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Remarks to the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Cambridge, MA

I think it’s very important that we communicate directly between the University and Cambridge, between the University and the leaders of this great city. I want to talk about three basic things. First, Harvard and Cambridge are fundamentally intertwined. Second, what I think Harvard does that is very important for Cambridge. And third, that Harvard depends on, in terms of our close and collaborative relationship, the City of Cambridge. Start with our relationship. Look, we are married. It’s a fact. Neither of us is going anywhere.

And it’s not something that either of us can change. When President Clinton ran for office in 1992, he had something he said all the time about national economic policy. He said that, when you thought about national economic policy, what was crucial was that we invest in those assets at the national level which were fundamentally American, and talked about that being our people. He said, ideas move across international borders, capital moves across international boundaries, finance moves across international boundaries, technology moves across international boundaries. But one thing is distinctively American: that is our people and our natural resources. And at the national level, he used that to make a strong case for investment in the economics of education. And I think he was right in that judgment.

But it’s also useful to think about the corollary of that for a local area like this one. What is it in the City of Boston that you can be sure, as sure as anything in this world, will be here a century from now? You can’t be sure that any of our great financial services firms will be here a century from now. You can’t be sure that our manufacturing firms, most of whom were not here 50 years ago, will be here a century from now. You can’t, given the trends in sports and major league franchises, you can’t be certain that the Red Sox or the Patriots or the Bruins or the Celtics will be here a century from now. But you can be just about certain that Mt. Auburn Hospital will be here. You can be just about certain that MIT will be here. You can be just about certain that Harvard University will be here.

It is the great paradox of academic institutions, of non-profit institutions and governments, in local politics. Now, on the one hand, they are especially important, I would argue, because we’re married, because we’re going to be here forever. And what we accomplish is going to make a difference for all of us together. And on the other hand, we’re most easy to take for granted, precisely because of that fact. We’re not in any position to threaten to leave. We’re not in any position to say we’re going to shut down. We’re not in any position to do some of the things that businesses are in position to do.

So our challenge is to work together to recognize that our interests overwhelmingly coincide. Cambridge is where we live. If the schools in Cambridge work effectively, if the streets of Cambridge are safe, if the business activities of Cambridge and the retail activities of Cambridge are vibrant, if there is great housing for people of all different kinds, that is good for Cambridge and that is fundamentally important for Harvard. Because Harvard is in a people business. Harvard’s ability to recruit the best students, Harvard’s ability to recruit the best faculty, Harvard’s ability to recruit the best staff, of course it depends on the quality of our academic programs. But it also depends on whether people want to live at Harvard and live near Harvard and have the lifestyle that goes with working at Harvard. And that goes back to the City of Cambridge. So we’ve got a huge interest, I think, in all of us collaborating to find the best solutions that enable us to work together.

The second main point I just want to say a little bit about is what I think we are able to contribute to the community. Our contributions, I think, take three primary forms. We are a pole of economic attraction. Harvard is the largest employer in the City of Cambridge. As a university in this area, we employ 15,000 people. The eight universities that exist together in this community … were granted 264 patents last year and received some 44-and-a-half million dollars in technology licensing revenues. And much more importantly, we’re key to the startup of 41 companies in this area. Massachusetts receives more federal funding per state than any other state in the union. Thank you, Tip O’Neill. Thank you, Ted Kennedy.

But thank you, also, the research funding that our universities is able to attract from the NIH. Thank you, also, the financial aid funding that our universities are able to attract from the federal government. We spend a billion and a half dollars on purchasing each year in this community and Harvard alone spends $365 million with local vendors for goods and services. We are an important pole. We recognize, though, that we, particularly given our non-profit status, have an obligation to be a good neighbor and we try.

Frankly, as I’ve gotten to hear the stories, I think it’s fair to say, we’ve had varying degrees of success in the past to be a good neighbor. But we are absolutely committed now to being a good neighbor. We believe in starting in our own business, our own fundamental activity of education. That’s why each year I’m privileged to attend a graduation ceremony for the new Cambridge Harvard Summer Academy that has grown each year to assist more and more Cambridge public high school students. That’s why we hosted at our Education School this year, the city manager, the mayor, the superintendent of the School Committee, for a daylong retreat at the Graduate School of Education to discuss school improvement. That was a very productive session and next month, there’ll be another session focused on how our faculty can help directly in the Cambridge schools.

Our new dean of the Education School, Ellen Lagemann, is a person who has a great commitment, not just and not primarily to the theory of education, but to the practice of education, and is very determined to be very active in the Cambridge schools. We contributed $100,000 for the new microscopy suite at the high school to bring state-of-the-art equipment to our city’s students. And our Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology has committed to a program of collaboration with the science teachers at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. Let me tell you, we are trying to do much more; this is something that captures the imagination of our School of Education and captures the imagination of many of our faculty.

We are also committed to working with the City of Cambridge on other crucial issues, whether housing, whether health care. We have the low-interest-loan 20/20/2000 program that has already created 230 affordable new units of housing. Our role as a pole of attraction is a direct contribution as neighbors.

The third thing is the fact that we bring something very important to this area as a recognized symbol of global excellence, an institution that captures the imagination of people around the world. I go to work each morning very excited, very captivated by what I’m doing. But I also go to work with a sense of wonderment, a sense that leaves me slightly daunted. Part of it is the knowledge that I’m only the seventh person to become the President of Harvard since the end of the Civil War. Another, larger part of it is the e-mails that come every day, 10 or 12 a day, from all over the world, from a student in Nigeria who says, hey, is there any way that I can come to Harvard University? Of a graduate of the University of Indonesia wanting to know whether there’s any way that he can come to Harvard. Of a seventh-grader in Nebraska saying, the dream of my life is to come to Harvard. Can you give me information? We bring that, and it’s something that is an obligation for all of us to live up to. That’s why we answer very carefully every one of those e-mails.

And I think it’s something that helps us to be an asset to the area that we live in. I’m talking about Harvard because that’s where I am, but the same could be said of the other great educational institutions that make this place, where we are all fortunate to live, in many ways the center of thinking and study in the world. … For me, the most important responsibility that I have is to assure that, 20 years from now, people will still regard Harvard as the premier academic institution in the world. And that is not an easy thing at a time when academic life is becoming much more competitive. If we are going to be the premier intellectual institution in the world, we are going to have to do things we haven’t done before.

Computational genomics were two words that were never juxtaposed 12 years ago and yet they are central to the future of modern biology and to the future of modern medicine. Anyone who is sentient, who has watched the events of the last few years since September 11th, knows that a great university like Harvard has to care about South and Central Asia in a way that it has cared about Harvard, cared about Europe, for a very long time. Anyone who thinks about the challenges of our moment knows that, if, a century ago, Harvard’s challenge was to move beyond being a place that only attracted New England gentlemen, to being a place that attracted people from all over the United States, and today, Harvard is going to have to keep moving and becoming a place that attracts students from all over the world.

These are, in some sense, not really matters of choice. They are profoundly important to intellectual questions of how we do all those things. But whether we embrace modern science, whether we expand our capacity to move into new scientific areas, whether we engage with the challenges of what’s happening, not just in Europe and Japan but in the Third World, these aren’t really choices for the University. I don’t think anyone would seriously take the position that because there’s so much progress in the life sciences, we should stop doing physics; that because there is so much to learn about what’s happening in South Asia, that we should stop being a center of learning on Chaucer or on Shakespeare. And all of that means, in order to succeed, in order to keep being what we have been, we are going to have to find ways to collaborate, to locate all that activity. It’s really not a choice if Harvard is going to stay being Harvard. We know, we shouldn’t marvel and we can’t politically do that in a way that is unilateral. We do not have that opportunity and we should not have that opportunity.

And that’s why Alan Stone made the vow when he came to Cambridge 18 months ago, with my full support, a new era of cooperation and collaboration with Cambridge. I’m prepared to tell you that we are prepared to work together to do anything that is reasonable, to get to yes, in order to find constructive solutions that will enable us to expand the contribution that we make to this community through our excellence, and that help us to develop our relationship as neighbors.

Whether it is with remediation, whether it is parks, whether it is working with the school system, whether it is joining in the challenge of assuring that our needs for terrific people don’t become a reason why other people don’t have a place to live. These are all problems that need to be addressed. But they are problems that can only be addressed in the context of the University that is succeeding in maintaining its preeminence. So I hope that we will often have occasion to work together and talk together. I am under no delusion that any of these issues are easy. I am under no illusion that there aren’t points where our desires and others’ needs will come into conflict.

But I also believe very deeply that we are fundamentally partners and that we can, with the help of people like the people in this room, work together to create an ever-more-prosperous Cambridge and ever-more-successful Cambridge for all the people who live here, and that we can at the same time support Harvard and inspire that mission, doing the most important work of the 21st century, training young people and developing the ideas that change the world.

Thank you very much.