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Remarks to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Cambridge, Mass.

This is my final Faculty meeting as President and so I trust you will understand if I speak directly to you as some of you have spoken directly to me.

Difficult marriages sometimes end and so it is with ours. Life is too short for anger, and yet, it is too long not to reflect on experience.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve as your President and I will always treasure the memories of my work with members of this Faculty.

Among the fondest of these memories are the many occasions upon which I learned from you. The Harvard President’s role as final arbiter of appointments to the Faculty is a unique one. It is a rare opportunity for any intellectual to hear scholars across a range of fields survey the distant, the recent, and the emergent work in their area of expertise, and I have felt privileged to be tutored on everything from Mayan archaeology to string theory and from continental philosophy to international history.

I have, in addition, been honored to say ceremonial words launching a dazzling array of this Faculty’s new initiatives And it has been inspiring to ask students each year at my freshman study breaks about their favorite classes. I have enjoyed watching their eyes light up as they talk about their language course, or “Justice,” or their first introduction to literary theory or the new life sciences course.

I will always be proud of the nearly 100 FAS senior appointments I have approved, of helping to advance the progress that will transform the North Yard, of joining the effort to secure a full five years of funding for entering graduate students, and of beginning work on what was my highest priority for this Faculty as President: improving the experience of the students of Harvard College.

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I leave the Presidency at a moment of unprecedented opportunity for the University and for this Faculty. Harvard has never had the global reputation and presence it has today, and the world has never been more in need of outstanding graduates ready to embark on careers of leadership in every corner of the globe.

At the same time, the University – and this Faculty – is extraordinarily fortunate in its own resources: in the human resources represented by its students and scholars; the physical resources represented by the land ready for development in Allston; and in the financial resources now at our disposal to support exciting visions. Over the last three years, preliminary information suggests that the University endowment has performed far beyond our planning assumptions, generating more than seven billion dollars beyond what we could have planned on just three years ago. This figure exceeds the endowment of all but three other universities in the world. The increase in the endowment of this Faculty, after adjustment for inflation, alone exceeds $3 billion.

At such a time, and with such resources, there is really only one important question on which history will judge us. With all of our good fortune and all of our wealth, did we do all we could to blaze new paths for higher education and change the world through our teaching and research? Or did we continue to do traditional things in traditional ways, enjoying the greater comfort that increased resources provide?

From the day I was named as President, I have felt it to be a matter of urgency that the FAS renew and greatly strengthen its approach to undergraduate education. I know that every member of this Faculty shares a commitment to providing an undergraduate education worthy of our remarkable students. I have been troubled, and I believe you should be troubled, by survey data suggesting that student satisfaction at Harvard is much closer to the bottom than to the top of any list of leading American colleges, and that the relative satisfaction of our students declines with each year that they are here.

This faculty, with leadership from Bill Kirby and Dick Gross, and many others, has taken important steps to strengthen the Harvard undergraduate experience – as freshman seminars have become universally available, as new courses in the life sciences and other fields have been introduced, as opportunities for students to study abroad have been multiplied, and as Harvard’s system of concentrations and concentration choice has been brought in line with prevailing norms in American universities.

And yet, if history is to judge us to have taken full advantage of the opportunities inherent in this remarkable moment, this Faculty with so many brilliant and dedicated teachers has much to do to strengthen its collective approach to its students. I know from countless visits to their Houses that our students are looking to you as a Faculty for a general education curriculum that is based on a theory of the liberal education they need at this point in history, and it goes far beyond an amalgam of what individuals and departments want to teach. Our students are hoping to be taught in new ways that enable them to be far more active participants in the learning process than has traditionally been the case. And they are hoping that with all its many obligations this Faculty will find ways to afford them much more attention than it can today.

Beyond teaching, the Faculty’s other great mission is to push back the frontiers of human knowledge. No greater collection of scholars than this one has ever been assembled by any institution at any time, anywhere. While many of you individually have taken bold and creative steps to cross traditional boundaries and move beyond existing paradigms in your teaching and scholarship, I believe the Faculty as a whole can do much more to meet the challenge of the moment by moving beyond existing structures and approaches.

This Faculty can do what it has not done in 35 years by creating, merging and eliminating departments so that its structure reflects the architecture of knowledge today, rather than the architecture of generations ago.

This Faculty can find ways to assure that scholars like our late colleague John Kenneth Galbraith, whose work did so much to enrich intellectual life but did not fit neatly into any one discipline’s scholarly journals, can be tenured and flourish in today’s FAS.

This Faculty can build on the examples of the ongoing University science planning process and Dean Skocpol’s new approach to the interfaculty Ph.D. programs to enhance and indeed transform its relationships with the rest of the University. The other Faculties badly want to work with a renewed FAS that is able and willing to move expeditiously and cooperatively on matters ranging from joint appointments to the academic calendar, and from the establishment of international presences to the design of our Allston campus, and from information technology to establishment of interdisciplinary centers.

Beyond faculty appointments, beyond amenities, fellowships, leaves, office space and library privileges, we have not yet, I think, grasped all that can be achieved with the opportunities and resources now available. This Faculty will be able to name – and see realized – the most ambitious hypotheses, projects, and visions of which it can conceive. Our resources and our moment in history demand commensurate imagination, daring, and a readiness to think boldly and big.

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There is a common thread in all that I have said here today, and much more that I could say. It is the challenge of aggregating individual genius, brilliance, and dedication into collective innovation, creativity, and momentum. As you have recognized, this goes very much to approaches to leadership, but it also goes critically to issues of culture, mores, and governance.

Here, we have had and probably still have our differences. But I wonder if we do not agree on the most important things.

We agree, I believe, that the greatest Faculty is one animated by the prospects of the future, and which invests its resources, human and financial, in the future.

The greatest Faculty is one that serves the long advancement of human knowledge, puts its students and the world before its own needs. It understands that the pursuit of knowledge is larger than any field, any department, and any school. It recognizes the difference between priorities and prerogatives, and sacrifices, when necessary, the latter to the former.

The greatest faculty is one in which the values of consensus, respect, and collegiality are cherished, but also balanced against other values – clear excellence, measurable progress, and the urgent demands of a world whose needs change.

The greatest Faculty preserves its past, honors its own, but also acts nimbly and efficiently to innovate, and remains open and accountable to the world of which it is a part.

The greatest Faculty is one in which long preeminence is no bar to constant transformation.

I leave with the confidence, complete confidence, that there is within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences the wisdom, the love of Harvard, and the spirit of service and the energy that will be necessary to bring its collective effort to new levels of distinction and excellence that the moment demands. I urge you to join together with purpose for the large task before you, and wish you joy and success in your pursuits.