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In his Commencement afternoon remarks, President Neil L. Rudenstine recalled the remaking of Harvard at the end of the nineteenth century, under Charles William Eliot. Rudenstine cited the growth and geographic broadening of the student body, and the education of women at the newly established Radcliffe College. He noted the new approaches to learning, as recitation gave way to discussion, electives broadened the curriculum, and the "Socratic method" of inquiry supplanted rote, as in Henry Adams's innovative history seminars, where the undergraduates "worked," said Adams, "like rabbits, and dug holes all over the field of archaic society; no difficulty stopped them; unknown languages yielded before their attack...[as they chased] an idea through [as] dense [a] thicket of obscure facts as they were [ever] likely to meet in later life." Finally, Rudenstine dated to that era the "creation of the human and technological system which we now call the university research library," with revolutionary effects on research and teaching.
Rudenstine then turned to some of the great transformations taking place at Harvard at the end of the twentieth century; excerpts from his remarks follow.
Let me single out just a few points. First, our modern information-technology systems are producing massive amounts of new information, on-line texts, and other materials in different media. One order of business, therefore, is to solve several problems that parallel some of those of the 1890s: how to help people find what is actually available and what they need; how to use the new media and information to improve courses; how to strengthen teaching and research simultaneously; and how to decide what and how much we should do in the field of distance learning.
I do not believe that distance learning will ever become a substitute for the kind of powerful residential undergraduate education that takes place face-to-face among outstanding faculty and exceptional students at Harvard. Nevertheless, especially in the area of continuing and mid-career education--where distance learning offers powerful new ways to engage with large numbers of advanced students and practitioners--Harvard will cease to be a leader if it does not continue to create programs that maintain our level of excellence based in a residential system, while also extending our capacities.
A second major transformation arises directly from the sweeping changes in international affairs that have marked the last decade. Faculty and students can now search hundreds of archives, in many societies, that had previously been closed. They can interview individuals in countries where genuinely free expression was, until recently, largely impossible. And the opportunities for working cooperatively--with scholars, practitioners, and government officials from other countries--have greatly expanded.
So, just as President Eliot worked to turn Harvard into a national university, it is our job to strengthen and broaden Harvard's presence, and its work, in the international realm. We have been a leader in international studies for a long while. Nonetheless, there is much more to do. How can we best increase and deepen our knowledge of the growing number of societies that have recently become visible actors on the world's stage? How can we prepare our students best for the intensively internationalized environment in which they are already living? How can we work effectively with other institutions abroad in order to help solve common intellectual, social, economic, and other problems?
The job of guiding this process is new in its scope, dimensions, rate of fast-paced change, and deep effect on so much of our entire educational program.
Finally, if one of the major academic tasks in the late nineteenth century was to create individual departments for new specialized disciplines, our challenge today is to develop more and better programs across the established disciplines. Bringing more parts of the University closer together, so that we can make much more of what we already have, is a crucial priority because so many important academic and societal problems demand knowledge and expertise from several disciplines if we are to make any headway in addressing them: questions related to health policy, public-school education, economic development, international security, and the environment, as well as many subjects in the liberal arts and sciences.
Our most recent dramatic example of such collaboration is the decision by Radcliffe and Harvard to combine their resources in a new venture that builds on the past, but is clearly designed for the future.
For more than 100 years, Radcliffe College has been a leader in providing access to outstanding educational opportunities for women. At the time of its founding, the idea of a women's college positioned in close proximity to Harvard was not exactly embraced with euphoria. There were difficult and even some stormy passages along the way. But the extraordinary achievements of Radcliffe, and its abundance of distinguished graduates, made a cumulative, definitive, and indelible mark on Harvard--and on this nation.
We have now reached a new stage when equally significant contributions will be made, with the creation of the new Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The institute will form a distinct community, within Harvard, of advanced scholars and practitioners, representing a wide range of academic fields, pursuing work at the outer limits of our knowledge. It will also provide unique resources and opportunities for the study of women, gender, and society. [For more on plans for the institute, see "Radcliffe's Rebirth".] Institute members will bring fresh stimulus to all of Harvard's schools and faculties.
Let me finally express my thanks to all of you. We have all been given an incalculable treasure--this extraordinary University--to keep in our trust. Thank you for your constant willingness to help sustain and protect it. Those of us on campus pledge in return to settle for nothing less than the best that can be achieved in education, in learning, and in service to society--here and around the globe.
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