President Charles M. Vest's annual report, which this year speaks to the need for a renewed national commitment to a bold and open society - one that will respond both to the challenge and opportunity of science and technology as well as to the great questions posed by an increasingly diverse population.
In this age, in this country, there is an opportunity for the development of [humankind's] intellectual, cultural, and spiritual potentialities that has never existed before in the history of our species. I mean not simply an opportunity for greatness for a few, but an opportunity for greatness for the many.
- Edwin H. Land
In 1957, nearly 40 years ago, Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, gave the Arthur Dehon Little Memorial Lecture at MIT.1 His address was entitled Generation of Greatness: The Idea of a University in an Age of Science. In it, he set forth his conviction that everyone is born with the potential for greatness and that we must be far bolder in our vision and commitment to develop the full creative powers of our young.
His proposal for how universities might meet this challenge was to create within each university small communities of faculty and students who would work together as colleagues in scholarship and research...where learning would become, once again, an exciting adventure. This proposal led to the establishment in the 1960s of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at MIT - still one of the strongest features of an MIT education.
But the point here is not that Land had a major influence on education at MIT, but that he had a vision of greatness and a boldness of spirit that were embraced by others. Certainly his influence can be attributed to the power of his intellect and his dream. But perhaps it also had something to do with the times, the dawn of the 1960s, when the country was ready to dream of greatness and to take bold action, and did so in many domains - in science and technology, in education, in civil rights.
Today - in 1996 - we live in an age that seems to reject bold thought and bold action. This is true in America, and it is true in Europe. Why is this? Does boldness come with a price tag we can no longer afford? Does it imply excess or waste or impracticality? Are we too cynical to embrace visionary new ideas? Have we turned from boldness because such vision and action usually call for shared commitment...and we only care for what affects us personally and immediately? Is this a natural outcome of our maturation as a nation and as a society? Perhaps all of the above. Or perhaps, at century's end, we have become so concerned with eliminating the budget deficit in order to protect future generations from economic grief that we are blind to the equal importance of making the investments necessary to assure the vitality and quality of their lives. I do not believe, however, that for most Americans, or for most people around the world for that matter, such limited vision is a conscious choice. We have slipped into complacency and self-interest, but we need not, and cannot, remain there. As a society we must once again believe that we can envision and generate greatness in our time, and build the foundation for future generations of greatness.
I am not alone in this belief or desire. Take science and technology, for example.
A new national survey 2 finds that the vast majority of Americans want this country to be the world leader in scientific and technological progress as we enter the next century. They believe that public policy and federal investment should encourage education, research, and careers in science and technology - in order to build a better future for the nation as a whole and for the everyday lives of individual citizens.
And yet, we do not seem to have the will to stay on this course.
One major scientific project illustrates the point. A decade ago the United States committed itself to constructing the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC), a huge new particle accelerator that would have helped us to answer critical questions in particle physics and perhaps discover another force of nature. The frontier technology required to build this project also could have led to important technological innovations of practical benefit to the general society. We invested over $2 billion and got construction well underway. Then we simply changed our mind, walked away, and left a rusting hulk in the arid Texas desert - too expensive.
But more than just expense was involved. We - the science community and the federal government - knew that this was an expensive undertaking when it was conceived and given the go-ahead. It could have been a truly international project, but it was supported in part in order to do it all ourselves, in a nationalistic spirit. Yes, the Japanese were invited to help fund it, but only after the concepts and designs were completed and construction was underway - hardly a true international undertaking.
Then there was the matter of location. The SSC was vigorously supported by the Congress and by the public in several parts of the country - until it was sited. Not surprisingly, it is more attractive to support an activity in one's state or district than if it is located thousands of miles away. Yet, in reality, facilities like the SSC would be shared by researchers - faculty and graduate students from all around the nation and the world.
My purpose here is not to argue that the SSC should have been built; many good people disagreed about that. My point is to ask why we cannot conceive and carry through such bold ventures - why our commitments have no staying power.
The Magnetic Fusion Program
Other science and technology programs also illustrate the point. Take, for example, our nation's magnetic fusion program. As the trauma of the 1970s' oil embargo and other "wakeup calls" regarding worldwide energy needs have receded in our memories, we have ceased to think much about the future of energy supplies and utilization. The most conservative analyses indicate that we will need at least to double worldwide energy production by 2050 if nations around the world are going to have the opportunity to become industrialized and improve their standards of living. At the same time, doing this in a way that does not degrade the earth's atmosphere to an intolerable extent represents a major challenge. Just consider one country, China, with a population of 1.2 billion people, which is developing its industrial base and meeting its heating needs primarily by burning coal. Meeting the demand for energy throughout the world will require new technologies for large-scale generation of heat and electricity that are relatively environmentally benign and that utilize readily available fuels. It is difficult, if not impossible, to construct a scenario that does not involve substantial use of thermonuclear fusion reactors for this purpose. They offer the potential of using essentially inexhaustible fuel, producing very little radioactivity, and releasing no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The problem is that fusion science and technology are very complex and the state of the art must be advanced considerably over the next few decades. A great deal has been learned, but much remains to be done. In 1995, the US magnetic fusion program was funded at a level of $375 million and scheduled to increase substantially in the years ahead, in large part to meet our obligations to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project. ITER is a large joint undertaking of the United States, Europe, Russia, and Japan. In 1996, however, funding for the US magnetic fusion program has been cut to $244 million - and is headed toward a still lower level in 1997. In order to maintain a viable program in the most essential basic fusion science and technology, the US will likely need to drop its commitment to ITER. Reducing our overall fusion program to such levels decreases the probability that our companies will be major players in the provision of power generation plants in the expanding world markets as we approach the middle of the next century. Furthermore, we greatly increase the risk that no acceptable means of meeting world energy needs will be available.
Now let us turn to two bold ventures that, in fact, appear to be moving toward realization: The Space Station and the Human Genome Project.
The Space Station
The Space Station is primarily a technology, rather than a science, project. To a far greater extent, however, it is about humans in space. I believe that reaching beyond the boundaries of earth has an intrinsic value - it is as surely a part of the ongoing human adventure as Hillary and Norgay's ascent of Mount Everest, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the sixteenth-century explorations of Vasco da Gama, or the fifth-century Polynesian expeditions across 2,300 miles of open ocean to Hawaii.
Some of the most wondrous and important explorations of space have been made remotely, by spacecraft with no crews aboard: the Hubble Telescope's observations of the Shoemaker-Levy Comet collision with the planet Jupiter, or the Galileo Space Probe's magnificent exploration of Europa, Ganymede, and other Jovian moons. Remote exploration through technology should continue to expand our understanding and sense of wonder about the universe.
Still, the human presence in space captures the imagination of most people. The realization that in the entire sweep of human history, my generation was the first to go beyond the bounds of the earth is both a marvel and an inspiration. Children, in particular, remain entranced by this adventure -always a sure sign that something is worthwhile.
Now, fundamentally, the Space Station can do only two things that cannot be done in other ways. It can put humans into a microgravity environment for very long periods of time, and it can put very massive objects into orbit for very long periods of time. Why should we want to do this? For one thing, we will be able to perform empirical medical studies that are necessary preludes to future interplanetary flights.
And while the Space Station is basically a technology project, the ability to place massive objects in orbit for sustained periods of time appears to be leading to an important, though initially unintended, role for the Station in fundamental science. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, conceived by MIT/CERN physicist Samuel Ting, will be placed on the Station. There the device, which will weigh two tons and be about a meter high and a meter in diameter, will allow us to study the properties and origin of cosmic particles and nuclei, including antimatter and dark matter. Discovering the presence of either material will increase our understanding of the early universe and could potentially lead to a clearer understanding of the actual origin of the universe and to the discovery of antimatter stars and galaxies.
The Space Station, whose history and congressional support is checkered, to say the least, appears to be moving toward reality for two reasons. First, it is an international project that overtly became a tool of US foreign policy. Second, there is broad public enthusiasm for human space travel.
The Human Genome Project
The Human Genome Project is the one bold, high-profile, large- scale science project that appears to be moving at a direct, determined pace toward its intended goal. The idea is to tap our newly discovered knowledge of the structure of genes and chromosomes in order to improve our understanding of the physical structure of human life, and, ultimately, to make possible dramatic advances in medical science and health care. Originally, it was thought that a map of the entire human genome could be completed by 1998. In fact, this program has been so successful that the mapping was completed in 1996, and work has now begun on the vastly larger task of sequencing the human genome.
The pace of success has been so rapid because project leaders such as Eric Lander and his team at MIT/Whitehead Institute recognized early on that this was not a task for thousands of biologists and technicians working ploddingly with micropipettes. Rather, it was a problem to be solved through the creative and careful application of combinatorial mathematics, computer science, and robotic automation. Technological innovation, combined with human imagination, made the difference.
In addition, this project has been able to proceed on course because Congress and the public understand that the medical advances so important to all of us spring from such basic biomedical research. They are willing to support the necessary investment in this area because they share the vision and can understand the potential for dramatic returns - in the form of better health and improved quality of life.
It is much more difficult, however, to generate such shared vision for basic research that does not hold such immediately recognizable benefits. We have a quandary. Most Americans, when asked, say that they expect science and technology to solve some or most of the problems faced by our society, and that in order for that to happen, we should invest in research and put more emphasis on science in our schools. But at the moment, at least as far as the long-term prospects for research funding go, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Somehow, as a nation we are unable or unwilling to make the sustained investment or have the confidence that will ensure the kind of future we want - a future made brighter by cures for cancer and mental illness; by clean, renewable energy; by sustainable industrial development; by broadly accessible transportation and information systems; by affordable food and shelter; and by expanded horizons.
There is legitimate concern about how much we can afford to do. We need to balance the national budget so that future generations will not be burdened with our debt. Fair enough. But we need to distinguish between spending for the moment and investing in the future. Just as we cannot saddle the coming generations with our financial debt, neither can we saddle them with our societal debt through lack of concern for the future. We must invest in that future - through education, through research, and through attaining common purpose.
The American educational system certainly developed through a series of bold assertions and actions. It is an essential part of our national heritage. What assertion could have been more bold in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than the belief that for a democracy to function and a nation to thrive, education must be the universal right of our young? What action could have been more bold than the passage of the Morrill Act, providing a large grant of land to each state to enable the establishment of universities that would provide higher education to vast numbers of young men and women, mostly of modest means? And, in our own century, what step could have been more dramatic, or have better provided for our future, than the establishment of the GI Bill? This is the stuff of greatness, nation building, and empowerment.
Today, however, we have evolved into a truly paradoxical situation. We have, by a huge margin, the greatest and most effective system of higher education in the world - in terms of quality, accessibility, and creation of new knowledge. At the same time, we have a system of primary and secondary education that is a national shame, one that is a surefire determinant of national decline if it is not corrected.
Repeatedly we have set national goals to be met by our schools by the year 2000 - just four years hence: goals that call for our students to be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement, and for every school to be free of drugs and violence. But few seem serious about accomplishing such goals. Too ambitious.
Our schools, especially in large cities, have had thrust upon them social ills with which they are not prepared to deal - parental indifference, students with low expectations, outmoded and decaying infrastructure, political infighting, misplaced ideology, meaningless bureaucracies, and insufficient financial support. But these are symptoms. They are symptoms of a loss of national will and vision, uncertain or nonexistent values, and lack of respect for our most important profession - the profession of teaching our children.
I do not profess to know the answer to improving America's public schools, but it must begin with a bold reassertion that nothing is more important than preparing our young to face the future.
To do that, I suggest that we must give our students the ability to live, act, and contribute meaningfully in a world that is ever changing. This will require far more than simple mastery over a body of knowledge. We need to prepare our students with a solid foundation in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities to appreciate what they encounter, and we need to do so in ways that will provide them with the skills to negotiate the unknown. To be prepared for the future, our students must be intellectually adventurous.
This is not the place to lay out a set of educational goals for our schools, but I would suggest that there is much to be learned from a set of national standards for science education recently developed by the National Research Council.3 These standards are based on principles that could apply to many fields. They are based on studying the changing needs of our populace, the changing nature of science itself, and successful educational practices. The standards promote science as discovery, rather than science as a collection of facts to be memorized and accepted. Students are encouraged to develop skills of analysis and synthesis and perspective. Our educators should explore these standards as well as the associated pedagogical techniques. If they were to be adopted, we would see some fundamental changes in the way we assess the progress and preparation of our students. There is much to be learned that could inspire a whole new generation of students and teachers.
Setting ambitious educational goals is one thing. But we will not attain them unless there is broad societal recognition of the importance of the teaching profession. We must support our committed teachers, and we must create a new generation of teachers who are well educated, future-oriented, technologically literate, willing to be accountable, and excited to explore new ways of teaching and learning.
This is only the necessary condition, however; it is far from sufficient. These teachers must be supported by our citizenry of all ages, by government at all levels, by the mass media and the entertainment industry, by sports figures, by the criminal justice system, and, above all, by the parents and guardians of the young. They must be provided with the tools, the resources, the financial rewards, and the respect to do the job that must be done.
There is progress on at least one of these fronts. There appears to be enthusiasm and action at both federal and state levels, and within the private sector, for connecting all of our schools to the Internet by the end of the decade. This is a bold move, and it is appropriate. But the technical and financial requirements and capabilities must be thought through with great care, though expeditiously. Then the real question must be addressed: How can this new technology enhance learning?
First, of course, teachers must have the necessary understanding of and access to computers and information systems. But beyond that, the community of educators must become a learning and sharing organization. Herein lies the promise: There must be ways of sharing and learning from each other's experiences. The theory and practice of learning organizations must be tapped for techniques applicable to our educational system in the large.
The use of the World Wide Web and related tools holds huge promise for sharing learning resources. In the hands of skilled educators networked across the country, one school can produce a small, effective video, text, or other segment on, say, basic cell biology. Another school can produce brief segments about elementary algebra, another can address instruction in Spanish, and yet another may develop an exciting history unit. Individual teachers can then pull different units together to form coherent learning tools for the use of each class or student. By making all of these units available through the World Wide Web, it will be possible to share expertise, and achieve savings, on an unprecedented scale. There is no reason that this kind of collaboration need be restricted to the United States. The opportunities to share and work in education across national boundaries should be seriously explored; they will serve future generations well.
When we think of the future, scientific and technological innovations often come to mind. But the quality of our future will have even more to do with human relations than it does with science and technology. If this nation is to thrive - economically, socially, politically - we must do all we can to ensure that all of our citizens are able to reach their full potential. Only then will we realize the full benefits to be found in a society peopled with different cultures, races, and nationalities.
In the 1950s and 1960s, we as a nation determined that we would build a racially integrated, nondiscriminatory society, and we recognized that various interim commitments and corrective actions would be required until we reached that goal. Full attainment of that goal has proved more elusive than most anticipated. We now seem to be backing off in many ways - too ideological; too uncomfortable; too difficult.
Educational institutions have had central roles in both the action and debate throughout this period. Fundamentally, this is because of our special responsibility to prepare young people to take their full place in our society. Indeed, America's course in these matters was largely set by the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that laid the foundation for the affirmative action initiatives of the 1960s by ordering racial integration of public schools with all deliberate speed.
Today, more than 40 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still find ourselves at the center of discussion, evaluation, and legal decisions about race and diversity. Largely because of explicit actions to increase access to our colleges and universities, most have become much more diverse racially, culturally, and economically. The presence and role of women on our campuses have improved dramatically. Still, most campuses cannot be judged to be broadly representative of the makeup of contemporary America. Statistics regarding most measures of academic success and access of young people to career, professional, and leadership tracks tell us that the goals set in the 1950s and 1960s have not yet been achieved. My sense is that we are losing will, ignoring realities, falling into political partisanship, and, not infrequently, introducing mean-spiritedness into the national debate on these matters.
Effectively addressing issues of race and diversity is too essential to the future of the United States to allow it to be dissipated in partisan rhetoric. Maintaining our momentum is too urgent to allow it to be defined away through narrow, technical judicial decisions. Reinvigorating a national commitment is too demanding to allow it to drown in a sea of red tape. We need both idealism and pragmatism, but we cannot, through what Father Theodore Hesburgh refers to as "combat fatigue," enter the next century without making real progress toward broad equality.
It astounds me how frequently the issue of diversity is addressed as if it were an abstract concept. Racial diversity is a reality of American life in 1996, and we know with certainty that it will be an even more dominant reality in, say, 2015, when the children being born this year are of college age. In 2015, the college-age population of the US will be 16-percent African-American and 19-percent Hispanic-American, and the mix of new immigrants to our shores, especially from Asia and Southeast Asia, also will contribute more substantially to the makeup of our citizenry.
By the year 2015, the work force will be one-third white male, one-third white female, and one-third people of color. All these workers will be toiling to support not only themselves, but all of us who, as retirees, will be dependent upon them - and they will constitute a much smaller proportion of our population. (In 2015, there will be only half as many people working and supporting the retired population as there were in 1960.) If they do not form a cohesive, productive society, the future will indeed be bleak. This prognostication is truly daunting, especially when combined with the fact that we will need to compete in a marketplace and economy that will be even more globalized and integrated than today.
Thus, even if we are willing to ignore the historical imperative and noble goal of equality and true integration, we must be problem solvers and set a sound course for our rapidly changing nation.
It is sorely tempting to declare victory and turn our back on affirmative action and related processes in America. How pleased I would be if we could legitimately assume that all of our citizens have reached a sufficient state of actual equality of opportunity and access that we could adopt simple, race-blind approaches to all that we do. That, of course, is the goal. But is it an honest evaluation of the situation today? One need only peruse the extensive tabulations of national statistics regarding wages, crime, education, health, and many other parameters in Andrew Hacker's book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal to know that we have not achieved anything approaching equality across the racial boundaries of our society. If that is not convincing, read the front page of any urban newspaper on any given day.
Yet we are retreating. The federal district court ruling in Hopwood v. University of Texas has already had repercussions around the country - as organized efforts to end affirmative action continue to grow. The actions of the University of California's Board of Regents are well known; and in Colorado, the governing board of the university system has cut back on affirmative action programs. Other efforts include legislative moves in Pennsylvania and Arizona to outlaw affirmative action, and more than a dozen campaigns to amend the constitutions of various states.
In this context, I use the term "affirmative action" rather broadly to refer to programs or actions that specifically foster access or participation of minority groups or women in educational programs or jobs. This breadth seems appropriate in discussing universities in light of recent court decisions. MIT's admissions process is consistent with the Supreme Court's 1978 Bakke decision that universities may consider race "as one factor among many" in making admissions decisions. We build our admitted class to bring together students from diverse geographic, economic, cultural, racial, and experiential backgrounds, all of whom have exhibited the intellectual capacity, achievement, and motivation that are needed to succeed and benefit from MIT. Furthermore, our undergraduate financial aid is awarded solely on the basis of demonstrated financial need.
Yet in 1996, in Hopwood v. University of Texas, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively reversed the Bakke decision for public institutions in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, by declaring that "any consideration of race or ethnicity by the law school for the purpose of achieving a diverse student body is not a compelling interest" and therefore is not permitted.
I do not wish to defend across the board all federal affirmative action laws and set-aside policies, with their attendant red tape, cumbersome bureaucracies, and often artificial metrics. But I do want to defend the core concept that determined, often race-specific consideration and effort are still essential to move us toward the integrated, cohesive society we will need in the years ahead. The society I believe we will need is one in which individuals can realize their potential, and in which we can draw effectively on the individual and collective strengths and talents of our citizens of all colors and ethnicities. We cannot command, decree, or wish into existence such a nation. Rather we must work proactively to build it through the environments and opportunities we create for learning and working.
The idea that affirmative action programs are unnecessary or even unconstitutional is gaining momentum just at a time when we in science, engineering, and higher education are beginning to see some real results from these programs.
Last summer, the American Council on Education released its study on minorities in higher education,4 and reported a record number of Ph.D.'s awarded to black graduate students in 1995. And over the past eight years, the National Science Foundation reports,5 there has been a 75-percent increase in the number of science and engineering doctorates awarded to black graduate students - from 319 in 1987 to 557 in 1995. The media and others have hailed this as a dramatic increase. It is, indeed, real progress; nonetheless, the absolute numbers are stunningly small. Last year, for example, the number of blacks receiving the doctorate in electrical engineering in the US rose 40 percent over the previous year - to 24. Yet this is out of a total of 966 doctorates awarded in that field.
And yet there are arguments over the reasons for this progress. Supporters of affirmative action claim the increase as evidence of the programs' effectiveness, while critics argue that it is the result of increased educational opportunities, and that any benefits of affirmative action are offset by the negative effects of what they regard as preferential treatment of minorities.
Did "affirmative action" play a role in this modest success? It should not be a difficult matter to assess how many of these new Ph.D. graduates were definitively encouraged or enabled to reach this high level of attainment by specific programs or support. It should not be a matter of guesswork; the data should be obtained and affirmative action and outreach programs should be objectively evaluated on the basis of outcomes over time. It should not be a matter of ideology of the left or of the right. We should assess where we are, demonstrate what does and doesn't work, and get on with the job.
In the current legal environment, attorneys are recommending to organizations that were established specifically to promote educational opportunity for minority students that they modify their eligibility criteria to indicate that they will review applications without regard to the applicant's ethnicity. Frankly, this strikes me as a strange and artificial approach.
My own view is that we must hold to our principles if our nation is to benefit from the full range of talent needed to meet the challenges of a changing world. Our journey is not over. Our goal is not attained.
I believe that the time will come when affirmative action programs will no longer be necessary, but for now, we still have a compelling need for proactive efforts, despite calls by some that what is needed instead is simply stronger enforcement of antidiscrimination laws. Indeed, as Tom Wicker put it in his recent book, Tragic Failure: "If enforcement of antidiscrimination laws is the alternative to affirmative action, race, sex, and ethnic discrimination will be with us for a long time."
Race is not the only focus of the argument about how open our society should be. These are economically difficult times in America - at least relative to our aspirations and to the post-war boom years. And as times get tight, there is a natural tendency to turn inward. So once again, we hear concerns that we should not be educating so many foreign graduate students. We hear that immigrants are a major cause of our woes. And we keep pulling apart into homogeneous groupings of one sort or another. But just because these are natural or understandable tendencies does not make them right.
America has always been a nation of immigrants and we have always been a land of opportunity. These statements perhaps sound quaint or old fashioned, but they are true, and we must retain their spirit.
Each year, my wife Becky and I host a dinner in our home for the men and women who are retiring from the tenured faculty ranks of MIT. These are always extraordinary assemblages of talented and accomplished colleagues - people who have defined MIT, and who have defined their professional and scholarly fields. No lack of bold thought there!
Yet, as I survey that room each spring, I realize how much MIT and indeed America have benefited from our being open to those from other countries, and how wise has been our tradition of selecting and advancing people on the basis of their talent and accomplishment rather than their wealth or nationality. Now, some might say that this represents a passing era, that what I am observing has its origins in the intellectual migrations from Europe associated with the turmoil of the World War II era. Or it might even represent the vestiges of the times during which the leading universities in science and engineering were in Germany and England.
No, it is an ongoing fact that the excellence of our institutions is due in very large measure to our openness to international scholars. MIT faculty who have received the Nobel Prize include individuals who were born in Japan, India, Italy, and Mexico. Our provost was born in Israel. We have deans who were born in Canada and Australia. Almost all came to the US as graduate students.
In fact, about one-third of all Ph.D. degrees in science and engineering earned in US universities are awarded to foreign citizens. (In engineering alone, half of the Ph.D.'s are earned by foreign citizens.) Many of these doctoral recipients initially pursue their careers in the US, and about 40 percent of them appear to remain here permanently. What a magnificent resource for our industries, universities, and government laboratories. Openness and meritocracy are what have made our universities great, and we must continue that spirit and philosophy in our national endeavors.
At the same time, we should concentrate on improving both science education and general education in this country's K-12 system in order to increase the number of motivated, well-prepared students entering universities and colleges. We should value more highly intellectual pursuits and celebrate the accomplishments of those who contribute to our health and quality of life by advancing science and technology. This is the way to ensure that, in the long run, our graduate programs have a larger, more stable base of US students.
We must, however, continue to provide access, opportunity, and welcome to the brilliant immigrants who contribute so much to our society - people like Institute Professor Hermann Haus, who received the National Medal of Science this year. Recollecting the call from John Gibbons, the President's Science Advisor, Professor Haus said, "I did not trust my senses, at first. After the news sunk in, the thoughts that came to my mind were that I was grateful to my fate for having come to the US, a victim of the 1945 ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia; for becoming a citizen; and for the recognition I received on account of work I thoroughly enjoyed and for the privilege of association with outstanding students and colleagues."
I can think of no more eloquent description of what it means for this country to be the land of opportunity. We must retain our commitment to this bold dream.
Boldness and openness are qualities that we as a nation must seek to preserve and advance. We in America's research universities have a particular duty to do so.
Boldness flows from a spirit of adventure and a "can do" attitude long associated with America. These characteristics must again be dominant. To be effective, however, we must remember that boldness must be accompanied by staying power. Staying power is waning. We increasingly are better at starting things than at carrying them through. Contemporary politics demands "change" and new vision at least every two to four years. Our budget cycles cause us to be unreliable international partners as we start and stop projects. Staying power does not mean stagnation, it permits the fulfillment of bold ideas, with plenty of correction, evolution, and adaptation along the way.
Openness flows from a spirit of generosity that has long characterized America, but which today appears to be in peril under the stresses of change, slow economic growth, and increasing uncertainty of the future. We must not allow this to happen, for openness and generosity can only be replaced by narrow expectations and selfishness.
We must, instead, choose to be bold and to be generous of spirit. We must believe in the possibility of greatness, for our society today and for the generations to come.
Charles M. Vest
1 Edwin H. Land, Generation of Greatness: The Idea of University in an Age of Science, Ninth Annual Arthur Dehon Little Memorial Lecture, delivered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 22, 1957. Return to text.
2 National survey on public opinion of science and technology, commissioned by the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation, and conducted in June 1996 by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut. Return to text.
3 National Science Education Standards, National Academy Press, 1996. Return to text.
4 Reginald Wilson and Deborah Carter, Minorities in Higher Education 1995-96: 14th Annual Status Report, American Council on Education, June 1996. Return to text.
5 Selected Data on Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards, 1995, Division of Science Resource Studies, Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, National Science Foundation (NSF 96-303). Return to text.
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