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The Columbus Partnership

On May 14, 2015, Dr. Fanton welcomed to the House of the Academy staff from the Columbus Partnership, a nonprofit membership-based organization of CEOs from businesses and institutions in Columbus, Ohio. In his remarks, Dr. Fanton discusses the early days of the Academy through more recent Academy work of relevance to business leaders from a major American city.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This building is the Academy’s first permanent home. Until 1981, the Academy was an itinerant organization, housed on Harvard’s campus, at the Boston Athenæum, and at the Massachusetts Historical Society, among other local institutions. Since 1982, we have been in our own home designed by Kallmann McKinnell & Wood.

As many of you know, this Academy was created in 1780 by the founders of our nation, and it has always counted among its members the most distinguished leaders of academia, business, and public affairs, as a quick tour of the Atrium—and our remarkable collection of acceptance letters—will demonstrate.

Each year, a new class of Academy members is elected by their peers. They are drawn from “every field and profession,” and many then volunteer their time and expertise to Academy projects—collaborative cross-disciplinary efforts that are, in every instance, concerned with the state of our nation and the world.

Early studies focused on the soils and minerals of this continent, on the geography of the West, on the peculiarities of the American version of the English language. The Academy was the venue for the earliest American debates about Darwin’s theory of evolution. It was instrumental in the creation of major scholarly organizations like the Smithsonian Institution and the American Council of Learned Societies. It encouraged the development of an entirely new field of inquiry with its work on nuclear arms control in the early 1960s. It was even the location chosen by Alexander Graham Bell for his first presentation of the idea of the telephone.

Over the years, the Academy has also examined the theme of your retreat, “The Power of Cities,” primarily through our quarterly journal Dædalus—including a 1961 issue on “The Future Metropolis” and a 1968 issue on “The Conscience of the City.” In the latter, Lyle C. Fitch, then–City Administrator under New York City Mayor Robert Wagner, contributed an article titled “Eight Goals for an Urbanizing America.” One of the goals Fitch mentioned seems particularly relevant to the work in which you are engaged today:

A national commitment to the work of developing the urban frontier, as pervasive and compelling as the national commitment to developing the western frontier in the nineteenth century. Such a commitment must draw on federal, state, and local governments, business and labor, and educational, religious, and other organizations. It must be based on a heightened sense of common interest among all urban dwellers, with increased communication and mutual understanding across class lines, and a general concern for the well-being of each community.

As this publication history suggests, the Academy has been deeply interested in urban development for many years. And I am personally interested in your work as well. When I was President of the New School of Social Research in New York City, I cochaired (with the CEO of Consolidated Edison) a partnership of universities, businesses, and community groups that revived the Union Square neighborhood. Union Square in the 1970s was known as “needle park”; now it is a vibrant center of high-tech companies, retail at a range of price points, and a mixed-income residential area.

What my experience in Union Square, your experience in Columbus, and the American Academy all have in common is a commitment to partnerships. We all encourage collaboration across professional and social divides, in service to the public good.

I’ll mention just one more example because I think it will interest you: Shortly, we will announce the creation, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, of a new Academy commission on postsecondary education. The commission will examine the current state of postsecondary education, imagine what the nation’s education needs will be in twenty or thirty years, and recommend ways to provide more Americans with an education that prepares them for meaningful employment, civic participation, and a lifetime of fulfillment. I believe that this commission will address many of the themes that the Columbus Partnership will discuss over the next two days, and I hope we can be useful to you in the years ahead.

Thank you again for being here today. I wish you a productive session. And I hope you will return again next year.

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