Spring 2019 Bulletin

From the President

David W. Oxtoby
David W. Oxtoby
David W. Oxtoby

This issue of the Bulletin highlights the remarkable breadth of the Academy’s work, describing recent activities in the areas of education, science, international affairs, and the arts. The work detailed in these pages also demonstrates our commitment to core values: elevating the use of evidence and knowledge, embracing diversity and inclusion, and advancing the common good.

Connected to the Academy’s recent Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, in February we were delighted to host the launch of sociologist Anthony Jack’s first book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students, which discusses the experiences of low-income undergraduate students at elite institutions. Jack’s research reinforces one of the key ideas of the Commission’s work: making sure that all students receive the academic, social, emotional, and financial support that will enable them to complete their degrees and pursue successful lives and careers. Anthony Jack’s presentation and his conversation with Danielle Allen are featured in this issue.

The Humanities Indicators, a long-term project of the Academy, provides data on an array of topics pertaining to the role of the humanities in the contemporary United States. The Humanities Indicators recently surveyed the nation’s community colleges, and the results, highlighted in this Bulletin issue, demonstrate the vast scale of the enterprise, with approximately 2.8 million students enrolled in humanities courses and 70,000 faculty members teaching these courses at community colleges.

The Academy’s project on the Public Face of Science has been exploring the complex and evolving relationship between scientists and the public. In March, we were pleased to host a meeting that featured two prominent scientists, Douglas and Pamela Soltis, both Academy members, who described their work on the “Tree of Life,” which is being used to explain evolution and genealogical relationships. In collaboration with scientists worldwide, Doug and Pam Soltis have worked to harness algorithm development, computer power, and DNA sequencing to produce a comprehensive “tree” of all 2.3 million named species. Their presentations, included in this Bulletin issue, illustrate the importance of engaging the public on scientific issues, and of the value of integrating science and the arts to improve public understanding. They followed a long-standing focus of the Academy on evolution, dating back to an 1860 debate about Darwin’s “Origin of Species” between two Academy members: the noted botanist Asa Gray (defending Darwin’s theory) and Harvard biologist and geologist Louis Agassiz (rejecting evolutionary theory).

In addition to our projects in education, the humanities, and science, a recent meeting about the prospects for an International Anti-Corruption Court and the publication of our Spring Dædalus issue, “Why Jazz Still Matters,” are further examples of the wide range of work the Academy undertakes.

We welcome your active involvement in pursuing the Academy’s mission “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.” I look forward to working with you to advance these important goals.

David W. Oxtoby