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From Local to Global: Public Research Universities in the 21st Century

Watch video of this event.

On February 4, 2016, Jonathan Fanton introduced a panel discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing public research universities, with references to the work of the Academy’s Lincoln Project. The panel featured Gene Block, UCLA; Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, UCLA; and Kim A. Wilcox, University of California, Riverside.

The discussion served as the 2033rd Stated Meeting of the American Academy.

Good evening. It is my pleasure to welcome you and to call to order the 2033rd Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We are delighted to be back in Los Angeles this year and I want to thank Chancellor Gene Block for hosting us once again.

UCLA is one of the Academy’s University Affiliates, a partner in our scholarly and policy studies, and the home institution of 106 Academy members. In all, greater Los Angeles has 257 Academy members making it the fifth largest concentration of our members. In order to better serve our members in this important academic center, we have created a local program committee led by Geoff Cowan, president of the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands. That committee will be planning events and meetings in the year ahead, and it is our hope that you will contact us with your ideas about how the Academy can increase its presence in Los Angeles.

Since our visit here last February, the American Academy has had a busy and productive year. We have held events in twenty cities. We have created an Exploratory Fund, designed to assist members in creating smaller scale initiatives on subjects that concern them most—from legal assistance for the poor to the preservation of cultural heritage in wartime, to the future of American jazz. And we have launched two major initiatives.

Following the success of our Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, we received a second bipartisan request from Congress to conduct a study on the state of foreign language education in the United States. Paul LeClerc, the former president of the New York Public Library, is chair of the project. Our nation already invests in language education, particularly at the high school and college levels, but undervalues language proficiency as a national goal—for business and international security, but also for personal fulfillment. The Commission on Language Learning will issue a report next fall addressing this important national issue.

We have also launched a Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and co-chaired by Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation, and Roger Ferguson, president of TIAA-CREF. This new study acknowledges that postsecondary education continues to be one of the most important avenues of opportunity in America today, and that there are ever more options for how, where, and when Americans receive their postsecondary education. New populations of students, for whom the traditional four-year degree at a residential university was once an impossibility, can now pursue undergraduate education in two-year, four-year, for-profit, and online institutions, according to schedules that fit their own lives, with content delivered in modules adaptable to their own specific needs. The Academy’s commission will examine the current state of postsecondary education, imagine what the nation’s needs will be in 20 or 30 years, and offer recommendations for addressing the rising costs of college and ways of financing postsecondary education that protects wide and equitable access.

Today’s program considers the importance of public research universities and reflects the work of our third major commission.

It will focus on institutions like UCLA and UC Riverside, public research universities that educate large numbers of students from diverse backgrounds, and produce critical scientific and technology research that drives innovation.

Co-chaired by Mary Sue Coleman, president emerita of the University of Michigan, and Robert Birgeneau, chancellor emeritus of UC Berkeley, The Lincoln Project is considering the implications of declining state investment in public higher education and developing recommendations for ensuring that public universities continue to serve the nation as engines of research, economic development, and opportunity for Americans from all backgrounds.

Over the past two years, the Lincoln Project has held regional forums around the nation and published a series of short reports examining specific aspects of the issue, all building toward the publication of a final report in early April, which will include concrete recommendations for universities, their philanthropic and corporate partners, and policy-makers. But that is just the beginning of the work. We have a long-term perspective, and know that effecting the real change in public higher education will take years.

In 1967, the Academy published transcripts of a symposium on the future of American institutions entitled “Four Futures.” The transcript, which appeared in Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy, included the predictions of a working group asked to consider the future of American higher education.

A half century ago, that group predicted that universities would be responsible for creating a common discourse for social, political, and cultural discussions:

“The formal intellectual institutions will have to take greater responsibility not only for stimulating cultural activities but for insuring a level of common understanding sufficient to provide the basis for communication about cultural subjects.”

Second, they foresaw that universities would need to expand in order to support an increasingly complex and technological society:

“Although there seems to be a feeling that universities ought to remain small in order to achieve maximum internal communication, they must be capable of absorbing many new ideas and responsibilities.”

In other words, in 1967 the American Academy was preparing for a time, our time, when universities would be central not only to the education of young Americans, but also to our economy, our public discourse, and our ability to change and grow over time.

These are the very themes that our Lincoln Project will address in its final report this spring, and that we will discuss in greater depth this evening.

And, so it is now my great pleasure to invite the UCLA’s Chancellor to introduce tonight’s speakers. Gene Block has served as Chancellor of UCLA since 2007, and is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences in the School of Medicine. He also holds a joint faculty appointment in Integrative Biology and Physiology in the UCLA College. Chancellor Block is a longtime champion of public universities and The Lincoln Project has benefited immensely from his insightful involvement and expertise. We are also grateful for his assistance in arranging this evening’s panel, and I am very pleased to invite him to the podium now.

At this point, Dr. Fanton turned the program over to Gene Block.

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