Fall 2023 Bulletin: Annual Report

Report of the Chair of the Board of Directors

Goodwin Liu
Headshot of Goodwin Liu, who has tan skin and short black hair. He wears a gray suit, blue tie, and faces the viewer smiling.
Photo by Martha Stewart Photography.

Induction weekend is always a highlight for the Academy, and this year’s ceremony did not disappoint. It was the second consecutive “double” Induction, to make up for canceled ceremonies during the pandemic, and we enthusiastically welcomed several hundred new members from the classes of 2022 and 2023 along with their families and friends. From your own Induction, you may remember the bagpipes, the children’s chorus, the class speakers, the signing of the Book of Members. I love the traditions and how they help bind us as a community—past, present, and future.

It was my first Induction as Board Chair, and together with President David Oxtoby and Secretary Earl Lewis, I had the honor of greeting each new member on stage as their names were called. Afterward, someone asked me what I was thinking while shaking hands with each inductee, one after another, and was it exhausting? My answer: Not exhausting at all—to the contrary, I felt inspired and energized. That day, I had two thoughts on stage: The first was that this dazzling procession of human excellence—from every background, field of study, and area of impact—is fully up to meeting the myriad challenges facing our nation and the world. The second was that even as we honor the brilliance of each individual member, it continues to be the Academy’s vital mission to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Whether the issue is international conflict, climate change, the future of the arts, the role of the humanities, or democracy and the rule of law, the Academy is uniquely positioned as an independent, nonpartisan institution that can bring collective knowledge across disciplines to bear on developing solutions to our most intractable problems. As detailed in this Annual Report, the Academy, its members, and its outstanding staff have been hard at work on a broad range of issues, with several projects releasing final reports or other publications even as new ones are getting off the ground. It has been an enormously productive period, and our governance bodies (Board, Council, and Trust), never content to rest on our laurels, continue to examine how the Academy can be even more impactful going forward.

All the while, the Academy has been expanding opportunities for member engagement, including resump­tion of in-person events, and working to increase the organization’s visibility. Providing open access to Dædalus, for example, has yielded great dividends. We have seen a threefold increase in downloaded essays, an uptick in citations, and a rise in online readership. The Academy’s work and activities are possible because of the generosity of many members, including several who have made major gifts.

I am especially proud of the Academy’s ongoing initiative to diversify our membership, an effort launched five years ago as part of the strategic plan approved by the Board under the leadership of my predecessor Nancy Andrews. Among the more than nine hundred members elected in the past four years, over 50 percent are women and almost 40 percent are people of color, and more than one hundred institutions in forty states and the District of Columbia are represented. We still have a long way to go in diversifying our membership. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it is that we have no need to pursue excellence and diversity, as if they were two different things. Our approach is to pursue excellence through diversity, on the premise that we cannot elect the best of America unless we include all of America.

These accomplishments reflect the enormous ef­forts of Academy members and staff working together toward shared goals. They also owe a great deal to the exceptional leadership of David Oxtoby. Mild-mannered, collegial, and ever thoughtful, David has steered the Academy with steady and skillful hands over the past five years, maintaining a sharp focus on strategic priorities and executing effectively on all fronts. He has also vigorously defended important values at the core of the Academy’s mission, including the principles and calls to action enunciated in Board-approved statements on anti-racism, climate change, and the freedom to learn. We will have formal occasions to celebrate David’s tenure before his retirement next summer, but I would like to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the Board of Directors, our deep appreciation for his contributions to the Academy. Thanks to David, the Academy will enter its next chapter of leadership in a strong position.

A search for the Academy’s next president is underway and will continue into the new year, with the aim of concluding in the spring. Selecting the next president is the most important decision the Board will make, and we are firmly committed to considering an inclusive and wide-ranging pool of candidates. I am grateful to the many members who have participated in the process by offering nominations and valuable input. Hearing your hopes and aspirations for the Academy has been quite edifying, and your confidence fills me with motivation and optimism as we look ahead to the coming year.

Goodwin Liu