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Hockfield talks on responsibility of universities

MIT's primary responsibility is education and research in service to the nation and the world, and today the Institute continues to live up to that responsibility in the true spirit of its founder, William Barton Rogers, said President Susan Hockfield in the Miller Lecture on Science and Ethics on Nov. 7.

Rogers believed the Institute's work should be to advance and develop science and then apply that knowledge to world problems. Hockfield said the overarching responsibilities of a research university are to educate students and to advance knowledge in ways that will help humankind.

"It is through our mission of service that MIT meets its fundamental responsibilities as a university," Hockfield told the audience in Kirsch Auditorium.

"Our mission calls us to make the world a better place through education, innovation and power of example. This is what MIT has done with extraordinary success for nearly a century and a half," she said in the lecture titled "The University and Its Responsibilities," sponsored by the Program in Science, Technology and Society. Part of that mission is to set an example through "integrity, independence and engagement with the world." She underscored the critical role of faculty governance in the pursuit of that mission.

She challenged the statement of John Henry Newman, who wrote in 1854 that research and teaching are distinct gifts not usually found in the same person. "If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a university should have students," Newman wrote.

In fact, research and education are mutually reinforcing, Hockfield said. "Today, the fusion of teaching and research is best exemplified in American universities, and perhaps nowhere more fully than here at MIT," she said. MIT faculty members teach and perform world-class research, and 85 percent of MIT students do research as undergraduates through UROP, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Hockfield said.

The responsibilities of a research university are significant. In addition to training the next generation of leaders, MIT must advance knowledge "in ways that will serve humankind," Hockfield said. The Institute is a place that shrugs off the "ivory tower" idea of the university. "Our tradition of engagement with the world goes back to our founding 150 years ago."

The Arthur Miller lecture honors the memory of Arthur Miller, an MIT alumnus (S.B. 1945) noted for his work in electronic measurement and instrumentation.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 9, 2005 (download PDF).

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