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The Work of the University

The Work of the University

Richard C. Levin
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Work of the University
    Book Description:

    This engaging collection of speeches and essays, published on the occasion of Richard C. Levin's tenth anniversary as president of Yale University, reflects both the range of his intellectual passions and the depth of his insight into the work of the university. By turns analytical, reflective, and exhortatory, Levin explores what it means to be a world-class university, how the university intersects with local and global communities, and why a liberal education matters. He offers personal recollections of schools, teachers, and traditions of particular importance in his own life. And, returning to his roots as a professor of economics, he discusses the competitiveness of American industry and the relations between the market economy and American democracy.Throughout these writings Levin illuminates and inspires. Always his affection for the university shines through. Whether greeting incoming freshmen, meditating on September 11, remembering an intellectual hero, saluting graduating seniors, addressing the League of Women Voters, or celebrating Yale's Tercentennial, Levin, by example, shows what a liberal education can achieve.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13535-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    The essays and speeches in this volume reveal but a small part of what it is to be president of a great university. But they are committed to writing, and therefore they are the part that is most easily revealed. As I approach the tenth anniversary of my appointment as Yale’s president, it is time to share these reflections, analyses, and exhortations.

    We hear much these days about beleaguered university presidents, overwhelmed by the multiple constituencies they must please, unable to act decisively or speak out convincingly. Nothing about this stereotype conforms to my experience. The job is complex and...

  4. From the Beginning

    • Calm Seas, Auspicious Gales
      (pp. 3-5)

      The greatness of this institution humbles me. I am honored to accept the invitation of the Corporation to serve as Yale’s president.

      I accept this responsibility with confidence that Yale will enter its fourth century renewed and revitalized. My confidence grows from a knowledge of Yale’s present and a reading of its past. Time and again in the history of this institution, its leaders have expressed grave concern about the university’s financial health and the deterioration of its buildings. Indeed, one earlier candidate for this job, observing Yale’s fiscal and physical condition, doubted the wisdom of assuming the presidency of...

    • Beyond the Ivy Walls: Our University in the Wider World
      (pp. 6-10)

      In the second chorus ofAntigone,Sophocles celebrates humanity: “Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none more wonderful than man.” The chorus sings of humanity’s power over nature: “Earth, holy and inexhaustible, is graven with shining furrows where his plows have gone year after year, the timeless labor of stallions.” And the chorus praises our ability to use language and reason to create a social space in which people can debate what is good: “Words also, and thought as rapid as air, he fashions to good use; statecraft is his.”¹

      We celebrate today our university—a monument to the achievement...

  5. The Purpose of a College Education

    • On Liberal Education
      (pp. 13-19)

      We begin together. As you experience the exhilaration and the anxiety of a new home, I experience the exhilaration and the anxiety of my first year as president. We have clean slates before us, enormous opportunities to make a difference, for ourselves and for our community.

      It seems fitting, as we begin, to consider just what you are beginning. Your professors will tell you that the liberal education you are about to acquire is priceless. And your parents will confirm that it is, if nothing else, expensive. Let us consider what you and your parents are buying for all that...

    • The Task of Self-Discovery
      (pp. 20-25)

      Thirty years ago and three thousand miles away, I enrolled as a freshman at one of America’s great academic institutions. I must confess that I can barely remember my freshman assembly. I imagine that my university’s president offered some stirring words on that stately occasion, but they are irretrievably lost in memory. I suppose that there must have been some kind of reception following the ceremony, but I remember nothing of it except that it was the first time I wore a necktie in four years at Stanford. The second time was at commencement.

      Freshman assembly aside, I have vivid...

    • A Serious Place
      (pp. 26-31)

      Yesterday, as you unpacked your belongings, met your roommates and freshman counselors, and moved from one activity to the next, you probably had little opportunity to pause and reflect on just what lies before you. That’s the purpose of this afternoon’s convocation. In this grand hall, built at the turn of the last century to commemorate Yale’s two hundredth birthday, you participate in an ancient and solemn ceremony of welcome. You heard the power and glory of one of the world’s great organs; as the procession began, you felt its bass notes rumble beneath your feet. You saw the university’s...

    • Preparing for a New Millennium
      (pp. 32-37)

      You are the fourth incoming class that Dean Brodhead and I have had the pleasure of greeting. I join him in welcoming you to Yale College and in welcoming to the Yale family the parents, relatives, and friends who have accompanied you.

      In previous years, Dean Brodhead and I have conspired successfully to differentiate the subjects addressed in our welcoming remarks. But in your case we have both succumbed to the temptation to comment upon what the Dean has called “the astonishing date of your expected graduation.” Think of this exception to our normal practice as “variations on an irresistible...

    • Discovery
      (pp. 38-43)

      I am going to begin with a confession. This summer I got very excited about the Pathfinder mission to Mars. Perhaps it was nostalgia. I was about your age when the Apollo spaceships started circling the moon, and only a little older when astronauts first walked on the lunar surface. The miniature robot Sojourner intensified my yearning for lost youth. It looked to me like something constructed by merging my old Erector set with my children’s Legos.

      I was captivated by the photographs. I found them even more interesting than the lunar landscapes beamed back by the Apollo crews. We...

    • Westward Ho!
      (pp. 44-49)

      Earlier this month, while on a hiking trip, I found myself utterly absorbed by the book I was reading. As much as I enjoyed each day’s trek, I looked forward to evening, when I could return to the unfolding drama. I’m sure you have all had this experience, and I hope you will have it often while you are here, with a library of 10 million books available to you.

      Reading is an intensely private pleasure, but, for most of us, there is also pleasure in talking with others about our reading. These activities—reading and talking about what you...

    • The Spirit of Adventure
      (pp. 50-54)

      This summer I attended a meeting at which Bill Gates, the founder and chief executive of Microsoft, discussed some of the advances in technology that we can expect in the next two to five years. I was struck in particular by a prototype device, less than an inch thick, with a flat screen about the size of a typical printed page. The page of text displayed on this device did not exhibit the familiar, unsatisfactory range of color from light gray to dark gray. Instead, the contrast of clear white background with jet-black text was as sharp as you would...

    • Yale Time
      (pp. 55-60)

      In October 1701 the General Assembly of the Colony of Connecticut enacted legislation to establish a Collegiate School. Within a month the trustees of the new school had elected a rector, Abraham Pierson, and settled on a location in Saybrook. A few months later the Collegiate School—subsequently renamed and relocated—welcomed its first student, and, since then, new students have enrolled every autumn. This makes you, the women and men of the Class of 2004, the three hundredth class to enter Yale College.

      You, and Yale, reach this milestone in a special year marked by three zeros, a millennial...

    • Beginnings
      (pp. 61-67)

      This summer I took pleasure in reading David McCullough’s best-selling biography of our nation’s second president, John Adams.¹ Mr. McCullough, a past winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, is no stranger to this place. Exactly fifty years ago he sat where you are sitting today as President Griswold and Dean DeVane welcomed the members of the Yale College Class of 1955. He has been back many times since graduating, most recently to deliver the Class Day speech to the seniors of 1997, to receive an honorary doctorate in 1998, and to attend our tercentennial symposium last...

    • Welcome to Yale
      (pp. 68-74)

      You may have chosen to come here because a particular aspect of Yale College appealed to you. You may have learned that our faculty is seriously committed to undergraduate teaching, or that our residential system uniquely captures the advantages of both large university and small college life. Perhaps you aspire to be a journalist, and you heard that theYale Daily Newsis the nation’s best college newspaper. Maybe one of our athletic programs attracted you. Or, possibly, you heard about the abundant opportunities to exercise your musical or dramatic talents. Whatever your reason for choosing Yale, you are about...

  6. The University’s Role in Society

    • Universities and Our Common Wealth
      (pp. 77-86)

      It is always a pleasure to come home to San Francisco, and it is a special pleasure to speak in this distinguished forum, the Commonwealth Club, where so many leaders have addressed topics of great concern to the nation and the world.

      I speak today of one element of our “common wealth”—the cultural heritage we share. I speak, in particular, of the contribution of our nation’s colleges and universities to the preservation and augmentation of that common wealth.

      I speak at a time when the value of that contribution is questioned by many of our citizens. Some worry—anxiously...

    • The American University as an Engine of Economic Growth
      (pp. 87-94)

      In the mid-1980s, when U.S. trade deficits first reached the level of $100 billion annually and many were questioning the longterm competitive viability of the nation’s industries, I offered a seminar for Yale College seniors entitled “The International Competitiveness of U.S. Manufacturing.” I asked each student to choose a particular industry and make a report to the class on all the available indicators of the competitive status of U.S. firms in world markets: sales, employment, productivity growth, market share, exports, imports, and patents obtained, among others. The students were required to collect data for the United States, Germany, and Japan...

    • Universities as Urban Citizens
      (pp. 95-98)

      The recent Summit for America’s Future highlighted the importance of engaging the voluntary efforts of individual citizens to reclaim the nation’s dream of opportunity for all. Although the Philadelphia convocation also encouraged the involvement of business corporations in curing society’s ills, little was said about another potent force for community revitalization that is taking root and flourishing throughout the nation. I refer to the growing contributions of colleges and universities to economic and human development in America’s cities.

      The emergence of colleges and universities as significant institutional citizens is no accident. As manufacturing enterprises have fled our cities, educational institutions,...

    • The Global University
      (pp. 99-106)

      This year marks the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Yale University. We have chosen to mark this historic occasion by bringing a delegation of faculty, administrators, and one of our trustees to China.

      Understanding China and developing relationships with its people and institutions are of great importance to us. I say this not only because of the size of your population, your significant role in world politics, and the immense potential of your rapidly growing economy. For a university such as Yale, which aspires to be among the greatest in the world, China is also important for the...

  7. The Graduate’s Role in Society

    • Education for Self and for Others
      (pp. 109-113)

      We celebrate this weekend a commencement, a beginning, the beginning of your lives as independent, educated citizens of this nation and the world. This celebration marks also an end, the end of your bright college years—so abounding with activity, so ripe with experiment, so full of hope. We the faculty celebrate with you as we loose you on the wider world—confident of your success and hopeful that your newly acquired knowledge and critical powers will be directed toward finding answers that have eluded us.

      Yale tradition permits me this one last word, this one last opportunity to teach....

    • On Controversy
      (pp. 114-118)

      We gather here as one community to celebrate your commencement, to rejoice in your accomplishments. It is a time for reflection—a time to give thanks for the devotion of your teachers, for the lessons you have learned, for the bonds you have formed with classmates, for the beauty of this place.

      It may seem contrary to the spirit of the occasion, but I would like to speak to you about controversy—its inevitability in a free society, its occasional unpleasantness, and, ultimately, its value. We have had a substantial measure of controversy on our campus this past year.¹ It...

    • Taking the Next Step
      (pp. 119-125)

      We began together. We met here, in this grand hall, sweltering in the heat of late summer. A thunderstorm kept you and your parents from strolling down Hillhouse Avenue to a garden reception. We scrambled instead to receive you in Commons, where, duped by a campus humor magazine to believe you were participating in an ancient tradition, you each handed me a blue bead.

      You were the first class that Dean Brodhead and I had the pleasure of greeting, and you are the first class that we have watched, with much admiration, through four years. And now, your beads returned,...

    • The Task of Citizenship
      (pp. 126-131)

      Four years ago, at your Freshman Assembly, I spoke to you about the task of self-discovery. I suggested that here at Yale you would encounter ideas and take them seriously, develop the capacity to think critically and independently, discover deep interests and consuming passions, and define the kind of person you want to be. This morning, I want to consider how the self interacts with the wider society. I want to reflect on the task of citizenship, on how you will use what you have learned at Yale to shape our nation and the world.

      A little more than one...

    • Beyond Community Service: The Nation and the Wider World
      (pp. 132-137)

      Four years ago, at your Freshman Assembly, when you felt for the first time the great Newberry Organ rumble beneath your feet, when you saw officers, masters, and deans arrayed before you, I told you that you had come to a serious place. I told you that this is a place where ideas are taken seriously, where athletics, extracurricular activities, and community service are taken seriously, where involvement and moral responsibility are taken seriously.

      In my attempt to predict what would be in store for you here, I suggested that you would come to appreciate the life of the mind,...

    • Reflections on Revolution
      (pp. 138-143)

      We are living in the midst of a revolution. Should you doubt it, just consider how rapidly the world has changed since you came to Yale four years ago. In September 1996 you couldn’t buy groceries or health care products or airline tickets on the Internet. had been operating for a year, but HomeGrocer. com,,,, and cheaptickets. com were not yet in business. Silicon Valley was booming, but Silicon Alley didn’t exist. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was one half its current value, the NASDAQ index was one third its current value, and you couldn’t check...

    • China on My Mind
      (pp. 144-149)

      You are the three hundredth class to graduate from Yale College, or so it will say in tomorrow’s Commencement program. Some of the more mathematically inclined among you might wonder: How could this be so? If Yale College is three hundred years old this year, and it takes four years to graduate, why isn’t this the 297th commencement?

      The surprising answer to this question is that some of our first students didn’t require four years to graduate. Although the Collegiate School chartered in October 1701 held no commencement in the spring of 1702, there were two graduation ceremonies during the...

    • Thinking About September 11
      (pp. 150-156)

      We hoped and expected that our spectacular tercentennial celebration last October would be the most memorable public event of your senior year. But by the time it occurred it had already been overshadowed by the events of September 11. The terrifying images of that morning will never leave us, but neither will the reaffirming image of our candlelight vigil that evening. Confronting shock, horror, and terrible uncertainty, we came together to affirm toleration in the face of hatred, humanity in the face of barbarism, civilization in the face of anarchy.

      Not quite nine months later, uncertainty remains, but toleration, humanity,...

  8. Building a Better Yale

    • Yale’s Fourth Century
      (pp. 159-173)

      As Yale approaches the three hundredth anniversary of its founding, it is instructive to reflect on how the university has developed over the course of the past century. Physically, the campus has changed almost beyond recognition. Connecticut Hall, completed in 1753, and eight nineteenth-century structures on the Old Campus are the only academic buildings that survive from Yale’s first two centuries. Other structures built as private residences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have come into the university’s possession during the past hundred years, but 90 percent of our square footage was built in this century—most of it between...

    • Yale at 300
      (pp. 174-182)

      We gather here in front of the Sterling Library to commemorate a unique moment, the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Yale University. A century ago, not one of these beautiful buildings framing the Cross Campus was yet in place. When our predecessors gathered in Battell Chapel to mark Yale’s bicentennial, they had barely a glimmer of what the university might become. Although Yale was widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading educational institutions, its population of students, faculty, and staff did not begin to mirror the nation and the world as it does today. No one anticipated...

  9. Honoring Schools, Teachers, and Traditions

    • An Embryonic Democracy
      (pp. 185-189)

      I am greatly honored to be here today to celebrate with you this important moment. Francis Parker School has a very special place not only in Chicago but in the nation, because it was and remains a noble experiment in progressive learning and an enduring monument to the ideas of John Dewey. It seems especially appropriate that I should be here on this occasion, and not simply because of my personal status as one married, as it were, into the Parker family. I also represent an educational institution with noble aspirations—one that has benefited enormously over the years from...

    • A Salute to Princeton
      (pp. 190-192)

      The evidence is sketchy, but there is reason to believe that the event we celebrate today had its origins nearly eight hundred and thirty years ago. In 1167, according to the account of John of Salisbury, foreign scholars were expelled from France, sending back to their homeland the Englishmen who studied at the University of Paris. At the same time, to strengthen his hand against the influence of Thomas à Becket, Henry II prohibited English clerics from visiting the Continent without permission of the crown. In the wake of these two developments—the one bringing English scholars home and the...

    • Remembering Oxford
      (pp. 193-194)

      I am honored, most deeply and profoundly honored, by the recognition conferred on me today. If I am deserving, it is only because the institution I represent has proved itself a worthy descendent of this great and ancient university, the center of learning for all English-speaking peoples for three-quarters of a millennium.

      It is customary to identify the righteous Puritans who founded Yale as great-grandchildren of Oxford. The lineage runs through one Cambridge and then another. But the connection is also more direct. Although Yale’s founders at the dawn of the eighteenth century were Harvard men, the idea of a...

    • Chasing After Society
      (pp. 195-197)

      I have often found it useful to invoke the fragment from Archilochus brought to our attention by Isaiah Berlin in his famous essay on Tolstoy’s view of history: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” To remind you, Aristotle and Shakespeare were foxes, while Plato and Marx were hedgehogs. Bill Parker, like Tolstoy, was a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog.

      For more than thirty years he kept refining the collection of boxes and arrows that he called the “great schema,” a diagram intended to explain the movement of Western economic history. Over time...

    • James Tobin: Scholar-Hero
      (pp. 198-199)

      Jim was all of a piece. As a teacher, departmental colleague, citizen of the university, economist, and shaper of public policy, his influence on us derived from two sources—his crystal-clear intelligence and his moral seriousness.

      These two aspects of Jim’s nature correspond exactly to the reasons he chose economics as a vocation in the late 1930s. In his own words, economic theory was a “fascinating intellectual challenge,” and it had “obvious relevance to understanding and perhaps overcoming the great depression and all the frightening political developments associated with it throughout the world.” As a teacher and colleague, Jim conveyed...

    • A Devoted Mentor
      (pp. 200-202)

      When I first came to graduate school at Yale in the fall of 1970, the entering students gathered in the Cowles basement to be welcomed by the chairman and the director of graduate studies. After the faculty left, some of the returning graduate students brought in pizza and beer. Then they proceeded to tell us what the Yale department of economics was really all about. I remember talking to Mike Krashinsky, then a second-year student. He strongly recommended that I depart from the standard first-year curriculum of micro, macro, history, and econometrics—and substitute for one of them a second-year...

    • Shimon Peres
      (pp. 203-204)

      When I was a boy growing up in San Francisco, my family belonged to Congregation Sherith Israel, which held services in a beautiful synagogue in the Romanesque style. During services—which often seemed to me to go on for a very long time—my brother and I did not always give the devoted attention we might have to the prayers or to the rabbi’s teachings. Instead, I am afraid, we would stare up at the dome, which was encircled by a single row containing a great many light bulbs. We used to occupy ourselves by counting the lights. I can...

    • Blessed Is the Match
      (pp. 205-208)

      The main camp at Auschwitz was situated not in remote isolation but in a densely populated region. To the east, immediately adjacent to the camp, was a pleasant village, complete with a hotel and shops, built to house SS troops and their families. One mile farther east was the town of Auschwitz, intended by the very men who ordered the construction of the camps to be a center of industrial activity, a focus of German resettlement at the confluence of three rivers, with easy access to the coal fields of Upper Silesia.¹

      In his chilling work on the origins of...

  10. Reflections on the American Economy

    • Can America Compete in World Markets? An Unconventional View of the 1980s
      (pp. 211-222)

      Forty-eight years ago the United States emerged from war as the dominant economic power in the world. For the first half of the near half-century that followed, American industrial hegemony was unquestioned. Indeed, in 1968 a best-selling book entitledThe American Challengearoused the fears of Europeans that their entire economies were on the verge of becoming mere subsidiaries of large American-owned companies. The briefly famous book by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber created a tremendous furor in European capitals. Pressures to increase the common external tariffs of the fledgling European Community and to restrict American investment were resisted, but only after considerable...

    • Democracy and the Market
      (pp. 223-247)

      The robust condition of industry and commerce in the fledgling American democracy was not lost on its most perceptive visitor and ethnographer. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

      The United States has only been emancipated for half a century from the state of colonial dependence in which it stood to Great Britain; the number of large fortunes there is small and capital is still scarce. Yet no people in the world have made such rapid progress in trade and manufactures as the Americans. . . .

      . . . [T]hey have already changed the whole order of nature for their own advantage.¹...