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The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Higher Education—Press Conference

Watch video of this event.

On Thursday, April 7, 2016, Jonathan Fanton welcomed members and guests of the American Academy to a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. that featured the release of the final Lincoln Project report, Public Research Universities: Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision—An Educational Compact for the 21st Century.

Good morning. As the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the release and first public discussion of our new report, Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision: An Educational Compact for the 21st Century.

This is the final publication of the Academy’s Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education. We are pleased to have such a distinguished panel here to discuss the report, including project Co-chairs Bob Birgeneau, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley and Mary Sue Coleman President Emerita of the University Michigan, and project members Bob Haas, Phil Bredesen, and George Miller. I will formally introduce our panelists in a moment.

First, I would like to recognize the other project participants who have joined us today, and thank them for their hard work and dedication:

  • Larry Bacow, President Emeritus of Tufts University
  • Gene Block, Chancellor of UCLA
  • Henry Brady, Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy and Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at UC, Berkeley
  • Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor Emeritus of The City University of New York
  • Don Graham, Chairman of Graham Holdings Company
  • Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group
  • Mike Hout, Professor of Sociology, New York University
  • Bob Haas, Chairman Emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Phyllis Wise, former Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Like the name of our project, the title of this report, Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision refers to Abraham Lincoln’s ratification of the Morrill Act in 1862. The Morrill Act provided federal lands to establish “colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts” as well as “scientific and classical studies.” Its goal was to provide the technical training and the liberal education that were so important for an increasingly industrialized nation. The Morrill Act created a set of institutions that would educate Americans in every state and it set a precedent for public support of higher education. Indeed, the Morrill Act was an expression of a new vision of higher education as a public good—as fundamental to the strength and growth of the nation as primary education. One hundred and fifty years later, we are still realizing the wisdom of that vision.

The Lincoln Project focuses on a subset of public higher education: public research universities. It does so because of the distinct role that these institutions play in our nation. They educate millions of students—including large numbers of students from underprivileged and immigrant communities. They support the cultural and economic vitality of their surrounding communities—as hubs of innovation and centers of intellectual and artistic activity . . . at least one in every state. And they generate research that creates new knowledge and technology, discoveries from which we all benefit—in laboratories, libraries, and archives.

Clearly all of public higher education, including the community colleges and the comprehensive four-year institutions, have struggled as a result of recent declines in state funding. But public research universities have been particularly hard-hit by the cuts. Our panel will have more to say about these declines in a moment. I think we all agree that the states are no longer the principal funders of public research universities, and that we need to identify new ways to sustain these institutions—new savings and efficiencies, certainly, but also new partnerships. As our committee suggests, a recommitment to Lincoln’s vision entails a new “compact” among state and federal governments, university leaders, businesses and philanthropies—all of which can play a role in the development of a new and sustainable financial model.

Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision encourages this shared sense of responsibility, and offers its recommendations, in three categories:

  1. Renewed state support, new cost efficiencies, and additional revenue streams to help public research universities respond to financial challenges
  2. New public-private partnerships to sustain and strengthen research and education for the future, and
  3. A continuing effort to improve the ways public research universities serve individual students.

The American Academy is committed to supporting recommendations of the Lincoln Project and to make this report a central feature of our programs and publications in the year ahead. We understand Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision as an important new addition in an emerging tradition of effective Academy commission reports, a tradition that includes the influential report of our humanities commission, The Heart of the Matter, as well as Restoring the Foundation, our more recent report supporting basic scientific research. All of these projects share a common goal that is consistent with the founding mission of the American Academy: to sustain and enhance what the Lincoln committee has called our nation’s “intellectual infrastructure.” We invite everyone in this room to help us advance this important mission. We hope you will contact us with your ideas and join us in our compact to support our nation’s public research universities.

It is now my pleasure to introduce the co-chairs of the Lincoln Project, as well as three members of the Lincoln Committee. I will be brief in my introductions as their full bios are in your program.

Mary Sue Coleman is Lincoln Project co-chair, a distinguished biochemist, President Emerita of the University of Michigan, and incoming President of the Association of American Universities. Prior to leading the University of Michigan for 12 years, she was President of the University of Iowa. President Obama selected her as one of six university presidents to help launch the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke named her co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Bob Birgeneau is Lincoln Project co-chair and Chancellor Emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley. He is a distinguished physicist well known for his commitment to diversity and equity in higher education. Previously, he served as President of the University of Toronto and Dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he spent 25 years on the faculty. In 2006, he received a Founders Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he was the 2012 Karl T. Compton Medal of the American Institute of Physics.

Bob Haas is the Chairman Emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co. He was instrumental in leading the company through a business turnaround that resulted in more than a decade of rapid sales growth and profit expansion. He has also received national recognition for leadership in corporate philanthropy and for launching Project Change, a grassroots program designed to combat institutional racism. He is a member of the Board of Visitors at the University of California, Berkeley, and has served as Chairman of the Stanford Humanities and Sciences Council and as a Trustee of the Brookings Institution and the Ford Foundation.

George Miller is a former U.S. Representative from California, and former Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. A lifelong supporter of education, Congressman Miller co-authored with Republicans the No Child Left Behind Act. His long list of legislative accomplishments also includes expanding the federal student loan program and bringing disabled children into general education classrooms.

And Phil Bredesen is a former Governor of Tennessee. During his tenure, he led changes in Tennessee’s higher education system, including establishing a strong academic relationship between the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory; improving the course structure in the community college system; and changing the funding formula for higher education to incentivize student retention and college completion.

We are grateful to each of them, and to all the members of the Lincoln Committee, for all they have done to support this project over the past three years.

At this point, Dr. Fanton turned the program over to Lincoln Project Co-Chair Bob Birgeneau.

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