This past weekend, I was humbled and honored to be officially inducted as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at a ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And I am proud to say that this year’s class saw Illinois well-represented. Fred Hoxie, Swanlund Professor of History, and alumnus Tom Siebel were both inducted as well. It is reassuring to be among friends at these sorts of events.
I had the additional honor of being asked to speak on behalf of those inducted in my section this year – in Public Affairs, Business, and Administration. I realize that this particular honor was as much out of respect for the chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as it was for my personal achievement. I am sharing the text of those remarks and I hope they represented this university well.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Class V – Public Affairs, Business, and Administration
October 12, 2013
It’s a great honor to be here this afternoon. I am humbled and inspired to be among such distinguished inductees and to be part of an organization whose foundation goes back to the very beginning of this nation’s history.
My role as chancellor of one of the great land-grant research universities in the world involves blending the idealism of college students with the practicality of running a complex, billion-dollar organization, with more than 2,000 faculty members and 8,000 employees.
An institution such as the University of Illinois has no shortage of idealism. Each August some 7,000 young women and men leave their homes for our campus for the first time where they will join another 36,000 students.
They come to our classrooms and laboratories with a wonderful optimism, high expectations of success, and with the goal of changing the planet for the better. They come to us to have their eyes opened to the world they’re going to walk into, and all the complexity that world will entail. We prepare them not only for a career, but more importantly, we prepare them for a lifetime of learning, curiosity, and engagement. This is the great promise of higher education.
When I think of these young people that grace our campus, I am reminded of a quotation by the famous Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized."
We do know the world will change during the time our students are with us. In just six years between his two books The World is Flat and That Used to be Us, Thomas Friedman notes that, at the publication of his earlier book, “Facebook didn't exist; Twitter was a sound; the cloud was in the sky; 4G was a parking place; LinkedIn was a prison; applications were what you sent to college; and Skype for most people was a typo."
Idealism led to all those incredible innovations mentioned in Thomas Friedman’s quotation. “That kind of energy is also inspiring and infectious, even to a, shall we say, slightly older administrator whose college years featured slide rules, calculators, and a notebook that was, well, simply a sheath of lined paper between two pieces of card stock.”
And, despite the rapid pace of change, our mission as administrators and educators also remains steadfastly the same. As far back as 1851, Illinois College professor Jonathon Baldwin Turner, an architect of the Morrill Act, famously said, “The objective of these institutes should be to apply existing knowledge directly and efficiently to all practical pursuits and professions in life and to extend the boundaries of our present knowledge in all possible practical directions.”
But idealism can only carry one so far. Without a place for that idealism to bloom and flourish all we are left with are unrealized dreams.
That’s where practicality comes into play. The other hat I wear as chancellor is one of would-be visionary. In the midst of decreasing state and federal dollars, the rather perilous economic condition of the state of Illinois, increasing tuition rates, and fierce competition from other universities, I must peer ahead into an unknown future and keep our university moving, at an ever-increasing pace, so that we are at the leading edge of discovery, innovation, and transformative learning.
In the spring of last year, I began a series of visioning exercises with our faculty, staff, alumni, corporate leaders, and community members to do just that. I asked them to look twenty to fifty years into the future to identify the grand challenges to come.
I also asked them to define the role of the University of Illinois in meeting those challenges. The entire time I could hear Daniel Burnham whispering make no little plans… make no little plans…
At the end of this process, six major categories emerged: economic development; education; energy and the environment; social equality and cultural understanding; health and wellness; and information and technology. In the coming year we will use this list to create a roadmap to what I believe will be an amazing time of learning, discovery, scholarship, innovation, and economic development.
Is our list of challenges ambitious? Yes, as it should be, as Daniel Burnham would have expected.
But we are hardly alone in our ambition. Our great American universities are the envy of the world. They are, in the words of sociologist Jonathan Cole, “creative machines unlike any other that we have known in our history. They stand at the center of America’s intellectual and technological global leadership.”
I believe that higher education’s impact on our civilization is the very development of talent that basically fueled not only the industrial revolution but is also fueling today’s knowledge economy and the information age.
Higher education, and in particular, research universities, have literally transformed agriculture, information technology, communications, health care, energy, and transportation in our nation and the globe and, if we plan carefully, it will continue to do so in the future.
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862, establishing the University of Illinois and many other great public universities, he defined the land-grant system this way: “The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence.”
I strongly believe that as educators we owe it to the people of this great nation and to the world to channel the idealism of their daughters and sons while tackling the grand challenges of today and of the future. And, in the end, let us not make little plans.
Around the Campus
Congratulations to Martin Karplus! The former faculty member in chemistry was one of three scientists who received this year's Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing computer simulations for complex chemical processes. Read the full story here.
Congratulations to our regional Emmy-winning Illinois production teams: Big Ten producers Allison Davis Wood and Tim Hartin, along with associate producers Laren Pike, Kevin Southworth and Kaitlin Southworth; Beckman Institute's Steve Drake; Journalism professor Nancy Benson's international reporting class. Also a congratulations to Shatterglass Studios for their documentary "Ebertfest 2012." Read the full story here.