In the 21st century, how should the University of Rhode Island, and other land-grant universities, prepare their students for “the several pursuits and professions in life”? In many respects, this question is a more difficult one now than at the beginning of the land grant era. For one thing, the majority of our students will no longer make their living, or build their career, in endeavors associated with agriculture.
2011 President’s Blog
The University of Rhode Island is charged, as are all land-grant institutions, with providing both “liberal and practical education” to our students. This clause is a cogent example of the highly innovative vision for public higher education laid out in the Morrill Act. It is every bit as relevant in the 21st century as it was in 1862. But the importance of providing both liberal and practical education has perhaps never been more evident. More so than at any time in our past, the modern university’s role is to prepare students for jobs and entire careers that do not yet exist.
It is a desirable and necessary characteristic, a consequence of academic freedom and shared governance, and one of the important attributes of university leadership. Deliberation, consultation, and participation generally have been, and should continue to be, hallmarks of decision-making in higher education. Colleges and universities can still be accurately characterized as “conservative” in the sense that they respect tradition, believe that much can be learned from history, and are cautious about change.
University leadership is primarily derived from the work of faculty and students engaged in scholarship and learning. It flows from the generation and dissemination of knowledge, from the critical analysis and dissection of the politics and culture of societies, from conveying the lessons of history, from opening minds to culture, perspectives, and languages other than their own, and from the interpretation of life through the arts. This is how universities principally provide leadership.
There are multiple, important areas where the leadership of the nation’s public universities could become a critical factor in surmounting the challenges and difficulties that currently confront us. We need to articulate and consistently demonstrate the importance of constructive engagement with ideas and positions that differ from one’s own. We should insist on the appropriate use of scientific findings, quantitative analysis, data analysis, and rational discourse in shaping public policy.
It is simply inspiring to experience the excitement for this project and to see the depth and breadth of URI’s involvement in making these homes, this new part of our neighborhood, a reality to celebrate for years to come. A lot of URI students have been a part of making this happen: Karin Mellin, Kari Lukovics, Carissa Johnson, Scott Andrews, and Darthula Hansford are working with Habitat for Humanity (Scott is President of the URI chapter and Darthula is the liaison between South County Habitat for Humanity and the URI chapter).
I would like to personally thank our speakers for Discovery Day as well. Keith Stokes, Executive Director of the RI Economic Development Corporation, Leslie Taito, CEO of the RI Manufacturing Extension Service, Umberto Crenca, Founding Artistic Director of AS220, and Paul Hastings, President and CEO of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, all provided insightful and illuminating talks that illustrated the close relationships between research and creative work and economic and community development.
The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy at the University of Rhode Island. Four events stand out: two evenings where special university awards were announced – the Rainville Leadership Awards and the Diversity Awards; and two symposia – one on Cybersecurity and then Discovery Day at URI. My guess is that everyone who attended discovered new things about what our students, faculty, and staff are doing that are, to recycle a phrase that I’ve used previously, “transforming the world.”
This week I visited the Production Lab in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, which provides a top-notch technical environment and a variety of support services for students interested in research and outreach in writing and in preparing cutting-edge web-based portfolios to showcase their work.
At the University of Rhode Island we take very seriously our responsibility to provide a strong return on the investment made in us by the people of Rhode Island. We will work even harder to provide high quality undergraduate, graduate, and professional education. Equally, we will continue to enhance our research, scholarship, and creative work, along with our service to the people of the state.