Priorities for a Changing World
We are now at a crossroads because our intellectual and emotional landscape has metamorphosed into a world we have never known. It is a frightening time; it is an awesome time. Some of us have strong, painful memories of an earlier time when our students were shipped off to war; facing such possibilities again is dishearteningly difficult.
Needless to say, September 11 caused me, as I'm sure it caused you, to thinkwhen I could think at allabout how our University's future goals have inevitably been affected. Let me share with you some of my thoughts in these dark days. We willand shouldhave many debates and discussions ahead.
One thing is certainas a university we must respond promptly and firmly to our altered national agenda. I am pleased that the Provost has begun this fall to engage faculty, the University Senate, and administrators in developing a plan for our academics in which we identify objectives and match them with our best estimate of our resource streams. I am looking forward to the results of his planning.
We are known as a strong science university, and we will continue to be known for our excellent science. But in striving to achieve top quality in the sciences and technology in a very short time, we have tended to gloss over our responsibilities in the humanities and social sciences. That is not to say we have not achieved excellencethe Graham Diamond Study ranks our social sciences even more highly than our sciences. But we have not focused, as most great universities do, on expanding and developing new programs in the humanities and social sciences for some years. We have excellent faculty, but the departments are small compared with those of other institutions. I cannot say we have focused, at least in recent years, on these fields as determinedly as on the sciences and engineering.
September 11 was not a failure of science; in fact, it was our technology that was used to destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon. The failure was our lack of understanding of the cultural history and mindset of our enemies. American universities are notably short on scholars of the languages, cultures, arts, religious beliefs, and economic aspects of life in countries far away and very different from ours. We have got to pay attention.
The National Defense Education Act, enacted by Congress in 1958, was a response to another international crisis, the launching of the Russian Sputnik. It created fellowships for students to do graduate work not only in science but also in languages and area studies. I still marvel at the wisdom of that congressional legislation. At Stony Brook we have reduced the size of our European language departments, and we have not significantly increased programs in other languages, even Asian languages, although we are creating an Asian Studies Department.
To be a great university, we must balance our excellence in science and technology with serious attention to the arts, humanities, and social sciences. We must broaden our academic coverage of the world's cultures, and we must increase interdisciplinarity so that our scholars in various fields work together to teach students more than we ever learned about civilizations around the world. We must also work with world artsthere is no more universal language than the arts. We must encourage our students to take greater advantage of the various arts programs, lectures, and forums that we have on campus.