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The Worth of the University

The Worth of the University

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Worth of the University
    Book Description:

    Published on the occasion of Richard C. Levin's retirement as president of Yale University, this captivating collection of speeches and essays from the past decade reflects both his varied intellectual passions and his deep commitment to university life and leadership. Whether discussing the economic implications of climate change or speaking to an incoming class of Yale freshmen, he argues for the vital importance of scholarship and the critical role that universities play in educating students and promoting the overall well-being of our society.

    This collection is a sequel toThe Work of the University, which contained the principal writings from Levin's first decade as Yale's president, and it enunciates many of the same enduring themes: forging a strong partnership with the city of New Haven, rebuilding Yale's physical infrastructure, strengthening science and engineering, and internationalizing the university. But this companion volume also captures the essence of university leadership. In addressing topics as varied as his personal sources of inspiration, the development of Asian universities, and the university's role in promoting innovation and economic growth, Levin challenges the reader to be more engaged, more creative, more innovative, and above all, a better global citizen. Throughout, his commitment to and affection for Yale shines through.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19851-5
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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

    I am pleased to offer a selection of speeches and essays from my second decade as president of Yale. This collection is a sequel toThe Work of the University, which contains the principal writings of my first decade.

    Many of the speeches in this volume focus on themes I enunciated in my inaugural address in 1993: forging a strong partnership with the city of New Haven, rebuilding Yale’s physical plant, strengthening science and engineering, and internationalizing the University. But I hope that this book captures also the essence of what is both the work and the worth of the...


    • Stanford and Yale
      (pp. 3-4)

      When I arrived at Stanford’s Wilbur Hall in the fall of 1964, little did I imagine that the day would provide material for a welcoming address to Yale College freshmen thirty-one years later. In this, as in so many ways, Stanford formed me for the life Jane and I have lived. We never left school; we just moved to a different one.

      I have been privileged to test Stanford from many perspectives—as an alumnus, as a professional colleague of fellow economists, as a parent of two going on three students, as a parent of a young member of the...

    • Eliot of Harvard
      (pp. 5-22)

      Several years ago, I was asked to deliver a midsummer lecture to a group of university presidents on the subject of leadership. Initially, I planned to draw lessons from the work of the greatest of my Yale predecessors, as well as several presidents with distinguished careers at other institutions. The more I read, the more convinced I became that one leader stands above all others in the history of American higher education. He, alas, was not a Yale man.

      Charles Eliot served as the president of Harvard University for forty years, from 1869 until 1909.¹ He was, almost certainly, the...

    • The Astonishing Joseph Stiglitz
      (pp. 23-26)

      Now that Joe Stiglitz is 60, he appears to us as one of a small number of the most distinguished members of our profession. But when I entered graduate school at Yale in 1970, Joe was entirely, completely, and absolutely in a class by himself. At 27, he had already published more than twenty articles in major journals, edited Paul Samuelson’s papers, and earned the rank of full professor. The adjectiveprodigiousbarely does justice.

      Among the graduate students in economics it was believed that Joe was the youngest full professor in Yale’s history. Now that I am in a...

    • Repairing a Bicycle
      (pp. 27-29)

      I have learned two things from Bill Brainard—how to repair a bicycle and how to run a university. Actually, I have learned a lot more from Bill, although I must admit I never really understood most of the stuff Bill taught us in first-year macroeconomics. But let me focus on the two examples I mentioned because they reveal so much about a truly extraordinary teacher and friend.

      About a dozen years ago, when my two sons were teenagers, we planned a bicycle trip to France. Since we were going on our own, and might conceivably experience a breakdown at...

    • The Ornament of Our World
      (pp. 30-32)

      María cared about words—whether they were found in medieval poetry, rock lyrics, or recipes. Thus it was not by accident that she chose as the title of her best-known book words used by a tenth-century author to describe Córdoba. María made the words her own, painting a vivid picture of the flourishing culture of Al-Andalus—the ornament, the adornment, that which adds beauty and brilliance to the world. To use words very precisely, María was the ornament of our world.

      She added beauty and brilliance to the world in so many different ways. I leave it to others to...


    • Encountering New Perspectives
      (pp. 35-41)

      This spring, as you were coming to the end of your high school years, I got my first inspiration for what I might say to you when you arrived here. I was sitting in the auditorium of the Whitney Humanities Center, listening to a splendid lecture by Garry Wills, a Yale alumnus who has written brilliantly on topics as diverse as Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, and Catholic theology. As the topic of the annual Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Professor Wills had chosen Henry Adams, the great-grandson of John Adams whose autobiography,The Education of Henry Adams, was recently voted...

    • Back to School
      (pp. 42-47)

      While you were making last-minute preparations to come to New Haven for pre-season practice, or one of our many orientation programs, Dean Salovey and I, along with about fifty administrative and faculty colleagues and an even larger number of indefatigable supporting staff, were embarking on a new adventure of our own. Just two weeks ago, the presidents and vice presidents of twelve of China’s leading universities arrived in New Haven for an intensive ten-day course on the American university, and Yale in particular.

      I was greatly pleased but not entirely surprised when, at the end of the program, our Chinese...

    • Friendship and Individuality
      (pp. 48-52)

      Earlier this month, as I was thinking about what I might say to you on this occasion, my wife Jane and I visited the recently renovated Museum of Modern Art in New York. There it was our good fortune to see a brilliantly conceived special exhibition of the works of two French impressionist painters, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. The exhibition covers the period from 1865 to 1885, when the two artists were in very frequent contact, often spending weeks together painting side-by-side.¹

      Pissarro was thirty-five when their close friendship developed, and Cézanne was twenty-six. So they were not exactly...

    • Preparing for Global Citizenship
      (pp. 53-57)

      There is so much in store for you. Nearly two thousand courses, a library with endless treasures, fabulous museum collections, one of the world’s most distinguished faculties, abundant athletic opportunities, and over 250 student organizations that encourage your participation in music, theater, journalism, debate, politics, and community service. There are caring masters, deans, faculty, and freshman counselors to help and advise you. And a campus architecture that is as inspiring as any in America. When it comes to deciding how to exercise your mind, your body, or your voice, the choices are entirely your own. And you will get back...

    • The Questions That Matter
      (pp. 58-64)

      Three weeks ago, as you were beginning to prepare yourselves for your journey to New Haven, I spent a very pleasant weekend reading a new book by one of our distinguished Sterling Professors, the former Dean of the Yale Law School, Anthony Kronman, who now teaches humanities courses in Yale College. I had one of those experiences that I hope you have time and again during your four years here. I was disappointed to finish reading the book. It was beautifully written, closely reasoned, and utterly transparent in its exposition and its logic. I was disappointed because I wanted the...

    • Variety and Freedom
      (pp. 65-69)

      In a lead article last month, the editors ofThe Economist, that most pro-American of foreign publications, proclaimed, “The United States, normally the world’s most self-confident place, is glum.” The editors went on to note that home prices are falling faster than during the Great Depression, credit is scarce, gasoline is more expensive than in the 1970s, and the dollar is at a post–Cold War low. Popular support for free trade and open markets, the lifeblood of growing world prosperity, is lower in the United States than anywhere in the world. Our universities remain strong, but our system of...

    • Passion and Perseverance
      (pp. 70-76)

      A few weeks ago I was browsing in a bookstore when I noticed a new biography of Grace Murray Hopper.¹ In a flash, I knew that I would buy the book, read it, and tell you about her—one of the most extraordinary women ever to attend Yale—when you arrived here. What a perfect topic for this season, the fortieth anniversary of the first enrollment of women in Yale College.

      I imagine that only a small number of you have ever heard of Grace Hopper. She was the first woman to receive a Yale Ph.D. in mathematics, the first...

    • Seeing the Big Picture
      (pp. 77-82)

      Here at Yale you will have the chance to expand your horizons, to widen your scope of vision, and to see the world from many perspectives. I want to encourage you, in every way that I can, to make the most of this rare and unique opportunity.

      The simple truth is thatweneedyou. In these times of great uncertainty, when we seem unable to deal with our gravest problems, we desperately need an infusion of broadly educated citizens and leaders to join the debates, raise the level of discourse, and move us in the right direction. We know...


    • The University in Service to Society
      (pp. 85-94)

      My subject this evening is how universities serve society. To answer the question, I will draw mainly on the experience of American universities, not because their contributions are unique or more important than those of universities elsewhere. I focus on the U.S. experience strictly because I know it best, and I do so in full recognition that some of the lessons learned in my country may not apply here in Greece.

      Universities serve society in many ways, but I will focus on the contribution that they make through three activities in particular: research, education, and institutional citizenship.

      First, by advancing...

    • Why Colleges and Universities Matter
      (pp. 95-103)

      Three years after the onset of the Great Recession, even as the economy recovers, we remain in a state of deep national anxiety. Nearly 16 percent of the workforce remains unemployed, underemployed, or discouraged from seeking employment.¹ Families across the country are worried about their financial security and the prospects for their children. State governments, along with the federal government, which faced structural deficits even before the recession, must now deal with the painful necessity of reducing spending and increasing taxes despite the unpopularity of both sets of measures.

      With every category of discretionary public expenditure under serious scrutiny, it...

    • Universities and Cities
      (pp. 104-116)

      In 1826, David Hudson founded a school in what had been known as the Western Reserve of Connecticut. He brought to the task the ideas and ambitions of the Connecticut institution he took as his model. For even in those early years of the Republic, Yale aspired to become something more than the collegiate school founded in 1701 to educate the young Puritans for “service in Church and Civil State.” Under the leadership of Timothy Dwight, Yale had begun the transition from college to university—opening a medical school and appointing the nation’s first professor of natural science and its...

    • Harnessing the Wind
      (pp. 117-120)

      Seeking inspiration for this magnificent occasion, I turned to a captivating book published last year, entitledThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. It tells the story of William Kamkwamba, a young boy from a tiny village in Malawi. From an early age he took apart radios and tried to figure out what made them work. Later, at age fourteen, after a devastating famine left his family too poor to pay school fees, he studied alone in a small public library that was stocked with books donated by the government of the United States. There he devoured an elementary textbook called...

    • Rethinking College Admissions
      (pp. 121-130)

      Independent schools, though few in number compared with their public counterparts, play an important role in shaping the landscape of American education. For more than a century, they have been at the forefront of pedagogical innovation and educational reform. Today they provide a vastly disproportionate flow of students to the most highly selective colleges and universities. Although they educate only 2 percent of the nation’s high school students, independent schools nonetheless provide between one-quarter and one-third of the matriculants at highly selective universities.

      Independent schools strive to create environments in which learning is valued and teachers are respected. They strive...


    • Color plates
      (pp. None)
    • Reviving Public Discourse
      (pp. 133-138)

      When you entered Yale four years ago, I offered some reflections on the letters exchanged by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the last fourteen years of their lives. You probably do not recall, but I suggested that there were many lessons to be learned from reading this extraordinarily rich and erudite correspondence. Though very different in temperament, these two founding fathers shared a vigorous passion for lifelong learning, a capacity for independent thought, and a friendship rooted in mutual respect and admiration. I urged you to use your time at Yale to develop the qualities of mind and character...

    • Curiosity, Independence, and Public Service
      (pp. 139-143)

      Four years ago, in this very hall, I welcomed you to Yale. I began by telling you about Yale’s tradition of pioneering new fields of study, its magnificent collections, its extraordinary faculty and their scholarly accomplishments. Then, as one example of Yale scholarship, I cited Edmund Morgan’s just-completed biography of Benjamin Franklin. I identified several of Franklin’s personal qualities and suggested that during your time here you might find them worthy of emulation. To remind you, these particular virtues were curiosity, independent thinking, and devotion to public service. I thought I would return to these themes today, in part to...

    • Journeys
      (pp. 144-149)

      Three years before you arrived here, on the eve of this university’s three hundredth birthday, we took the bold step of declaring that Yale would transform itself into a truly global institution in its fourth century. You and your successors deserve no less. Like your predecessors, you will lead lives of consequence, but unlike them, you enter a world that has become increasingly interdependent economically and geopolitically. The world, and not merely this nation, will be the stage on which your lives and your careers play out.

      Many of you have been the beneficiaries of our recent efforts to internationalize...

    • Life on a Small Planet
      (pp. 150-154)

      I graduated forty years ago and three thousand miles away, in 1968, a year marked by urban riots, two tragic assassinations, an unpopular war in Vietnam, and defeated revolutions in France and Czechoslovakia. In the wake of this turmoil and strife, there appeared at the end of that year images so astonishing that they remain imprinted in memory. They were straightforward photographs, taken with a Hasselblad camera, neither edited nor manipulated to achieve emotional effect. Yet they elicited the most powerful emotions. They were stunningly beautiful, hopeful, and profoundly humbling all at once.

      I refer to the first photographic images of the earth taken from the...

    • The Economy and the Human Spirit
      (pp. 155-163)

      When I welcomed you four years ago, you were exhilarated but apprehensive, excited to be taking on a new challenge, but more than a little intimidated—awed by the imposing architecture of this place, by the grandeur of this hall, by the rumble of its great organ, and by the dazzling accomplishments of your classmates, who all seemed to you to belong here, even if you were not quite sure about yourself. Now, appropriately, you feel as if you own the place; every corner of your college, every face in the dining hall, is familiar to you. You have made...

    • Reclaiming Politics
      (pp. 164-168)

      Understandably, you may be uncertain and a bit anxious about what lies ahead. But, if history is to be trusted, you will find many paths open to you. Because of the talent you possess, as well as the intellectual and personal growth you have experienced here, you will find, with high likelihood, success in your chosen endeavors.

      Perhaps I am overconfident about your prospects for personal fulfillment and professional success, but I do not think so. If you will concede my point for the sake of argument, let me ask the next question, one so deeply rooted in Yale’s mission...

    • Taking Responsibility
      (pp. 169-176)

      I imagine you are finding it difficult to believe that your time here has come to an end. Let me tell you from experience: your memories of Yale College, and the lessons you have learned here, will endure, but you have so many exciting possibilities ahead that the sense of loss you feel today will fade quickly. You have learned the value of seeing the world and the value of appreciating the differences among its peoples. You have worked hard. You have had fun. You have made friends for a lifetime. And you have come to know yourselves better than...


    • The Lesson of 9/11
      (pp. 179-181)

      When we gathered ten years ago this evening, our community was shocked, filled with grief, frightened, and uncertain. At that moment no one knew for sure who had caused the tragedy, how many had died, or whether there were more attacks to follow. The members of our community reached out to one another in their grief and uncertainty. After the candlelight vigil here on the evening of September 11, Jewish and Muslim students came together. They invited the whole campus to another vigil three days later, where Jews and Muslims read words of comfort and hope from each other’s sacred...

    • Leading by Example
      (pp. 182-196)

      I am greatly honored to participate in this distinguished series of lectures in preparation for next year’s UN Summit on Climate Change. Because Yale is among Copenhagen University’s founding partners in the International Alliance of Research Universities, I am especially delighted to have the opportunity to visit your campus and to advance our global collaboration.

      There is no longer any doubt that we have a problem. The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded last year that the evidence of global warming is “unequivocal.”¹ The Panel, consisting of 2,500 leading climate scientists from around the world,...

    • Rising to the Challenge of Climate Change
      (pp. 197-201)

      This gathering gives important testimony to China’s concern for ensuring sustainable development for its citizens and China’s growing sense of shared responsibility for the condition of our planet. China is making impressive investments to “Propel the Green Economy,” most notably in the development of alternative energy technologies, but also in planning new cities in accordance with best practices of eco-friendly urban design.

      The problem confronting us is even more serious than the public has understood. Earlier this month, the National Research Council of the United States—the research arm of our national academies of science, engineering, and medicine—released a...

    • The American Research University and the Global Agenda
      (pp. 202-210)

      I am an economist by training and profession. Years ago, in addition to teaching survey courses in microeconomics and industrial organization, I also taught courses on such subjects as “The Political Economy of Oil” and “The International Competitiveness of U.S. Manufacturing,” reflecting a long-standing interest in the politics and economics of world affairs. Now I see these issues from the dual perspective of international economist and university president.

      I suspect that you are not often inclined to put universities and foreign policy into the same sentence. So let me offer you a provocative hypothesis: namely, that the American research university...


    • The Rise of Asia’s Universities
      (pp. 213-231)

      I stand before you this evening as a representative of the third oldest university in the United States, little more than 50 miles from the two oldest universities in the English-speaking world. Today, the strongest British and American universities—such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale, not to mention Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, University College London, and Imperial College London—call forth worldwide admiration and respect for their leadership in research and education. Sitting atop the global league tables, these institutions set the standard that others at home and abroad seek to emulate; they define the concept of “world-class university.” They...

    • Reform, Innovation, and Economic Growth in Japan
      (pp. 232-239)

      Many reasons are given for the slowdown of the Japanese economy that began in 1990. Some argue that macroeconomic policy was responsible; others cite a precariously weak financial system. As a micro-economist and longtime student of industrial innovation, I prefer another explanation. Although Japan led the world in process engineering and product quality control, its scientific and financial infrastructure did not provide Japanese companies and entrepreneurs with adequate fuel to drive the kind of radical product innovation in science-based industries that was responsible for the success of the United States economy in the 1990s.

      Today, Japan is in the midst...

    • The Role of Liberal Education in China’s Development
      (pp. 240-246)

      China’s unprecedented expansion of access to higher education advancement has been accompanied by an aspiration to make its leading universities competitive with the best in the world. Since 2004, with the support of the Ministry of Education, my colleagues at Yale and I have worked with the Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Party Secretaries from more than thirty of the Chinese institutions represented at this Forum in an annual workshop devoted to educational leadership and reform. From year to year, I have observed remarkable progress: making the procedures for faculty appointments and promotion more open and competitive, recruiting increasing numbers of...


    • Confronting China’s Challenges
      (pp. 249-256)

      In April 2006, during his address at Yale University, President Hu Jintao invited one hundred Yale faculty members and students to visit China as his guests “to enhance mutual understanding between young people and educators of the two countries.” Last week, in response to President Hu’s generous display of friendship, I had the opportunity to lead a delegation of sixty-two Yale students and thirty-eight faculty and staff to Beijing and Xi’an. Most of our delegation had never been to China before; many had never been beyond the borders of the United States. All of us were awed by the remarkable...

    • Patents in Global Perspective
      (pp. 257-271)

      I am neither a banker nor an expert on banking and financial matters, but, as a longtime student of the economic impact of intellectual property rights, I hope that I might contribute something useful to the discussion of a topic that is highly salient in India at this very moment.

      As you know, ten years ago, India, along with the other members of the World Trade Organization designated as developing countries, obligated itself to bring its intellectual property laws and enforcement practices into conformity with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights no later than January 1, 2005....

    • Lessons from the Crisis of 2008
      (pp. 272-282)

      I speak to you today not as a university president, but as an economist eager to understand what caused the crisis of 2008 and why we did not effectively mitigate its severity and duration. I focus primarily on the origins and consequences of, and the insufficient response to, the Great Recession in the United States.

      I will take up six questions in turn:

      What was the crisis?

      What caused it?

      What could have prevented the crisis?

      What could have been done after the crisis occurred to restore the flow of credit?

      What could have been done after the crisis occurred...