Ladies and gentlemen—members of the Board of Trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, students and distinguished guests—good afternoon.
Before I offer my formal address, permit me to begin with some special thanks:
I salute you all.
I am a most fortunate fellow. For the past 26 years, I have gotten up each morning and gone to work helping students—undergraduate students, graduate students and extended education students—become all that they can be, helping them prepare to lead rich and rewarding lives.
This morning was a little different. This morning, I got up and dusted off this resplendent medieval garb of mine. And when I put it on, I was putting on history. In this robe the past lives in the present—in it live medieval scholars, western education reaching back to Plato’s groves of academe; in it live the traditions and greatness of the world’s universities past and future. It is an honor to wear it, and perhaps like Yeats’ swan of ancient mythology, that in putting it on, I am putting on knowledge—but let’s hope for wisdom, too.
Yes, this morning was a little different as I prepared to assume in the eyes of the community the presidency of the New York Institute of Technology, a school that has never been stronger—academically, financially and in the broadest sense spiritually—a school whose vision and mission have never been more timely nor more relevant.
I stand before you at this new beginning exhilarated by the opportunities for growth and excellence that the New York Institute of Technology possesses. While energized by this new challenge, I am also gently anchored by the weight of the responsibility being transferred.
This is a time of transition at NYIT, a time when all of us are eager to propel the institution to a new and higher level of achievement. Some changes will take years, others minutes.
I envision the New York Institute of Technology in the 21st century as a front-of-the-mind, quality regional university with national and global reach and national and global impact.
I see NYIT continuing to pursue opportunities for growth and excellence and becoming increasingly global and partially virtual; an institution with contemporary programs that meet the needs and demands of a changing society; a university with doctoral programs in several areas; and a national leader in the use and applications of the latest technologies in all aspects of our curricular and co-curricular offerings.
To deliver on this vision and on the promise implicit in our name, we need to think critically and creatively. We need to know where and when to invest in programs and leadership. We need to build consistently and incrementally. Today in these early days of the digital age, the instruments of change have brought us suddenly to both a stimulating and risky point as higher education radically reconfigures itself.
When I awoke this morning my mind also was fresh with thoughts of a 19th century literary figure—something that considering my background is not that unusual—the particular figure this time was noteworthy because he once had a great deal of trouble waking up at all.
You all remember Rip Van Winkle—the New Yorker immortalized by Washington Irving in 1819. He fell asleep under British rule and woke up 20 years later in a village and society that had been altered beyond recognition. He awoke in the strange and wondrous place known as the United States of America—where he was soon to experience some serious adjustment pains.
Rip Van Winkle is really an allegory about change and the Industrial Revolution—and a story that is also apt today, as we experience the sometimes disorienting information revolution.
Of course, today’s is not the first information revolution but only the latest in a long succession of such revolutions—the emergence of the spoken word, then the written word, and with Gutenberg and moveable type, the printed and distributed version, and now the digital word and image. Each new information technology partially supercedes earlier versions, bringing with it shifting opportunities and challenges that generations must negotiate.
Poetic verse was one of the earliest means of imprinting and preserving a thought.
"'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law, And argued each case with my wife; And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw, Has lasted the rest of my life.'"
With that nod to Lewis Carroll, and with this speech, let us reflect that while the spoken word is still the most dominant and arguably the most useful of information technologies, the emerging information and educational technologies at NYIT and elsewhere will create the characteristics and practices of the university of the 21st century.
New technologies are bound to redefine the university—and, indeed, the culture—of this new century. President Neil Rudenstine of Harvard recently observed that the information revolution, along with economic globalization, heralds a tectonic shift in academia. He said, "The totality of the institution will be a different configuration," adding, "That ought to be a challenge for some people."
By "some people," I think Dr. Rudenstine meant me—and all the other college and university presidents who must now position their institutions for the future. We must protect and enhance our institutions’ educational quality, their role in the community and their reputation in society at large.
And did I neglect to mention raise funds?
The 21st century academic president, like old Rip Van Winkle, has to straddle the past and the future. We must value and preserve traditions of academic excellence while embracing the future, with all of its revolutionary change. We must remain grounded in old-fashioned educational values, yet be shrewd and entrepreneurial enough to seize opportunities when tiny windows appear.
Oh, and did I mention fundraising?
In the mid-19th century, Oxford clergyman John Henry Newman, delivered five lectures that were published in 1852 as a book, The Idea of a University. I love that title and concept—the idea of a university. To this day, that book defines and informs our notion of what a university is and should be.
And today, in reflecting on the theme of this inaugural address, “The Idea of this University: NYIT Coming of Age in the 21st Century,” it is Newman we need to recall.
According to Newman, a university is first a place for teaching universal knowledge; and second, it is a place where knowledge is created. Therein lie the two cardinal purposes of most modern universities: teaching and research—sharing knowledge and creating knowledge.
Many people have observed that research is a public trust and fundamental to a successful university. And an important component of our mission at NYIT is to support and encourage our faculty’s research—research that is practical and applications-oriented, research that enhances the quality of life in our community and the world in general.
It is a balancing act, though: we need to balance the creation of knowledge with the application of it; balance research with our fundamental mission of teaching and learning; even achieve balance between basic and applied research.
John Slaughter, former president of Occidental College helped put this balancing act into perspective, and I quote: "Research is to teaching as sin is to confession. If you don’t participate in the former, you have very little to say in the latter."
You are all aware that today, more than ever before, change is relentless; change is pervasive and far-reaching; change extends to our economy, our demographics, our geopolitics and our culture. It supercharges our ability to create and challenges our capacity for managing.
Just 10 years ago, the Internet—for most practical purposes—had yet to be born. The terms e-commerce, e-education and distributed learning would have made no sense to anyone. And how many of us had even heard of the University of Phoenix—or any other for-profit university?
Who can predict the intellectual and economic landscape of just the decade ahead? And sorry the university whose President Van Winkle awakens 10 or 20 years from now to find that new technologies have left it in the dust.
For all the science and technology of the 20th century, though, today we are no smarter nor do we really have more answers than previous generations.
The advances in the physical and life sciences have not yet given us a grand theory. On the contrary, what we now have is an increasingly complex and fascinating picture of nature. With our greater knowledge, we simply have arrived at a better understanding of the complexity of the questions being asked.
We are about to complete the decipherment of the human genome, but aren’t we all the more puzzled by the relationship between environmental factors and genes in the development of thought and action?
Among the many marvelous new theories of our age, scientists have recently begun to consider the idea that not only does the adult brain grow new neurons, these new neurons may somehow be essential to continued learning and memory. If this theory proves correct, we will have to profoundly revise our limited ideas as to how the brain works as well as fundamental ideas about human psychology. It might also give an entire new meaning to adult education.
Developments in robotics have also given these new views added weight. Attempts to simulate animal behavior with machines using detailed internal programs have proved unworkable; today’s robots are not preprogrammed, but interact with their surroundings. Getting two robots to talk with one another is the real thing.
In higher education, interactive and distributed learning are also increasingly the real thing. They represent a paradigm shift in the teaching and learning process, and they are very much at the forefront of our thinking and planning at New York Institute of Technology.
Many of the students and faculty in our eight academic schools are drawn to NYIT in part because Technology is our last name. But it’s important to remember that there is much, much more to contemporary education than just technology. Speaking at MIT’s commencement last spring, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina reminded graduates that technology is only as valuable as the uses to which it is put. In the end, she said, technology is about people.
The fundamental lesson of this "technology renaissance" in which we are living is not that creativity and ideas are our new currency—which they are—nor invention a primary virtue, nor that technology can help us solve some fundamental problems. Rather it is that technology transfers power back to the people, to the masses of people who are prepared to bring their own energy and creative spark to human endeavor.
Technology is not about bits and bytes. It is about celebrating and empowering the human mind and human heart.
This, in my view, is the correct light in which to view our mission here at New York Institute of Technology: We are here to celebrate and empower the minds, the ambitions and the hearts of our students, our faculty and the communities we serve.
I am humbled and honored to accept the presidency of NYIT and the responsibilities that go with it. I seek your counsel and ask for your continuing support. And I pledge to you and the entire NYIT community that I will do my utmost to protect and enhance the image, reputation and capabilities of this terrific institution.
Finally, I pledge to serve and work with all of you to fulfill our mission and enlarge the constructive role we play—for our students and for everyone we hope to serve—and in doing so to lead NYIT to ever-greater prominence.
Edward Guiliano, Ph.D., is president and CEO of New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). Since 2000, he has led NYIT to broad recognition as a distinguished institution of higher learning with a firm national, global, and digital footprint in a wide range of forward-thinking academic programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.
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