The Rochester Review, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA
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Toward a Common Future

Many highly visible initiatives are transforming the University. Preeminent among them are the changes associated with the Rochester Renaissance Plan, with its attendant reduction of the undergraduate population in the College to enhance the opportunities available to any individual student, as well as an ongoing review of the entire residential character of the institution. Those actions are occurring in parallel with the implementation of a new curriculum that both captures the essence of a liberal education and reflects the needs of our 21st-century alums.

Even more visible to many local observers is the vast array of changes at the Medical Center. Among these are an agreement to affiliate with Highland Hospital; another agreement, in principle, to join forces with the now-independent Eastman Dental Center (thus fulfilling George Eastman's vision from almost 75 years ago); and significant movement toward managed care through offerings such as the recently unveiled StrongCare HMO. An emerging Medical Center strategic plan is resulting in new ways of looking at medical and nursing education, and at the relationship between clinical care and academic programs. It also is re-energizing our important medical research arm by focusing new efforts in the areas of vaccine biology, aging and development, and cancer.

While perhaps the most prominent, these are but examples of innovation that has actually been occurring University-wide. The Eastman School of Music has attracted much attention through its willingness to take a sweeping look at how music education can remain vibrant for the needs of the future, while remaining faithful to the principles of the past. Out of the Eastman Commission on the Teaching of Music have come the Eastman Initiatives that are molding the music curriculum of the 21st century and, at the same time, reinvigorating the faculty.

At the Warner School, itself reshaped in large part through the energy and generosity of benefactor William Scandling, the faculty is now looking at how to "educate the educators," exploring ways of distinctively integrating the theoretical and the practical. The school is also working to bring about significant participatory links to public education itself, particularly with the Rochester City School District. The Simon School, meanwhile, has been working hard at its own curriculum, developing an increasingly international focus and a determination to orient itself to the modern needs of business--while, again, like our other schools, remaining faithful to its basic focus, vision, and integrity, as well as its comparative strengths.

It is easy to compartmentalize our thinking about these dramatic changes: We associate the Renaissance Plan with the College, the Medical Center strategic plan with the hospital and the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and of Nursing, the Commission on the Teaching of Music with the Eastman School, and so on.

But it is important not to forget about the meaning of the University. These innovations are logically linked in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Together, these discrete initiatives sound a common theme for the University as a whole.

Some of our strategic activities arise from the genuine realization that efforts in one area are strengthened by ties to another area. A recently reinvigorated program in biomedical engineering, for example, draws on the strengths resident not just in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, but also in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in basic science programs in Arts and Sciences. Business education draws strength from basic disciplines in the social sciences and, in turn, gives strengths back to those areas. Newly developed programs in hospital administration draw together strengths in business and medicine. There have even been discussions about how to relate, in a curricular and scholastic sense, the disciplines represented by music and medicine--George Eastman's original two schools.

But a sense of commonality arises even more powerfully from the realization that we all draw special strength from the unusually close nature of our institution. It comes as well from the realization that, just as the University can and should gain luster from its component parts, so, too, can those components draw luster from the University as a whole.

The University of Rochester is not just a collection of unrelated parts. It is a complex organization, bound together at its heart and soul by several underlying principles and beliefs. Our mission is about education, about scholarship, and about its application and practice. But beyond that, it is about pursuing these ends within a humane and realistic size and scale. It is thus about a belief-- throughout the entire University--that we are willing to sacrifice some of the obvious gains that come from sheer size for some of the more intangible, but perhaps more durable, delights that intimacy and shared vision can provide us.

I derive great pleasure from a recent analysis by two SUNY Buffalo professors of the impact of size on departmental reputations which concludes that, when adjustments are made for size, our Department of Political Science is the highest-ranked such department in the country. The same analysis could be done, with equally gratifying results, I am sure, in area after area throughout the University. We wouldn't always, or often, come out first, but there is little doubt that, pound for academic pound, we are a very effective--and collegial-- academic entity.

Even more telling is a new study, co-authored by a professor at Vanderbilt University and a Goucher College administrator, that controls for size and zeroes in on the "hard data" measuring an institution's grants, publications, and fellowships (as opposed to "reputation," which so often closely parallels institutional proportions). In that kind of calculation, Rochester places 12th in the nation among private universities. In other words, when true comparisons are made, our collegial size-- which we well know to be a distinctive benefit--no longer obscures our outstanding qualities.

Much of my time and attention, and that of the Provost and others in the central administration, is necessarily directed toward areas where, because of issues of complexity, change, or other complications, our focus is most demanded. While this is inevitable, it does not obscure for me the reality that much of what will define the institution and its direction (and wholly as important as that which rises to the level of day-to-day presidential attention) occurs because of the values organic to the University of Rochester--values that attract interesting and dedicated people. They are individuals who will reinforce, within their own domains, the special excitement and character of this University--a character wrapped up in our size, our multiple distinctions, our passion to improve. We all find ourselves linked by common themes that show us our way to a shared future.

Thomas H. Jackson

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Last updated 3-27-1997 (jc)