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FROM THE PRESIDENT
Making the mind-and the University-ready

Photo:  President Don Michael Randel"All things are ready if our minds be so." Thus says the young king in Henry V as he and his men prepare to enter the fury and chaos of battle. At a moment of millennial change, these words tell us much about how the University community will navigate that change. Indeed, these words might be thought to capture what our University is all about. Ours is an unshakable belief in the importance of making the mind ready, and we have a well-developed sense of how that is best done. In a world of change, that we will not change. And students and faculty members alike will continue to choose Chicago for that reason, which sets us apart from all others.

We must nevertheless ensure that our notions of readiness and of mind remain sufficiently ample, lest we become captives of a too comfortable nostalgia or a too cocky self-confidence. Readiness implies knowledge of that for which one is or hopes to become ready. It implies an ability to determine in advance whether one is or is not ready. It may even imply that what has made us ready for life in the past (the only life we know, after all) will make us all, especially those younger than ourselves, ready for life in the future. But we must make minds ready to encounter what will, though not predictably, in due course become known as well as to grapple with what will remain forever utterly unknown and unknowable about the human condition.

We will not be
able to invent
the science of
the 21st century
in the facilities
of the 20th.

These minds will not be simply the repositories of accumulated fact and the mistresses of a cool logic that can always prevail in debate. These minds will know the place of thinking in relation to feeling and believing. They will be capable of thought, responsibility, love. They will wring new secrets from the natural world and take responsibility for the consequences of what they have learned. They will study society with a view to both increasing understanding of it and ameliorating its ills. They will engage the full range of ways in which mankind has wrestled with what it means to be human and in which mankind has sought to make meaning. They will understand words like these of Robert Motherwell: "Most people ignorantly suppose that artists are the decorators of our human existence, the aesthetes to whom the cultivated may turn when the real business of the day is done…. Far from being merely decorative, the artist's awareness…is one…of the few guardians of the inherent sanity and equilibrium of the human spirit that we have."

What more concretely must we do to ensure that all things are ready? The University's greatest asset is its people. We must continue to recruit the kinds of faculty, staff, and students who can both make and profit from the unique institution that this University is and will remain. Talent of this caliber is far from abundant, and we have aggressive and wealthy competitors for that talent. Although it is the spirit of this University that will be most important in attracting the kinds of people we want to join us, we must be prepared to compensate faculty and staff appropriately, and we must support our students adequately. We must turn particular attention to improving the support of our graduate students.

The University has embarked on a very substantial program to improve its physical facilities. We will simply not be able to invent the science of the 21st century in the facilities in which we invented so much of the important science of the 20th. The humanities and social sciences, too, will require new or refurbished quarters in order to carry on the distinguished traditions of their work. The arts must become a still more prominent part of the fabric of the life of the community, affording enhanced access to students from across the entire campus. And we must continue to find ways in which to enrich the intellectual and cultural lives of our students beyond their experience of the formal curriculum, for we clearly believe that the life of the mind is lived around the clock if it is indeed meaningful. This will entail making spaces in which to address the whole of their lives. Architecture is one of humankind's noblest callings. With it we will not satisfy every taste. But it will be important testimony to what we have cared about. It is the most visible trace that humans will leave of what we were like and what we cared about.

As I write, we are undertaking to fill two deanships and several important posts in the central administration (Face of things to come). This, too, implies further change. But it provides as well opportunities to think anew about how we conduct our affairs and to invent new and more effective ways in which to conduct them. We are an institution whose great prowess rests in considerable degree on a much-enhanced ability to carry on critical analysis, whether of nature or human affairs. This necessarily includes an ability to identify problems, defects, dangers. It must also include the skill and the determination to imagine opportunity, possibility, promise. No university has ever come closer to embodying the ideal of a university. This should give us cause to believe that we shall always know how, in the words of A. R. Ammons, "to drill imagination right through necessity" and, in the words of King Harry, always to be ready because our minds are so.

The Magazine has asked President Don Michael Randel to write each issue on a topic of his choosing. -Ed.


  FEBRUARY 2001

  > > Volume 93, Number 3


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