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Winter 1999-2000
Vol. 62, No. 2

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Rochester at 150

The Year 2000 is a year of wonderful promise for the University of Rochester. It is also a seminal time for us to take stock of where we've come from and where we are going. Not only is it the start of a new millennium (understanding, of course, that some readers will maintain that it starts in 2001!), it is also the occasion of the University's Sesquicentennial, the subject of other articles in this issue. We hope our 150th anniversary provides you with an opportunity--or opportunities--to join us in our celebration of the past and contemplation of the future.

Universities are timeless legacies to society. At 150 years old, the University of Rochester--founded when the Rochester community was only a few years away from its own birth as a frontier boom town--is still relatively young in the world of higher education. Yet, despite the durability of universities, it is clear that the University of Rochester has changed dramatically over the past 150 years, and necessarily will change further during the coming years, century, and millennium. The issue is not whether we will change, but rather whether we will sufficiently harness the changes ahead to remain true to our past as well as to our motto, "Meliora."

Consider from where we have come, as we stand on the cusp of the new millennium. During our first 75 years, despite our "university" name, three dominant features described Rochester: We were collegiate, focusing on undergraduate education; we were without significant financial resources; and we were largely regional in focus. Throughout this period, education of leaders for Rochester and for the surrounding region was at the center of our existence--and our presence was integral to the growth of Rochester and the Rochester region.

During the second 75 years, starting with the wonderful joint forces of Rush Rhees, as president, and George Eastman, as (increasingly) a benefactor of historic proportions, Rochester blossomed as a full-fledged university, first with distinguished professional schools in medicine and music, and subsequently, with a range of nationally prominent graduate programs and professional schools. By the time of W. Allen Wallis's presidency, Rochester was defined as one of the small group of distinguished private national universities. During this seminal movement from college to university, however, we never lost sight of the virtues of the small size and scale that Rochester had always maintained, so that today our record of national (indeed, international) success is substantially disproportionate to our size. We remain a strong reminder that, through focus and having the right values, one can achieve distinction as a university without relentless growth.

During our next 75 years, if I may be permitted to gaze into a crystal ball, at the center of our work and effort will be the full, seamless integration of these two important strands from our past--the first, undergraduate education and collegiate environment; and the second, graduate and professional education along with pathbreaking scholarship and research. We already see the exceedingly productive interplay of these two strands in the College, where its innovative curriculum, Quest courses, workshops, and focus on undergraduate research take inspired nurturing from both our size and our traditions of scholarship. No doubt, we will do even more as these historical threads are woven together.

An intensifying integration of historical themes plays out in the professional and graduate schools as well. We see it in the Medical Center, where, true to its founding vision, there is a close linkage between clinical and academic medicine--to the benefit of both--and where the center's new areas of research distinction build bridges not just among core medical disciplines but also across Elmwood Avenue to the biological sciences and engineering disciplines on the River Campus. We see it at the Eastman School of Music, where the genius of placing a music conservatory within a university continues to pay enormous dividends, lately exemplified by the pathbreaking integration of music, academics, and outreach in what's known as Eastman Initiatives. We see it in the integrated curriculum at the Simon School, which understands--and designs its programs around--the reality that the fundamentals of economics and the fundamentals of business can never be too far apart. We see it in the Warner School, where the work of integrating the academic programs with actual linkages to school systems confers new life and meaning to the discipline of education and human development.

There is a sense, both among a number of my colleagues as well as among the public generally, that higher educational institutions are going to be profoundly changed, perhaps even relegated to a less important position, by the rapidly changing technology--most apparent in Internet education and other forms of long-distance learning --that will increasingly make us look like expensive educational dinosaurs. While I believe that this technology will change us in significant ways, I do not believe that it comes close to threatening our existence. That is because the place still matters. The community matters. The ability of students to deal with each other, in close surroundings, in and out of class, matters. The ability of faculty members to find significant cross-fertilization by daily, and personal, interactions with others, matters.

It is clear that the University of Rochester, far more than any "virtual" university, can deliver a very special and important kind of education and research during its next 150 years, as it has in its first. It is realizing that promise, first and foremost, that the faculty, administration, and trustees take as their first responsibility.

Thomas H. Jackson

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