"Social Justice, Education, and the Information Revolution"

City of Bloomington Martin Luther King Celebration
Buskirk-Chumley Theater
Bloomington, Indiana
January 21, 2008

Introduction: Sleeping Through the Revolution?

In his 1959 commencement address at Morehouse College, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”1

Such a statement captured the intensity of the moment at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Dr. King strove to awaken the social conscience of this great nation to its moral obligation. He strove to awaken people to the beloved community that he envisioned. He strove to awaken individuals to their own power—what we might call the power of one. He was a true revolutionary and he did wake the nation.

As we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, we might ask, what does his statement about sleeping through a revolution mean today?

Education and the Information Revolution

Today, we are poised at the dawn of the digital age. King’s social and cultural revolution has become our information and technological revolution that is changing our world. It is erasing borders between nations and transforming our very understanding of distance and time.

But all of this change does not erase history. Dr. King tells us that the moral arc of the universe tends towards justice. That is a long arc, and the struggle continues.

For generations, education has been central to the struggle for social justice. It was education that awakened Frederick Douglass, an American slave, to the possibility of his own freedom. Education gave W.E.B. DuBois the tools to document African American society. And the value of education resonates in nearly every public word that Martin Luther King uttered.

These leaders certainly did not sleep during their respective struggles.

You are not sleeping now.

And Indiana University has not slept either.

Long-Term Commitment to Equity

Our commitment to equity traces its roots back generations. We can look to giants in IU’s past to see the strong foundations upon which that deep and abiding commitment to equity is built.

Herman B Wells, IU’s legendary eleventh president, led the charge to desegregate its athletic, dining, and residence hall facilities. Of course, Dr. Wells’ efforts had a tremendous impact on the entire Bloomington community as well.

Many of us also remember Herman Hudson who founded IU’s Department of African American Studies, the African American Arts Institute, and countless other programs. Those who knew him remember the tremendous challenges he overcame on the road to becoming a tireless champion of equality and social justice for everyone at the University.

Dr. Hudson, Frances Marshall, Marcellus Neal, Bill Garrett, George Taliaferro, Cora Breckenridge, President Adam Herbert all exemplify the struggle and triumph of education against barriers to opportunity.

Their stories, and many others, have reinforced my strong belief in the vital importance of diversity and equity as core values at the heart of public higher education.

IU’s commitment to diversity and equity continues to grow. Last May, President Herbert and I issued a joint statement on diversity that outlined IU’s current and forthcoming efforts to enhance diversity and equity across the university.

Those include strategic planning for diversity at all of IU’s campuses, which is presently underway under the leadership of Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, Dr. Ed Marshall. In addition, at IUB we have established the Presidential Incentive Initiative, the IU Pell Promise Award, and the 21st Century Scholars Covenant to encourage enrollment. We have strengthened the Hudson-Holland Scholars Program and invested in the Lugar Scholars Program.

And this is just the beginning.

At my inauguration last fall, I announced the newest initiative designed to help IU students succeed. Degrees of Excellence is a multi-million dollar university-wide effort to increase graduation rates. Under this plan, the 21st Century Covenant and the Pell Promise programs will be extended, where possible, to all campuses. We are also moving to increase our emphasis on pre-collegiate programs and initiatives to expand the academic pipeline between K-12 and IU.

Such initiatives ensure that the gates of educational opportunity remain wide open to the sons and daughters of Indiana. They ensure access to affordable education, the ultimate key to success in this information age.

Commitment to Local and Global Community

But our efforts extend beyond the boundaries of our campus. Every day, IU students volunteer throughout Bloomington and the surrounding community. They embody Dr. King’s continuing legacy.

Together, we are building the community and making the dream a reality. We are building upon the example of collaboration between the city and campus through such efforts as today’s celebration. We are also working to increase communication, outreach, and collaboration across Indiana so that IU becomes the destination university among diverse communities.

Our efforts reach around the world as we work to strengthen our partnerships with leading institutions in places as far reaching as Africa, Kazakhstan, and China to provide educational and research opportunities to IU students.

Dr. King’s legacy is felt even in such places.

In fact, I understand that the first annual observance of Martin Luther King Week was held in Beijing just last June.


In closing, I would like to return to Dr. King’s 1959 commencement address.

He advised the students that “this revolutionary period demands … excellence … If we allow ourselves to be content with … mediocrity, we will be sleeping at a time when we should be fully awake.”2

Let us never be content with mediocrity.

Let us strive for excellence in all that we do.

Above all, let us not sleep through the revolution.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” Address at Morehouse College Commencement, 2 June 1959, Atlanta, GA. page 221.
  2. ibid., 225