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Roundtable Discussion and Reception at Université Paris-Sorbonne

On November 23, 2015, Jonathan Fanton welcomed members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to a reception at the Université Paris-Sorbonne. In an excerpt of remarks offered at this event, Dr. Fanton shared details of the American Academy’s historical ties to French Foreign Honorary Members, introduced recent studies led by Academy members of potential interest to colleagues in France, and expressed interest in future collaborations with Academy members in France.

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and it is my pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the Academy’s Foreign Honorary Members in Paris. I would like to begin by thanking President Jobert for warmly welcoming us to the Sorbonne this evening. I am joined by James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, who is the American Academy’s first International Secretary.

The Academy has 600 Foreign Honorary Members from 38 countries around the world, and we want to connect with them and build bridges of understanding and cooperation. In this spirit, I met with Foreign Honorary Members in Russia in September and tomorrow Jim and I will travel to London to meet with members there.

Please allow me to give you a brief history of the Academy and our work with our French colleagues and members. 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 American Revolution, they believed that the 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.”

In our very first class of members in 1781, the Academy elected two leading figures in America’s fight for independence: George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The new class also included two American allies, both French diplomats who served in the United States as members of the French legation: Anne-César de la Luzerne, the French Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States and later French Second Minister to the United States, as well as François Barbé-Marbois, who was secretary to the legation and charge d’affaires.

Over the Academy’s history, we have elected nearly 275 Foreign Honorary Members from France, with one of the most well-known being Louis Pasteur, renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. There are 72 current French honorary members, and we added two this year in the 2015 election: Miroslav Radman, Professor of Cell Biology at the Université René Descartes Medical School, and composer György Kurtag.

Since our founding, the Academy has brought together groups of members and other experts to examine some of the most pressing challenges of the day through meetings, projects, and publications. Over the years, we have done so in cooperation with French colleagues.

For example, from 1988 to 1992, a project in collaboration with the École Normale Supérieure examined immigration policies in France and the United States. The study compared the two countries’ immigration policies, race relations, and political institutions; looked at how both countries educate and house immigrants; and analyzed the political and legal implications in each country of integration, marginalization, and discrimination.

As another example, on June 6, 2000, the Academy held its first Stated Meeting outside of the Americas in Paris, at the residence of the United States Ambassador to France and Academy Fellow Felix Rohatyn. The meeting included Academy Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members as well as representatives of the Institute de France, Académie des Sciences, Académie Française, and other learned societies. The meeting focused on the intellectual partnership between the United States and France and the globalization of ideas and culture.

During the meeting, Yves Quéré, Foreign Secretary of the Académie des Sciences, described the interdependent worlds of thought encompassed by the American Academy's membership of both artists and scientists. He said, “You address the inner worlds of our spirit, our soul, our heart, and our faith, as well as the outer spaces of molecules, galaxies, economy, history, ethics. You explore both the moi and the nous, and for that, you deserve praise and thanks.”

Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, Permanent Secretary of the Académie Française, added that “[d]uring the American Revolution, just as the American Academy was being founded, there were scholars in our ranks who studied the events in your new nation and who felt that your struggle for independence was part of our history as well.”

More recently, the American Academy’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences brought members together from across disciplines to assess the state of humanistic and social scientific scholarship and education. It released its influential report, The Heart of the Matter, in 2013. The report acknowledged that the humanities and social sciences make it possible for people around the world to work together to address issues of mutual importance, such as peace and sustainability. Among its many recommendations was a call to promote language learning, expand education in international affairs and transnational studies, and support international exchange programs.

The Academy recently published a report on the need for governments to invest in basic research in science and technology. We are following up with a new project examining the state of public trust in science and scientists. We are also pleased to announce two new Commissions: the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, which will look at how Americans are receiving their undergraduate education and how to expand access at a price students can afford; and the Commission on Language Learning, which will examine the teaching of foreign languages in the United States.

But not all of our projects deal with scholarship and higher education. Our Global Nuclear Future Group is studying how to expand the use of nuclear power safely. Another project is exploring how technology—think drones—pose new dilemmas in the ethical use of force. Another study is considering the threat to global stability posed by weak and failing states.

The Academy does not want to look at these important questions through an American-centric lens. We want to engage our Foreign Honorary Members in all the work we do, whether on the importance of the humanities, the safe pursuit of nuclear power or how best to address the dangers of weak states.

At this point, Dr. Fanton introduced James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust and the American Academy’s first International Secretary.

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