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Pursuing the Endless Frontier

Pursuing the Endless Frontier: Essays on MIT and the Role of Research Universities

Essays by Charles M. Vest
with a Foreword by Norman B. Augustine
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    Pursuing the Endless Frontier
    Book Description:

    In his fourteen years as president of MIT, Charles Vest worked continuously to realize his vision of rebuilding America's trust in science and technology. In a time when the federal government dramatically reduced its funding of academic research programs and industry shifted its R&D resources into the short-term product-development process, Vest called for new partnerships with business and government. He called for universities to meet the intellectual challenges posed by the innovation-driven, globally connected needs of industry even as he reaffirmed basic academic values and the continuing need for longer-term scientific inquiry.In Pursuing the Endless Frontier, Vest addresses these and other issues in a series of essays written during his tenure as president of MIT. He discusses the research university's need to shift to a broader, more international outlook, the value of diversity in the academic community, the greater leadership role for faculty outside the classroom, and the boundless opportunity of new scientific and technological developments even when coupled with financial constraints. In the provocative essay "What We Don't Know," Vest reminds us of what he calls "the most critical point of all," that science is driven by a deep human need to understand nature, to answer the "big questions" -- that what we don't know is more important than what we do. In another essay, on the future of MIT, he celebrates MIT's strengths as being extraordinarily well-suited to the needs of an era of unprecedented change in science and technology. In "Disturbing the Educational Universe: Universities in the Digital Age -- Dinosaurs or Prometheans," he describes MIT's innovative OpenCourseWare initiative, which builds on the fundamental nature of the Internet as an enabling and liberating technology.Vest, who is stepping down from MIT's presidency in the fall of 2004, writes with clarity and insight about the issues facing academic institutions in the twenty-first century. His essays in Pursuing the Endless Frontier offer inspiration to educators and researchers seeking the way forward.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28550-6
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    Norman R. Augustine

    Not long ago I was writing an article that compared the demands of management in government, business, and academia. When I would mention my interest in management in academia to friends who are presidents of universities, the not uncommon response, invariably delivered with a wry smile, was, “Did you find any?”

    Well, for those who may harbor any degree of doubt, I can report that management is indeed alive and well at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the person of one Charles M. Vest. More important, I can report thatleadershipis also alive and well at MIT. The...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  5. 1 MIT: Shaping the Future (Inaugural Address, 10 May 1991)
    (pp. 1-16)

    This is, indeed, a splendid moment—as we gather to celebrate a great institution, to renew our commitment to a set of ideals, to mark a passage, and to set a course for the future. Yet for me and for my family, it is also an intensely personal experience, and one that we are honored to share. A journey that began in a warm family in a small town in West Virginia has led to center stage in Killian Court—where my own path and that of the Institute have come together in this symbolic moment. It is a profound...

  6. 2 From the First Year: MIT in National and International Context (1990–1991)
    (pp. 17-36)

    My first year as president has been marked particularly by the need for MIT to respond to a host of challenging external forces. At a time when I wanted to concentrate on setting a long-range agenda for the future of the Institute and primarily on involving the community in strategic planning, MIT has faced a flood of external actions and issues that have demanded unremitting attention. Some of these issues—such as the matter of intellectual integrity in the conduct of research—touch all universities. Other external actions were more narrowly focused on a few universities—such as the Justice...

  7. 3 Excellence in an Era of Change and Constraint (1991–1992)
    (pp. 37-56)

    America’s research universities are faced with a central challenge—to retain and enhance excellence in a time of fiscal constraint and societal uncertainty. We are experiencing a deep sense of frustration because never in our history has the field of intellectual challenge and opportunity or the need for our services to the nation and the world been so great; yet never in recent decades have we experienced such fiscal constraint or sensed such a fall from grace with the public and the government. We are not in crisis, but we are in a precarious state, one that may be more...

  8. 4 Embracing Complexity, Moving toward Coherence (1992–1993)
    (pp. 57-74)

    These are times of change that call for a rethinking of how American higher education can best serve the nation and the world. As our universities and colleges evolve to meet the new intellectual and social challenges before us, we must find ways to deal with the fragmentation, both intellectual and social, that has accompanied change. It is time to seek a new balance within our intellectual and organizational constructs. Our fundamental values will help us stay on course, but we need a vision that embraces the complexities of our times while helping us to move toward greater coherence around...

  9. 5 Higher Education and the Challenges of a New Era (1993–1994)
    (pp. 75-96)

    American higher education must address the challenges of a new era. This requires not only introspection regarding our mission and the changing environment in which we serve society, but also rethinking our relationship and interaction with both industry and the federal government. Global economic competition and accelerating social and technological change have altered much of what is needed in our educational and research programs. Changing national priorities and attitudes, including an increasingly pervasive cynicism, are remaking the landscape of federal science and technology policy, with strong ramifications for our universities.

    We must enthusiastically address the challenges of this new era,...

  10. 6 What We Don’t Know (1994–1995)
    (pp. 97-114)

    This is a period in American higher education when it is essential that research universities articulate their value to the nation and the world. We are operating in a political and economic environment that requires increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness on the part of all of its institutions, including universities. To many, being “cost-effective” implies that our education and research programs—particularly in engineering and science—must be more clearly and directly relevant to industry and other pervasive human endeavors. As a result, the discourse about our role in the community often is focused on university contributions that have obvious, widespread,...

  11. 7 Bold Ventures and Opportunity for All? (1995–1996)
    (pp. 115-136)

    In 1957, nearly 40 years ago, Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, gave the Arthur Dehon Little Memorial Lecture at MIT.¹ His address was entitled “Generation of Greatness: The Idea of a University in an Age of Science.” In it, he set forth his conviction that everyone is born with the potential for greatness and that we must be far bolder in our vision and commitment to develop the full creative powers of our young.

    His proposal for how universities might meet this challenge was to create within each university small communities of faculty and students who would work together...

  12. 8 Stewards of the Future: The Evolving Roles of Academia, Industry, and Government (1996–1997)
    (pp. 137-158)

    As we approach the twenty-first century, we will be overwhelmed by the rhetoric of change. Though often overblown, this rhetoric stems from a human tendency to mark passages. Such observances can serve us well if they result in introspection, recognition of new realities, and thoughtful planning for the future. Change, whether or not associated with the approach of the new millennium, is a reality. And change brings with it new opportunities and responsibilities, many derived from advances in science and technology, and from the concomitant globalization of our communications, economies, and politics.

    Much of the change we are currently experiencing...

  13. 9 MIT: The Path to Our Future (1997–1998)
    (pp. 159-184)

    At this time during each year of my tenure as president, I have written an essay of relevance to MIT, but speaking as well to a larger audience beyond our campus. This year my report is directly addressed to the MIT community alone, because I believe that we have reached a watershed and must craft a more explicit vision of our future and an intellectual and financial plan for realizing it. What follows is a personal statement and framework, yet one that is informed and influenced by many others. The work of many of my faculty, administration, and corporation colleagues...

  14. 10 Three Questions in Search of Answers (1998–1999)
    (pp. 185-210)

    During the last year I have traveled across the country to consult with a large number of MIT alumni and friends about the future of MIT and its responses to a rapidly changing world. In these discussions, many questions of fundamental importance have been raised. Additionally, issues and experiences in campus life, and interactions with government and industry have also raised a number of questions. In this report, I offer a few thoughts and opinions on three such important questions:

    Does merit-based financial aid serve the common good?

    What is the faculty’s collective responsibility to our students?

    Will industry sponsorship...

  15. 11 Disturbing the Educational Universe: Universities in the Digital Age—Dinosaurs or Prometheans? (2000–2001)
    (pp. 211-232)

    If there is one experience common to every university president in the United States during the past decade or so, it is being accused of leading institutional dinosaurs down a path to rapid extinction in a digital age. Peter Drucker has decreed it. Editorial writers have shouted about it. Alumni and trustees have stated it. Some of our own colleagues agree.

    The issue is simply stated. Does the future of education, learning, and training belong to a new machine-based digital environment, or will the best learning remain a deeply human endeavor conducted person-to-person in a residential campus setting? I believe...

  16. 12 Response and Responsibility: Balancing Security and Openness in Research and Education (2001–2002)
    (pp. 233-254)

    The ability of our nation to remain secure in the face of both traditional military threats and international terrorism while maintaining the excellence and pace of American science and technology requires a delicate balance. It depends first and foremost on effective dialogue and joint problem solving by those responsible for maintaining our security and those who lead our scientific, engineering, and higher-education communities.

    Our immediate impulse when threatened is to wall ourselves off and to regulate the release of information of potential use to our enemies. This is understandable, and frequently justified, but in today’s complicated world, the security issues...

  17. 13 Moving On (2002–2004)
    (pp. 255-278)

    Universities endure. Their work is never complete. To paraphrase Vannevar Bush, they forever pursue the endless frontier. The role of individuals is transient. We make our contributions, do our work, exert our influence, pursue our passions, chase our dreams, teach and learn, succeed and fail, give substance to the present, help shape the future, and then move on.

    And as we move on, we should reflect on our times and what we have learned—but only for the purpose of helping ourselves, and others, to travel more wisely into the future. Having had the rare privilege of serving as president...

  18. Index
    (pp. 279-292)