Since joining the Stony Brook community in August, I sought out to hear about your traditions, strengths and aspirations. In the course of these inquiries, you spoke of a strong desire for this College to create a vision for itself that builds on its excellence and defines its role for the campus. Such a vision can help us articulate a strong position for the College and assist in enlisting the participation and support of our surrounding community.
To craft such a vision, everyone must have input, and this past semester has been busy gathering views from all of you in department meetings, meeting faculty individually or in small groups, and the participation of faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students in focus groups conducted over the fall. In addition, alumni shared their perspectives, especially those in a newly-formed External Advisory Council for the College consisting of 15 of our esteemed alumni. Thanks for everyone's willingness to share your views. Based on this input, I share here thoughts about how a mission for the College could be articulated. It's a long way from a vision, but such impressions serve to invite your feedback.
Consider first landscape we find ourselves in. Two questions present themselves. First, Stony Brook University must position itself and articulate its value within the NY area. As one alumnus told me, "To an uninformed outsider, it's difficult to know the difference between Stony Brook, CUNY, NYU, or Hofstra." That's remarkable, since these are all very different institutions serving valuable, albeit very different, missions. Second, the question is sometimes posed that, while the mission of the Colleges of Engineering, Business, Journalism, or Marine and Atmospheric Sciences might be well understood, the mission of the College of Arts and Sciences is less understood. What is our contribution to the campus? Because we are broad - 26 academic departments and 10 research centers - our mission is more complicated, but this only elevates the importance of that articulation.
Who Are We?
Using all your input, a tentative response to these two questions can be offered in a very simple sentence. We can unpack that sentence momentarily: "We are the College of Arts and Sciences at a public research university." In your feedback, these underlined terms encapsulate your ideas for what this College is and should be. Each of these underlined terms deserves elaboration.
College of Arts and Sciences (aka "Core College").
Our college has a unique identity on campus. We are at the center of many of the university's activities, from research, to education, to outreach. So the term "core college" seems appropriate. In our scholarship, our core departments collaborate in highly interdisciplinary ways, with faculty in history, CAT, and others working on mass incarceration, faculty in biochemistry, chemistry, and neuroscience collaborating in bio-imaging. Our departments also support the intellectual advances of our neighbors in medicine, engineering, business, journalism, and marine sciences. A great university invests in professional schools that tackle real problems while also investing in the core College that undertakes its own mission while supporting those of the professional schools. The great thing is that such collaborations keep our departments pushing to their edges. The notion of a core college extends to our educational mission as well. All the students of the university are served by the College of Arts and Sciences. We serve students whose majors are in our college. We serve students completing the core requirements found in the Stony Brook Curriculum, in fulfillment of our campus's commitment to instill basic awareness of values, culture,ethics, and civics. Finally, we serve many students in the medical, business, engineering, journalism, and marine sciences schools through specialized courses critical for their majors.
The university has many missions, and with each of these missions one can draw a Venn diagram showing how all the colleges contribute. There we find ourselves at the center. What is the core? It is the heart of the campus, the nourishment for the fruits of the university.
Another descriptor is that we are the liberal arts college for the campus. This is not a contrast away from STEM. In fact, the 7 classic liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) include a lot of STEM. Rather, it is contrast between the kind of interdisciplinary, foundational college of Arts and Sciences and the professional schools. Our college is a creative incubator, spurring scholarship and teaching that spans not only across our disciplines but across the university. Faculty, students, and alumni spoke about the desire to develop an ever-greater sense of community across the College. Feedback received strongly suggests that we value collaboration and awareness of pursuits in our disciplines. We value learning from colleagues engaging in similar endeavors in other departments. We value hearing about potential applications in or tools from other fields. We value a sense of community. A university is an academic and intellectual home for us all. We come here not only to advance within our disciplines, but to push the boundaries of our experiences and grow as individuals. We must become a community whose members are as invested in the institution as we are in our disciplines.
Our faculty and students are rightly proud of the heritage of scholarship and creative work at Stony Brook. This is not a place that archives knowledge and ideas. Rather, this is a place that advances knowledge, ideas, and creativity. Scholarship in the College of Arts and Sciences has a unique quality.We engage in fundamental, as opposed to applied, research. History has shown that fundamental research is highly impactful, and the initiatives of a curiosity-driven group like ours invariably leads to outcomes that are important, relevant, and deliver huge windfalls to society. In the early 1800s, physicist Michael Faraday was renown for experiments conducted on electricity and magnetism. When asked by a lawmaker what good would come of this fundamental research,he is reported to have said, "Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it." My own field of elementary particle physics, engaged in questions about the nature of matter and the Big Bang, has developed technologies like the PET scan and the world wide web. When Stony Brook chemist Paul Lauterbur wanted to push the envelope of molecular imaging, I don't know if he imagined the impact that his Nobel prize-winning discovery of the MRI would have in medicine, but our chemistry department continues to push the frontier of bio-molecular imaging at the smallest scale. When Ned Landsman, a scholar of history, decided to study the history of England, Scotland, and Ireland as well as their connection to the American colonies, he could not have foreseen that Scotland would be in the news again voting on a referendum to sever its union with England. When Crystal Fleming, a sociologist, did ethnographic studies of people of color in France, she could not have foreseen the incredible happenings there and the renewed need to talk about race, immigration, economic integration, and terrorism. Our faculty in computational linguistics, who have learned to derive meaning out of non-connected words in complex sentences,have inspired computational biologists like Ken Dill to decode the syntax of amino acid strings in DNA and thereby give clues as to how proteins function. Such research may some day lead to computational drug discovery, a long stretch from linguistics! Across the arts, humanities, and sciences we find scholars driven to know about the fundamental question of "why", only to find out the answers have profound practical implications. It is vital that our college must develop the infrastructure to encourage and facilitate collaboration and scholarship. We are starting by changing the portfolios of the Associate Deans, and more will follow. We must do more to cultivate fundamental creativity.
Education - Liberal Education
Universities educate. Your feedback about our educational mission a unique role for the College here on campus. Our majors go all over the place.Art history majors become legal counsels for major banks, theater majors go into medicine, political science majors can go into law, and physics majors can go into finance. Not many will continue in academic disciplines, and that's okay. While not all of our alumni will say they use the specific content of their college degrees, all agree that their college experience was formative. Our faculty see themselves as cultivating critical thinking, values, cultures, and broad training that are the hallmarks of a liberal education. The Chronicle of Higher Education issued a word cloud collecting ideas that encompass a liberal (arts) education. Their key words like "learn, think, perspective, creative, knowledge, complexity" could be applied to all our disciplines.
The hallmarks of a (liberal) education that faculty, students, and alumni spoke about are:
* Exploration - the ability to try new things, cultivate new interests, and in so doing discover and form one's self.
* Critical thinking - not only the problem solving useful in careers, but the critical thinking about society and one's self that is vital to the formation of the individual.
* Experiential learning - we learn best by doing, especially at a research university like ours, and our students spoke highly of writing, performing, laboratories, and internships.
* Failure and innovation - so much of K-12 is invested in success - navigating the path to get in to college. These four years are an opportunity to push one's self, try difficult things, possibly fail, and learn new strategies for the future.
* Culture, values, ethics - we train informed, thoughtful, empathetic citizens of the world.
Students value this liberal education and exploration. We them migrating across majors, double majoring and finding themselves. Their feedback is that our degrees should reward this exploration further. We must cultivate that through our BA degrees in the form of majors, minors, and electives beyond the core. Such a structure would encourage the experiences that our alumni point to as most valuable. An education, to quote Ellen Kelly, gives you skills, but a liberal education gives you dignity. Literally speaking, it is the education that liberates the mind, liberates us beyond accepted paradigms, and encourages free thought.
Our faculty, alumni, and students point as a matter of pride to the fact that we are a public institution. We can be especially proud that we enable education and discovery to students who might not otherwise have access to college. We change the lives of students and families. There are many institutions that can claim to educate, but public institutions hold a special place in the fabric of society, lifting people and enriching the public that supports us. We are privileged to be stewards of this institution. To fulfill that promise is a big commitment. Increasingly, we see how non-academic factors (family, economics, social expectations, lack of familiarity with college) impact academic success. One of the key ways to cultivate student success in college, especially amongst under-represented populations, students from economic disadvantage, or students who are the first in the family to attend college, is the development of a strong community here on campus. Stony Brook has made great strides in developing community in the residence halls, the undergraduate colleges, student organizations, and community is a strong part of participation in research labs. Community is also important in our departments and academic units, and we must look at ways to further cultivate ties between (both undergraduate and graduate) students and faculty, cement relationships between students with similar academic interests, and cultivate relationships between students and our alumni.
Being a public university also means delivering impact to the community around us. We can be proud of the efforts of our faculty to improve the training of K-12 teachers and outreach to schools in such areas as CESAME, the ACE program in languages, public events such as those hosted by geosciences and physics. It's powerful to see the partnership developing between the linguistics faculty and the Shinnecock and the Unkechaug Indian nations to reclaim their spoken languages, or our Theater Department that is working with community organizations on performances meant to start a dialog about race relations. The faculty who engage in this work are undertaking a mission as vital as the scholarship that has made them leaders in their fields. Because we are a public institution, we have to give an account, of ourselves and be ready to explain our value to the society that supports us. We have been good stewards of their trust, and through our scholarship, our teaching, and our service, the community receives a healthy return on their investment. But this responsibility calls on us to explain the value of a liberal education, requires us to connect the skills gained to a diversity of careers, and requires us to explain that a college education at a public institution is accessible.
Where do we go from here?
The thoughts here were meant to reflect back to you the feedback received in focus groups, individual conversations, and advisory boards consisting of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni. The purpose of gathering this input is to develop a strategic vision for the College of Arts and Sciences. Such a vision statement is essential for us to meaningfully engage the public in understanding the value of what we do, informing prospective students about the nature of our educational offering, engage our university stakeholders and partners in developing new partnerships and new priorities for the core college of the university, and cultivate philanthropic and other entrepreneurial revenue that will increasingly be important to the future of the college.I have called together a faculty committee that will help me write a strategic plan for the college. They are Perry Goldstein (Music), Nicole Sampson (Chemistry),Daniel Davis (Geosciences), Nancy Tomes (History), Peter Manning (English), Lori Repetti (Linguistics), Tracey Walters (Africana Studies),and Robert Crease (Philosophy). To do this work, they will review the focus group input received thus far, survey all faculty to better understand our opportunities and aspirations as a college, and craft a vision that conveys our values and priorities. In addition, I have convened an External Advisory Board consisting of alumni to provide their perspectives on the questions being asked. I invite you to contact these individuals with your thoughts. My hope today was to share my thoughts based on the input I have received thus far and invite a discussion about our future. A web forum for your input will follow soon. It's a privilege to have joined you as a member of the faculty and as your dean. Together we can write the next chapter for the College of Arts and Sciences that captures our pride in our College and our optimism for the future.