The academic interaction fostered by universities such as Rochester results in enormous value to society that's often difficult to capture economically but would be hard to recreate in other institutions, President Emeritus Thomas H. Jackson said in his inaugural remarks as a Distinguished University Professor.
Noting the example of his own scholarship in corporate bankruptcy law, work that many in the academic legal community credit with changing the way the field is understood, he said universities are "yeasty places" to create "basic knowledge," a kind of academic counterpart to "basic science."
He credited universities as unique in fostering and supporting the "fragile sustainability" of that scholarship. "The work is both invaluable and likely to be only produced at a university," Jackson said during the ceremony in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library on Wednesday.
The ceremony recognized Jackson for his work as a pioneering legal scholar, academic administrator, and as a teacher. A former dean of the law school and provost at the University of Virginia, Jackson served as Rochester's president from 1994 to 2005. When he announced that he was stepping down as president, the trustees initiated a drive to endow a professorship in his honor.
In recognizing his predecessor, President Joel Seligman said he expects such University-wide ceremonies to become a tradition at Rochester as a way to celebrate the work that faculty do as scholars and teachers.
"It is safe to say that just as great cathedrals are built brick by brick, great universities are built chair by chair," President Joel Seligman said, noting that endowed faculty positions are a hallmark of the University's respect for a faculty member's work. "Faculty are the most enduring aspect of a university."
Jackson's chair was created through contributions from members of the Board of Trustees and others in the University community.
In introducing the ceremony, Board Chairman G. Robert Witmer Jr. '59 said the event is an opportunity to celebrate faculty. "Endowed chairs are critical to the success of a great research university," he said.
Trustee and past board chairman Robert B. Goergen '60, who worked closely with the former president during his tenure as Rochester's leader, praised Jackson as a person of "stellar intellect and character." "No longer the president, he is still the consummate scholar," Goergen said.
In his remarks, Jackson discussed the approaches that he used as a legal scholar in the late 1970s to take a new look at the way bankruptcy and related laws were affecting the legal system and society. Noting that as a legal scholar he often relied on interdisciplinary approaches, he said the ideas first articulated by him and later by others circulated through society and made the legal process of corporate bankruptcy work more expeditiously.
That "basic knowledge" is akin to the notion of "basic science" in the biomedical, life, and natural sciences, he said, in which ideas do not necessarily lead to a product or a startup, but the ideas influence scholarly work and the way that society thinks about issues.
"I cannot capture the value of streamlining bankruptcy law," he said. Similarly, he discussed his recent interests at Rochester, where he draws on scholarship in religion, law, economics, higher education, and other fields. Such ideas are not patentable or amenable to copyright, he said. "They are, in that sense, basic knowledge."