Professor Douglas Kriner Addresses PO’s Class of 2013

in Uncategorized
May 23rd, 2013

Last Sunday, May 19th, PO’s annual Convocation was held in the Metcalf Ballroom.  The graduating class voted on which faculty member they wished to address them on that momentous day, and they chose Professor Douglas Kriner.  Here are his words to our graduates:

“Class of 2013 — congratulations!  And to the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and friends who carried our graduates along the way and made today possible — I’d like to say, simply, thank you.

Graduates, it has been a genuine privilege getting to know you, teaching you, and perhaps most importantly, learning with and from you over the past four years.  All of us on this stage take great pride in your scholastic achievement and the important contributions you have made, both to our university community and to the greater world beyond the Back Bay.  Wherever life takes you in the coming years on the varied paths that you will traverse, I hope that you will remember us and know that you always have a place in the political science community at Boston University.

Thank you for giving me the honor to say a few final words to you on this special day.  Reflecting back on the last four years, I can’t help but think of how I first met many of you — as freshmen, or even prospective students — choosing a major at BU.

Most often, when trying to tell a bright, ambitious students why he or she should consider majoring in political science, I emphasize the analytical skills that a degree in political science affords.

Whether it is subjecting an argument to intense logical scrutiny in a political theory course, or combing through the often messy historical record to understand why an event or policy developed and changed as it did, or learning to describe and analyze large amounts of data to gain insight into why the social and political world works the way it does, the study of political science has equipped you with tools that can be applied to almost any future endeavor.

However, today I would like to shift the emphasis and note how fortunate we all are that so many young people have devoted four years of study to grappling seriously and rationally with some of the most pressing problems of our age.

As the tragic events of mid-April unfolded in our city, I found myself, like many I suppose, asking how someone could ever justify such an act of terror against innocent civilians.  Such questions are far from new.  In Book I of Plato’s Republic, Thrasymachus ignites a furious debate by claiming that “the just is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.”  His position is captured in the perhaps more familiar aphorism, “might makes right.”  Is this justice?  Fortunately, Socrates did not think so.

But if not, what is the just?  These are not questions relegated to the ivory tower and its journals.  They are critically important questions as we seek not only to understand the continued presence of evil in our society today, but also as we contemplate how our society treats those who have committed or are suspected of committing such acts.

Over a decade after 9/11, how we should respond to the threats posed by terrorism remains one of the most pressing concerns facing our society.  What are the root causes of terrorism?  Can they be addressed proactively, or must we seek primarily to defend ourselves from its consequences reactively?  How do we choose when core American values are in conflict — for example, how do we resolve the inherent tension in a democratic society between the desire to
provide for collective security while simultaneously protecting individual liberties?

Many of these challenges are timeless; others seem distinctively new.  Previous generations of Americans could not even imagine how technological advancements have changed the ways in which we communicate with and engage one another, and how this has transformed our politics (let alone, for better or worse, our classrooms).  What are the broader consequences of these developments for our politics and our world?

Other technological developments of changed the nature of international relations and stretched our legal framework to the limit.  For example, the statesmen who devised the constitutional division of war powers and the laws of war in earlier centuries could certainly never have anticipated the brave new world of drone warfare.  Are such strikes effective?  Are they ethical?  Do the benefits outweigh the costs, and how can we know?

Many such questions can seem on their face to be intractable.  Yet, each of you has spent the better part of four years endeavoring to answer such questions drawing on any and all information available.  As political scientists, we don’t try only to understand why 9/11 happened, but to understand what forces drive terrorism more broadly.  Similarly, while each financial crisis has unique elements; as scholars we strive to uncover the dynamics common to many such crises, and to discern policy responses that might ameliorate economic hardship.  Our answers may often be imperfect; but we soldier on in search of greater understanding.

I speak for the entire faculty when I say again that it has been a privilege exploring these timeless, yet still immediately relevant questions with you these past four years.  Today marks not the end of your exploration of such issues, but a new beginning.  Regardless of your future path, we are confident that you will use what you have learned to shape the course of our nation, whether as active participants in policy discussions or simply as engaged citizens participating in the great continuing experiment that is our democracy.

Thank you very much, and congratulations on your achievement.”