Summer 2015 Bulletin

From the President

During the past academic year, the Academy has hosted meetings for members in 13 cities around the country. More than 850 members have gathered to discuss topics such as the biomedical research ecosystem, the humanities and “soft power,” and excellence in and access to public higher education. The pace of activity at the House of the Academy in Cambridge has increased as well, with Stated Meetings on subjects like evolution, recent events in Russia, and the function and role of courts in the United States. Some of these meetings were simulcast to members who gathered in New York and Chicago, a practice we will expand to other cities in the coming year.

The Academy is now building a network of local program committees for members from New York to Washington to Houston to Chicago to Los Angeles and other cities in between. Among the activities the local committees may choose to sponsor are informal lunch meetings, receptions for new members, panel discussions and lectures, book talks by authors among our members, presentations by members who are leading Academy studies, and events related to Exploratory Fund projects.

In the pages that follow, you will read about a $5.85 million gift from the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation to endow the Morton L. Mandel Program for Civic Discourse and Membership Engagement. The gift has enabled the Academy to appoint Laurie McDonough as our first Morton L. Mandel Director of Membership Engagement and to support the work of local program committees. The gift will also fund state-of-the-art technological enhancements to the House of the Academy, including live, interactive, streaming capabilities and teleconferencing, which will allow the Academy to include more voices in the conversation, both members at a distance from Cambridge and the informed public.

This spirit of sharing the work of the Academy and of its members more broadly is part of a long-standing tradition. Over its history, the Academy has sponsored public panel discussions and lectures that addressed important issues of the time. In October 1852, the Academy announced a program of public lectures given by Fellows Louis Agassiz, B. A. Gould Jr., Oliver Wendell Holmes, and George Ticknor, in which they shared with the Cambridge community their expertise on the intersection of literature, education, and the natural sciences. In 1919, the Academy again organized a series of “Open Meetings” with lectures on topics of general interest, and then again in 1938 and, on occasion, ever since. Our partnership with WGBH News, described on page 4, may be considered the latest instance of this tradition of sharing the expertise of the members of the Academy community with the wider world.

We invite our members to suggest topics for Academy meetings and public events. We welcome volunteers to lead discussions on important issues facing our country and the world. The Academy is a place where critical–even contentious–issues can be discussed in civil, evidence-based conversations, open to all points of view. Our membership–scholars in every field and discipline, including business, science, public life, the arts, philanthropy, the humanities, the social sciences, and more–ensures that many perspectives will be heard, and that the connections between research and policy are strengthened.

In his presidential address in December 1944, Academy President Howard Mumford Jones observed that, “rich as is New England in institutions of learning, [these institutions] will welcome some positive program to link together the interests of the learned and the problems of society in the years immediately to come.” He went on to add that he hoped that the Academy, given its history and tradition, would fill that role.

As you read about the work of the Academy in this issue of the Bulletin, I hope you will agree that our members are engaged in the “positive programs” that Howard Mumford Jones imagined.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions about the Academy. 

Jonathan F. Fanton