April 15, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 14

current issue
archive / search

    Sonnenschein delivers State of the University Address

    President Sonnenschein delivered the State of the University address to members of the faculty Wednesday, April 7, in Swift Hall. Excerpts from his speech appear here.

    Sonnenschein opened the address emphasizing his commitment as President of the University to preserve its strengths and traditions and to guarantee its future success.

    “At this important moment in our history, it seems most appropriate to state again what I see as my primary responsibility as President. It is my responsibility to preserve the distinctive characteristics of our University: our dedication to research and to the growth of knowledge––especially knowledge that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries; our emphasis on graduate education and the ‘teaching of teachers;’ and our commitment to a college that is, as one of our colleagues recently described it, a laboratory for the arts and sciences. It is also my responsibility to generate and to guarantee the resources that are necessary for sustaining these fundamental characteristics, so that our University will continue to flourish, as Harper imagined, ‘even a thousand years hence.’”

    He then described what he called “the paradox of his presidency”: “In order to preserve and strengthen these defining characteristics for future generations, we have had to imagine and to implement change, and to make difficult choices about what is truly essential to our mission. As we set a course for our future, we must keep what makes us distinctive from all other universities at the forefront of our plans and build upon what have historically been our greatest assets: our faculty and our students, and the culture that shapes them and is in turn shaped by them. We must continue to support innovative research and educational programs, and to promote interdisciplinary endeavors. Finally, we need to care for and to enhance the facilities in which our faculty and students do their work. This is how our University will thrive, now and in the future.”

    Sonnenschein also saluted the University’s younger faculty members, highlighting the work of Professor John Carlstrom, Associate Professors Katie Trumpener and Roger Gould, and Assistant Professor Beth Garrett. “We select our junior faculty with unusual seriousness and care, with a keen eye to their potential as scholars and scientists,” he added.

    Sonnenschein then described a new initiative to support graduate education, “To maintain and strengthen our graduate programs, particularly some of those most affected by cutbacks in government and foundation support, I have instructed the Provost to make immediately available the equivalent of the income on $20 million of new endowment, with the express purpose of supporting graduate students in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This support––approximately one million dollars per year––will supplement funds already committed to graduate education. This funding will be essential to strengthening our role as leaders of graduate education.”

    He also pointed to the success of students in the College who won “three Rhodes scholarships, a Marshall scholarship, and a Truman scholarship, together with many other awards. These student scholars have obviously benefited from the rigorous program of study we offer, as well as from recent educational innovations, particularly in the area of international education. In recent years, we have won a $1.3 million Mellon grant for teaching language across the curriculum, started Western Civilization programs in five European cities, and initiated a traveling fellowship program for third-year students for research abroad. Our students are reaping great intellectual rewards because of these innovations.”

    Thanks to recent work in the Office of Admissions, Sonnenschein said the University will “continue to attract the special kind of student that will thrive on our campus: lively, opinionated, intellectually curious, and academically committed. Applications have increased 24 percent, and early applications have increased 44 percent. While SATs do not tell the whole story, they are revealing. The scores of this year’s applicants are, on average, 30 points higher than the scores of last year’s applicants. We have also improved our selectivity, accepting only 46 percent of our applicants, compared to 71 percent three years ago.”

    In his address, Sonnenschein welcomed the University’s newest research enterprises, including the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics; the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, which is supported by a gift from Irving B. Harris; and the Computation Institute, a new interdisciplinary institute being established in conjunction with Argonne National Laboratory. The Computation Institute “will foster research on the economic, social, and cultural impact of computer and information technology, as well as on problems of scientific modeling and simulation, analysis of massive data sets, and communications and networks.”

    Sonnenschein also thanked donors Barbara and Richard Franke for their generous gift to support the Franke Institute for the Humanities. The institute was the brainchild of a faculty committee led by Daniel Garber, the Lawrence Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy, which in 1990, received support from Dean of the Division of the Humanities Philip Gossett and then-President Hanna Gray.

    He discussed the planned relocation of the Graduate School of Business to the site of what is now Woodward Court, pointing out how that move will benefit the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions and the College, which will then be able to occupy Walker, Rosenwald and Stuart halls on the main quadrangles.

    In conclusion, Sonnenschein stated: “At the beginning of this address I spoke about the central challenge, or paradox, of my time as president. How do we nurture and protect the most distinctive and central characteristics of our institutional culture, while at the same time make certain that the resources are in place to ensure their existence, as Harper put it, ‘even a thousand years hence’? In short, how must we change so that, ultimately, we can remain what we have always been––and more?

    The combined effect of all of these accomplishments will help us to build an even stronger foundation for our University’s future and to protect what is most essential to our ethos and traditions. These include: an emphasis on research that asks the biggest and most profound questions; intellectual endeavor that transcends the boundaries of disciplines; libraries and laboratories that make such important research possible; support for graduate students, whose work contributes to the high level of discourse on our campus and hence to its distinctive culture; and a strong College with a rigorous curriculum. I am confident that the choices we are making together––the choices we are making today––will preserve and enhance what is most essential to this great University, so that we will continue to enjoy our special place in higher education for many, many years to come.”