They were born two centuries apart, but a press conference held, appropriately, on Presidents Day proved that the nation’s fifth president and the University of Mary Washington’s 10th president have similar ideas about education, democracy and civil responsibility.
James Monroe, portrayed by historical re-enactor James “Jay” G. Harrison III, and University President Troy Paino shared the stage in Monroe Hall on the Fredericksburg campus to talk about their philosophies. Monroe was inaugurated for his first term on March 4, 1817. President Paino will be inaugurated at UMW on April 21, 2017.
Both presidents spoke of the importance of education.
“The principal support of a free government is to be derived from sound morals and intelligence of the people, and the more extensive the means of education, the more confidently may we rely upon the preservation of our public liberties,” said Monroe. “Education is the Number 1 priority within a republican form of government.”
Paino agreed that a liberal arts education is vital to the development of independent thinkers.
“One of the cornerstones of a liberal arts education is the development of a free and independent mind, to be a critical thinker,” said Paino. “It’s our last line of defense against authoritarianism, that we live in a country where the citizens ultimately are the deciders and hold those in the seats of power responsible.”
Paino said it’s critically important to focus on the public purpose of education. He told Monroe that he would be disheartened to find that education is increasingly viewed as a private good instead of a public good.
“If we’re going to continue to have a vibrant representative democracy, it’s critically important to refocus our energies on not only developing those people who can go out and get jobs, but also people who can think for themselves, people who are socially responsible and are engaged citizens.”
Paino described UMW as a tributary to society, where students learn and serve within the community itself. He views the community as a learning laboratory.
Said Paino: “It’s critically important for students to be engaged in the problems they need to solve if our republic is going to survive.”
A video of the presidential press conference can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eF-VMz7YYds.