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Featured speakers at the Convocation included (from left) Princeton President Shirley Tilghmann, Harvard President Lawrence Summers, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead and Yale President Richard C. Levin.

Yale at 300

The following is the text of the Tercentennial Address presented by President Richard C. Levin during the Academic Convocation on Cross Campus on Oct. 5, 2001.

We gather here in front of the Sterling Library to commemorate a unique moment, the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Yale University. A century ago, not one of these beautiful buildings framing the Cross Campus was yet in place. When our predecessors gathered in Battell Chapel to mark Yale's bicentennial, they had barely a glimmer of what the University might become. Although Yale was widely recognized as one of the nation's leading educational institutions, its population of students, faculty, and staff did not begin to mirror the nation and the world as it does today. No one anticipated that during the century to come the physical size of the University would increase by a factor of ten, the student body by a factor of four, the faculty by a factor of eight, library holdings by a factor of thirty, and the endowment, adjusted for inflation, by a factor of one hundred and twenty.

Try to imagine a Yale augmented by these multiples a century from now. Imagine a University with 110 million square feet, 44,000 students, 16,000 faculty, 300 million books, and an endowment of $1.3 trillion. Such numbers are unthinkable to us, as today's numbers would have been to our precursors. And they are certainly not inevitable. Our view of the road ahead is no better than the view in 1901. Who, then, when less than 100 courses were offered, would have imagined that Yale College students would have 2000 courses to choose among a century later?

Like our predecessors, we cannot see into the distant future. But at such moments of commemoration we serve ourselves well by summing up where we are and where we are headed. I want to approach this task by discussing, in turn, five specific and very significant contributions that Yale, along with America's other great universities, makes to our society. The first of these contributions is to educate citizens and leaders who think critically and independently. The second is to model freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry in a nation committed to freedom. The third is to serve as an engine of economic growth and prosperity for our society. The fourth, more recent in origin, is to foster the development of the community that surrounds us. The fifth, of increasing importance in the years ahead, is to promote greater understanding among the peoples and nations of the world.

The justly famous 1828 Report of the Faculty of Yale College provided a definition of liberal education that has stood the test of time: "By a liberal education has been understood, such a course of discipline in the arts and sciences, as is best calculated, ... both to strengthen and enlarge the faculties of mind, and to familiarize it with the leading principles of the great objects of human investigation and knowledge." The faculty recognized then as now that what it called the "furniture" of the mind -- the great objects of human investigation -- should properly evolve over time. And during the past century, as the "furniture" changed, faculties at Yale and elsewhere have come to focus more sharply on the other attribute of a liberal education, the "discipline" of the mind.

Consider how pedagogy has evolved in the past century. As recently as the 1930s and 40s, "recitation" of the contents of a textbook or a lecture was the most widely practiced method of eliciting student participation in class. By the 1960s the participatory seminar and the discussion section afforded students the opportunity to present and defend their views. Today, in class as well as on written assignments and examinations, students are judged more on the quality of analysis and argument than on the ability to recall facts.

Our insistence on developing in our students the capacity for reason, reflection, and independent critical thinking produces graduates who are equipped with curiosity and the capacity to adapt to ever changing work and home environments, graduates with the flexibility and imagination to put new ideas into practice. Our pedagogy also produces citizens and leaders with a capacity to think clearly about public issues and to contribute meaningfully to the debate and discussion that is the life-blood of our democracy.

All this said, this no time for complacency about the quality of education. It has been three decades since Yale College undertook a comprehensive review of its curriculum. At this moment the University is in the midst of making substantial investments to support research in science, engineering, health care, and environmental studies to complement its longstanding strength in the humanities and social sciences, and we are investing heavily in our fine arts schools, our museums, and our local community. Although we are justly proud of the quality of undergraduate education at Yale, we must not let this moment pass without considering how undergraduates might share in the benefits of these University-wide investments. I have asked Dean Brodhead to take the leadership of a major study of education in Yale College. Rather than confine this work to a small faculty committee working in isolation, this study will involve many faculty, students, and recent graduates, who will solicit ideas and suggestions from the entire Yale family. We expect the study to require most of this academic year and the next to produce a final report and recommendations. We look forward to your participation.

The second contribution made by Yale among other leading universities is especially important at this moment of national crisis. It is, above all, our commitment to freedom that makes America still a beacon of hope for humanity. And our universities have a crucial role in the preservation of this essential value. In our commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry we have been, and we must remain in a world radically changed by the events of September 11, a model for the nation.

Our commitment to free expression and free inquiry is inextricably linked to the pedagogy that I have just described. Those educated to think critically are the most disinclined to fall under the sway of prejudice, to succumb to intolerance, to close their minds to debate and discussion. It is no accident that our universities have historically been bastions in defense of free inquiry, no accident that within Eastern Europe and China, they have been oases of free expression.

America faces difficult choices in the months and years ahead: how to strike a balance between civil liberty and security at home, and a balance among diplomatic, economic, and military actions abroad. By drawing upon the accumulated knowledge of our faculties, our universities have much of substance to contribute to this discussion. To be most effective, we must be willing to tolerate dissent from a national consensus, but we must also resist convergence toward a consensus of dissent. We must think creatively and rigorously about how to cope with new threats to world order and, at the same time, listen with tolerance and openness to all points of view. Our universities must remain places in which opinions on every side can be expressed and subjected to critical scrutiny. This is the great legacy of the Enlightenment that inspired both the founding documents of our nation and the intellectual tradition of its universities.

I turn now to the third important contribution that universities make to the larger society, an area in which Yale is committed to making its largest investments in the years ahead. During the past half century, America's economic strength has increasingly come to depend upon its leadership in translating advances in scientific knowledge into new products, new services, and entire new industries. During this same period, as a result of conscious and far-sighted decisions taken during the Truman Administration, America's universities have become the principal worldwide source of new scientific discovery. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that America's universities are the wellsprings of our prosperity.

The national system of science established after World War II has three essential features. First, the Federal government bears the principal responsibility for funding basic scientific research. Second, universities -- rather than government laboratories, non-teaching research institutes, or private industry -- are the primary institutions in which this government-funded research is undertaken. And third, most Federal funds are allocated, not according to commercial or political considerations, but through an intensely competitive process of review conducted by independent experts who judge proposals on their scientific merit alone. Within the overall constraints set by the Federal budget, there is a virtual free market in ideas.

This is a uniquely American system, and it has been an overwhelming success. Over the past three decades, the United States has been the source of about 35% of all scientific publications worldwide, and more than 60% of the world's Nobel prizes have been awarded to Americans or foreign nationals working in American universities. Along with unimagined improvements in human health, university-based research has been ultimately responsible for the development of information technology, the Internet, biotechnology, and the modern pharmaceutical industry.

In the decade ahead, we will invest nearly $1 billion in facilities to support research in science, engineering, and medicine. Our announcement of these ambitious plans two years ago has already helped us to recruit exceptional scientists and engineers from around the globe. No investment is more important to securing Yale's position among the world's leading universities, and no investment holds greater promise for the health and prosperity of the nation and the planet.

The science-based revolutions that have propelled the American economy have at the same time left behind millions affected by the flight of manufacturing industries, first from our cities, then from our shores. The plight of our inner cities -- insufficient job opportunities, substandard housing and under-performing public schools -- threatens the health of the Republic. Increasingly, our universities have been expected to shoulder some responsibility for the improvement of our cities.

Such an expectation is entirely appropriate. With the decline of urban manufacturing, universities are now the largest employment sector not only in New Haven and Cambridge, but also in Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Alabama, and Provo, Utah. Institutions of higher education are well suited to the task of urban citizenship, because faculty, students, staff, and alumni possess valuable skills and expertise, and universities have a stake in making their surrounding communities more attractive to prospective students and faculty. We also have a commitment, within our walls, to ensuring the full development of human potential. It is natural to extend, where we can, this possibility to our neighbors.

Eight years ago, I committed the University to a substantial mobilization of voluntary effort and to investments in support of economic development, neighborhood revitalization, and public education. We have worked, as never before, with city government officials, business leaders, clergy, and neighborhood organizations. Signs of progress in our collaborations with New Haven surround us -- from downtown to Broadway to the Dwight neighborhood, to increased home ownership throughout the city, a burgeoning biotechnology sector, and thriving partnerships with several public schools. The relationship between New Haven and Yale has become a model for the nation.

In the years ahead, I hope that we can achieve the same kind of progress with our labor unions, whose members make an essential and valuable contribution to the life of the University. We are eager to work with Locals 34 and 35 to find a new way of structuring our relationship, relying on day-to-day collaboration rather than periodic confrontation. Just as our work with the city of New Haven required participants on both sides of the town-gown divide to cast aside long-held prejudices, working collaboratively with our unions will require participants on both sides to overcome years of distrust. This is not easy to accomplish, but our work in the city has demonstrated what is possible.

As most of you know, we have celebrated our Tercentennial year not simply here at home but also in Europe, Asia, and Latin America to mark Yale's intention to become a truly global institution. This aspiration underscores another potentially significant contribution of our major universities to the wider society. Through the subjects and students we teach and the educational and research collaborations we undertake abroad, we can advance greater understanding among the world's peoples. We can also contribute to the solution of problems that cannot be contained within national borders -- such as the spread of disease, the degradation of the environment, and, as we now know all too well, the rise of terrorism.

In step with our sister institutions in higher education, we have in recent decades greatly expanded the presence of international subject matter in our curriculum. We now teach 52 languages, offer over 600 courses on international topics, and sponsor research and teaching programs focused on each of the world's major regions. More than 30 per cent of our Ph.D. students and eight per cent of our undergraduates are neither citizens nor permanent residents of the United States. Recently, we have launched a new Center for the Study of Globalization, a fellowship program for emerging international leaders, exchange programs with universities around the globe, and more than twenty educational and research partnerships with universities, health care organizations, and government agencies in China alone. To enhance our capacity to attract the most able students from around the world, in this Tercentennial year we extended to international applicants to Yale College the benefits of need-blind admissions and full need-based financial aid -- one of the great legacies of our third century.

Some of you may wonder why I have focused my remarks at least as much on the American research university in general as on Yale in particular. This emphasis is not accidental. One of the most powerful developments of Yale's third century has been the augmentation of the role that our universities play in the life of the nation. We strive to make Yale distinctive, and through the fortunate confluence of past history and present resolve we have succeeded in standing among the very best. Nonetheless, we are linked inextricably with our sister institutions in a common enterprise. And here is the task before us: to educate thinking citizens and leaders, to preserve free inquiry and free expression, to generate new knowledge that improves health and spreads prosperity, to encourage realization of the human potential latent within our cities, and to reach out to the world to provide a foundation for mutual understanding and peace. Hoc virtutis opus. This is the work of Yale's fourth century. When our successors gather here one hundred years from now, may they look with favor on what we have accomplished.


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