so exciting to be welcoming students back to campus this week! The energy is amazing and is providing a real sense of renewal. For me, it was particularly powerful to kick off the week with Convocation and to be out on Crawford Field in front of roughly 5,000 students being officially welcomed to campus for the first time. At this signature event, Chancellor Gillman highlighted the Anteater Virtues! These are the intellectual virtues of curiosity, integrity, intellectual tenacity, and intellectual humility. Combined, these form a foundation for students, faculty, and staff to build upon in the best traditions of the university.
We often hear the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” when in fact curiosity is essential to so much of human endeavor. It is curiosity that can draw us to new experiences, whether this is new ways of thinking, new cultures, new ways of being, or new ways of understanding the world around us. Most creative activities and generation of new knowledge start with a curiosity about something. How does this work? Why does that happen? What did my experience really mean? How is your experience different from mine? Curiosity is grounded in the appropriate asking of questions and truly accepting that we do not have to know everything. Too often, formal education can replace genuine curiosity with a focus on providing the “correct answers.” However, at UCI, we celebrate each individual’s curiosity and strive to reinvigorate a spirit of inquiry in students that may have lost some of their natural inquisitiveness.
Integrity should need little explanation, but these days, we are sadly inundated with examples of people acting with little or no integrity! Integrity encourages students to be open and honest and to avoid self-deceit and the deceit of others. For the university, there is a special subclass of integrity that is particularly important—academic integrity (something I have already written about in this series). Academic integrity is essential to everything we do, but it is too often viewed through a lens of compliance and not as a virtue that enhances our community. As we move forward from the last year, the pandemic has revealed many aspects of academic integrity that we need to continue to discuss and engage with as a collective.
Intellectual tenacity and humility go hand in hand. Ideally, our positions will be grounded in evidence and critical evaluation, but even when well-supported, there are many instances in which people of goodwill will have differing conclusions and views. Intellectual tenacity allows us to defend our convictions and hold on to our principles. Intellectual humility allows us to be open to other views and positions and to be self-critical when needed. Balancing these two virtues protects us from indecisiveness that prevents action and mental rigidity that inhibits growth. In a time when public discourse is often broken because of an over-emphasis on tenacity, one can understand how this needs to be balanced with humility.
What’s great about the Anteater Virtues is that they can be learned, practiced, and continuously improved! In this regard, I want to highlight the amazing work done by Professor Duncan Pritchard to develop ways to learn and practice the virtues as both a stand-alone experience and as lessons integrated into the classroom. Professor Pritchard has focused on developing materials for these four Anteater Virtues. I encourage students to visit https://home.due.uci.edu/anteatervirtues/ to learn more about the virtues and to self-enroll in the available courses. Similarly, instructors can visit https://dtei.uci.edu/anteatervirtues/ to learn more about integrating the virtues into their courses.
As we move forward, it is critical to recognize that the Anteater Virtues do not represent an exclusive or exhaustive list of intellectual characteristics we value at UCI. As part of practicing both curiosity and humility, we welcome the ongoing conversation on the Anteater Virtues, how they work together, and what elements are missing from the discussion. For example, I was reminded recently of the critical roles that compassion and empathy play in the university experience. Both are virtues in their own right and are virtues that emerge from practicing curiosity and humility in our interactions with other people. So, I hope the conversation does not end here and instead continues to evolve along with UCI itself.