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Lincoln Project Regional Forum: Georgia

On April 2, 2015, the Academy convened at Emory University a group of leaders from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee in a regional forum to discuss the Lincoln Project, an initiative on the future of American public research universities.

In these opening remarks for the forum, Jonathan Fanton discusses Academy Fellow Atticus Greene Haygood, President of Emory from 1875 to 1884, whose work anticipated the focus of the Academy’s Lincoln Project. He also discusses the relationship between the Lincoln Project and other Academy initiatives on the near horizon.

The American Academy was founded in 1780, by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other leaders who helped to establish the new nation. In the midst of the Revolution, they believed that key to America’s long-term strength and survival was, in the words of our Charter, “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.” Since our founding, groups of Fellows have come together, through the Academy, to examine some of the most pressing challenges of their times.

The first Academy Fellow to be elected from the state of Georgia was Atticus Greene Haygood, president of Emory from 1875 to 1884. A Methodist minister, he offered several robust defenses of public education throughout the 1880s, often stating, “No man in his senses believes ignorance to be a good thing for him; no man not too ignorant to think, and not too mean to care, believes ignorance to be a good thing for his children.”

One fundamental debate of Haygood’s era focused on the need for state support in primary education. But Haygood, as Emory’s president, was a transitional figure in the evolution of the university as well. He believed that higher education was an important resource for people of all backgrounds. For this reason, he convinced Emory’s Trustees to create a program for technical training in the “industrial crafts” to help prepare Georgians for new economic opportunities. At the same time, he broadened Emory’s curricula to include new courses in languages, music, and theology, and instituted higher standards for the bachelor’s degree. Haygood’s belief in the public’s responsibility to support education, in the practical potential of a college degree, and in the value of a well-rounded curriculum for personal development all anticipate the concerns of the American Academy’s Lincoln Project.

The Lincoln Project is named for Abraham Lincoln, to commemorate his role in signing the Morrill Act in 1862, which created the nation’s public university system. Its goal is to preserve and strengthen these critical institutions at a time when they are threatened by diminishing public support.

Like primary education in Haygood’s era, I think we all recognize that postsecondary education has become a prerequisite for success in the twenty-first century. This assumption that inspires the Lincoln Project, and it will also drive a new, three-year Academy project to examine the state of undergraduate education in America. That commission, with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, will include national leaders in education, philanthropy, business, and government. It will analyze how Americans are receiving their postsecondary training, illuminate trends, and offer recommendations aimed at broad access and affordability. The Lincoln Project, which will issue its recommendations in early 2016, is providing the Academy with a significant head start toward that goal.

This forum will help us consider new approaches to the challenges of the nation’s flagship public institutions. Each of you brings a distinctive perspective to the issues before us. If there is a theme to our conversation today, it is the growing importance of partnerships between public research universities and private colleges and universities. The partnership between Emory and Georgia Tech is often cited, appropriately, as a model of public-private collaboration. And so we are here today, at a private institution, to learn more about the benefits of that close working relationship. But I suspect that we will address many other themes during the next few hours and I look forward to the conversation. I thank you again for joining us.

At this point, Dr. Fanton introduced the co-chairs of the Lincoln Project, Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor Emeritus and Silverman Distinguished Professor of Physics, Materials Science, and Engineering and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and Mary Sue Coleman, president emerita of the University of Michigan.

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