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Northwestern Members Lunch

On May, 9, 2016, Jonathan Fanton greeted Chicago-area American Academy members to a meeting to discuss current Academy projects and to solicit feedback on ways in which these efforts could further impact the public good.

Good morning, and thank you for coming. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and I am so pleased to be back at Northwestern University. A special thank you goes to Shari Diamond for her help with sponsoring us here at the Norris University Center today. This campus was among the first I visited after becoming president, and I was grateful for our lively discussion on Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, the Academy’s most recent report at that time. I always enjoy coming back to this area, having spent ten years in Chicago as President of the MacArthur Foundation, as well as four earlier years as Vice President for Planning at the University of Chicago. And, I am especially grateful to Northwestern for partnering with the Academy as part of our University Affiliates program.

Northwestern is home to 78 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, including six of your colleagues who were just elected last month. So I would like to start our meeting by acknowledging the following new members:

  • Peter Voorhees, the Frank C. Englehart Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics
  • Bryna Kra, the Sarah Rebecca Roland Professor of Mathematics
  • Michael Wasielewski, the Clare Hamilton Hall Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center
  • Carol Lee, the Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy; Professor of Learning Sciences; and Professor of African American Studies
  • Eric Neilson, Vice President for Medical Affairs; Lewis Landsberg Dean; and Professor of Medicine-Nephrology and Cell and Molecular Biology, and
  • Bernard Black, the Nicholas D. Chabraja Professor; Professor of Law; and Professor of Finance at the Kellogg School of Management

Please join me in congratulating this distinguished group of scholars and welcoming them to the Academy.

I would like to invite all of you to become active in the life of the Academy, to participate in Academy meetings and to come forward with ideas for studies, projects, and publications. We have many initiatives underway that may be of interest to you.

First, as you know, we are reaching out more to our members, sending a monthly e-newsletter with updates on Academy activities, and convening meetings around the world. While two years ago, the Academy held a half dozen meetings for members outside of Cambridge, this year we are holding approximately 40. To facilitate and organize these gatherings, we are establishing local program committees in communities where we have concentrations of members. We now have active committees in San Diego, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Princeton, and New Haven. They are bringing together members to share ideas, contribute to Academy projects, and to help increase the impact of academy reports and publications. I invite you to let me know if you would be interested in participating in a Chicago-area committee.

We are also working on connecting members around the globe to the content of our Cambridge programs. On May 19, you are invited to come to the William Eckhardt Research Center at the University of Chicago (another of our University Affiliates) for a discussion on The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty at 20, which will take a look at the creation of this treaty and development of the accompanying organization, the CTBTO, as well as prospects for ratification and enforcement. At the start of this program, you will watch a livestream of presentations being given in Cambridge by Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO); Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security; and Academy Members Siegfried Hecker of Stanford and Robert Rosner of the University of Chicago, who co-lead the Academy’s Global Nuclear Future (GNF) Initiative. Following their opening remarks, your group in Chicago will have your own discussion moderated by Rachel Bronson, Executive Director of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Groups gathered in Palo Alto, CA and Washington, D.C. will do the same. Especially given the recent news about North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear tests, it promises to be a fascinating and timely discussion.

Continuing the theme of virtual connection, we also recently launched a new online community called Member Connection. You can now log in, search for, and connect with members based on their interests, send messages, and start discussions. I hope you will give it a try.

We also have members contributing to our publications – writing essays about their work for our quarterly Bulletin, and contributing articles to our scholarly journal, Dædalus. In fact we have two members here who are serving as guest editors for forthcoming issues.

  • Shari Diamond is working on an issue on Science and the Legal System. It will include a survey of members’ beliefs about, attitudes toward, and experiences with the legal system, and explore changes that would make interactions with the legal system more attractive.
  • Loren Ghiglione is working on an issue on “The American Indian: Obstacles and Opportunities,” which will explore the broad concern about the place of Native Americans in academia and scholarly institutions like the American Academy, as well as the future of scholarship by and about Native Americans.
  • Both of these Dædalus issues are expected to publish in 2018. In the discussion period, I hope Shari and Loren will give us a preview of these issues.

There are also many members now engaged in the Academy’s projects and studies. Members serve on steering committees, participate in advisory groups, or gather together in settings like this one to provide ideas and feedback about ongoing work. Today, I would like to tell you about three of our new and emerging projects and then hear comments and questions.

The Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education

The first topic is our new Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, co-chaired by Spencer Foundation President Michael S. McPherson and TIAA-CREF President and CEO Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Commission will examine all postsecondary education options in the U.S., including community colleges, online programs, and for-profit colleges. The Commission is meeting tomorrow here in Chicago to talk about what issues and questions to focus on, so our discussion is timely. For sure, it will look at what drives the rising cost of post-secondary education, how families are financing college education, and ensuring fair access. It will seek to provide ideas for how to improve the current opportunities to ensure that individual Americans receive the education they need to prosper in the 21st century, and that the nation educates the workforce it will need to compete over the next twenty years. Today, I am interested in your thoughts on:

  • What do you think are the most pressing issues facing higher education that the Commission should address?
  • Do you think that college graduates are well-prepared for participating in the workforce and in our democracy?
  • As you consider the possibilities of what this world may look like over the next 20 years, how do you think colleges and universities will need to change?

Public Face of Science

The second topic is a new three-year initiative launched this past March on The Public Face of Science, a topic that many of our members have urged us to take on as a major Academy study. This effort is led by co-chairs Richard A. Meserve, a physicist, lawyer, and member of the Academy’s Council and Trust; and Geneva Overholser, a Senior Fellow at the Democracy Fund, and former Director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Our plans include an in-depth examination of how individual beliefs and scientific comprehension affect the public’s perception of and trust in the scientific process. We will also work with journalists to examine the role of the media in shaping the public’s perception of how scientists work, think, collaborate, and debate.

To look at how science informs policy and societal action, we will undertake a set of case studies of how scientists are consulted during public decision-making, not only as expert witnesses in the legal system, which I mentioned earlier, but also in preparing for and responding to natural disasters, and in the development of educational standards.

And importantly, we gather groups of members to discuss questions such as:

  • To what extent does the public trust and understand the scientific method?
  • When it comes to science communication, what are some areas for improvement that both researchers and the media can address?
  • How can we address the polarization of scientific issues?

I welcome your thoughts.

Arts Commission

The third topic is the possibility of forming a new commission on the Arts, similar to the Commission on the Humanities & Social Sciences that produced The Heart of the Matter report. In addition to its findings on the importance of the humanities to our nation, this commission concluded that the role of the arts in America warranted a separate Academy exploration. So the Academy is holding several meetings with arts and cultural leaders around the country to assess what to do. Such a commission might examine topics such as:

  • How to nurture young artists, sensitive to differences in dance, music and visual arts;
  • How to ensure that arts institutions reflect diversity and encourage creativity and expression from all perspectives;
  • How to increase public support for the arts;
  • Where the arts fit in the core curriculum K-12;
  • How we assess the health of the arts in higher education;
  • The role of the arts in the lives of the majority of citizens; and
  • The role of art in building a sense of community, including in urban settings.

I would value your insights into these and other important questions we may wish to consider. We are on a listening tour and will be meeting with the leaders of local arts institutes and organizations later this week.

At this point, Dr. Fanton initiated a discussion based on the three Academy projects previously introduced.

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