Welcome to the 40th anniversary of our opening the campus here at Stony Brook. We, of course, began classes as a teachers’ college in Oyster Bay, and we moved here in 1962—we’ve come a long way! In those 40 years we have accomplished goal upon goal—capped by our election to the Association of American Universities in May 2000, an ambition we had long fostered. For many years we complained that we deserved to be in the AAU, among the top 63 research universities in the country—and we did. Well, now we are. The election to those esteemed ranks clearly makes a difference in the academic world’s perceptions about us, and I believe, more importantly, in our perceptions about ourselves.
The fledgling teacher’s college rapidly metamorphosed into a research university, and we became a superb one. But as we aspired to research excellence, we did not attach the same importance to undergraduate education. In 1994 the Middle States Visiting Committee described an intellectually rich environment for research and graduate work paired with an undergraduate program that was sub-par. Middle States decided to revisit campus in five years rather than the usual ten to make sure we had significantly improved undergraduate education. That concern is what motivated me when I became President to go to Ernest Boyer, then head of the Carnegie Foundation, to recommend a study of undergraduate education at research universities. Ernie loved the idea; we established a Commission including our own C.N. Yang, Bruce Alberts from the National Academy of Sciences, and other distinguished scholars. Ernie chaired the opening meeting, and then his unexpected death left the Commission in my hands. The Boyer Report, named in memory of Ernie, “Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for American Research Universities,” met unexpectedly strong reactions, both from a jubilant press and from far less jubilant research universities that claimed they were already doing the things recommended in the report anyway.
The Boyer Report has had an amazing impact on undergraduate education nationwide. Most impressively, undergraduate research has become a staple, although at most institutions it remains available only to the most gifted students. Universities are paying attention to the freshman year, a key to good undergraduate education, though only the richest seem to have freshman seminars for all students rather than some. Publications on undergraduate education are multitudinous, and the rhetoric has changed to reflect the recommendations as expected goals, not only here but around the world. Now universities brag about what they are doing for undergraduates not just in recruitment brochures but among their peers. Even U.S. News and World Report, that arbiter of college excellence, now judges institutions on eight types of programs that enhance learning, for example, undergraduate research, freshman seminars, and other desiderata taken right from the Boyer Report.
Since 1994 Stony Brook has revolutionized its treatment of undergraduates. We have completed Phases I and II of the Student Activities Center. We have rehabbed all 26 residence halls and built a four-building apartment-style undergraduate complex. We have gone to Division I in Athletics and built a new stadium, and anyone who saw the first game in the new stadium last Saturday knows what a difference it makes—when else have we made a touchdown on the opening kickoff? When else have we pulverized St. John’s?
We have beautified the landscaping, and yes, even built a fountain. We have at least begun to create a campus with spaces that respect the faculty, staff, and students and the pursuit of learning, and we will continue, doubtless more slowly than we would like, as we can afford to.
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