News’ View: Challenge the future

Twenty-five years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart and fell from the sky. The Cold War’s thaw, Gorbachev’s new Kremlin, America’s victory in the space race: all seemed lost in the fiery mist above. A nation’s rising spirit fell to Earth with its seven heroes aboard.

That night, President Ronald Reagan postponed the State of the Union to address a mourning nation. His words, simple and soaring, rang similar to President Barack Obama’s in the aftermath of the Arizona murders two weeks ago. The Challenger’s fall was not a collapse of American genius; the tragedy in Tucson was neither a result nor a repudiation of American politics. In the minds of these leaders and the souls of a progressive people, national tragedy was a call to action: to rise — not despite, but because of the scale of the challenges. To “win the future,” as President Obama put it in his State of the Union two days ago.

These have been weeks of rousing political parallels indeed. Through them, we are reminded of how tragedy and struggle demand new commitments and ideas. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” Obama declared, less than a week after the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural. Kennedy’s speech — delivered in snow even deeper than today’s — began that space race and marked that Sputnik moment. It was a new struggle, with new sacrifices, one of which we commemorate today.

The Cold War is over. Sole superpower we may remain, but the 21st century is no longer unequivocally America’s, and our president knows it. Our economy falters. Compared to the emerging giants, we lack the numbers, resources, and manufacturing capacity. Compared to China, we lack the hegemonic singularity of purpose. And so, if we are to win the future and secure American exceptionalism in the years to come, the solution must be different. Our greatness must be fueled by the intangible commodity that only free peoples and free institutions can produce: innovation. New technologies and ideas.

This newspaper believes that this mandate is personal and immediate. It must fall upon Yale and universities like it: communities of young citizens and institutions of groundbreaking research. We must remain centers of difference and debate, of the academic freedom that gives rise to progressive voices, however fiery. America and Yale will attract the world’s best and brightest through a premium on intellectual freedom: our willingness to accept and argue the unexpected. We must be an institution and nation irresistible to international talent.

And as our nation searches for new technological solutions to the problems of infrastructure, Yale must strengthen its sciences. The days when we were the greatest scientific institution in the world are only a century past, but seem all but forgotten.

In 1859, Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman, Jr. validated the power of petroleum in his laboratory. His report sparked the oil rush, and with it, America’s dominance over land and sea. The prospectors who drilled into the earth at Silliman’s word trusted the scientific stature inherent to the Yale name. The international entrepreneurs of today should do the same. While an admitted student weekend for science and engineering students is a good start, the real way to attract the Sillimans of tomorrow is simpler and broader: make Yale science better, competitive with institutions like MIT and Caltech. Despite significant efforts in recent years, we still have a long way to go.

Fix grade inflation so that it treats history and biology majors equally — appropriately allocate credits for endless lab hours. Intro science lectures shouldn’t be so terrifying. Foster extracurricular science and engineering student projects. Keep West Campus growing and better integrate it with the rest of the University.

Some reforms, like providing more lunch options on Science Hill, are easy. The fundamental change — making science and its scholars as high a priority as the humanities — is harder.

Reagan’s address to a bereaved nation 25 years ago echoed Kennedy’s Sputnik moment. “We’ve grown used to wonders in this century,” he challenged. “It’s hard to dazzle us.” But our journeys into space did more than dazzle. They revolutionized technologies and our sense of the possible. Their victories were built in laboratories at Yale and universities like it — fostered in minds free to explore and argue. The innovations needed to modernize our infrastructure, revitalize our economy and fight the battles of tomorrow fall upon our shoulders.

Today reminds us of the struggle and sacrifice necessary to invent, explore and renew. We can and will rise to the occasion, at our universities and in our union.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    *And as our nation searches for new technological solutions to the problems of infrastructure, Yale must strengthen its sciences.*

    ***Beware Science without a soul or heart***: Yale must strengthen the **Humanities** along with the Sciences.

  • River Tam

    > Beware Science without a soul or heart: Yale must strengthen the Humanities along with the Sciences.

    Beware Yale graduates without a brain.

  • The Anti-Yale

    What a drudge.

  • Goldie08

    Great op-ed. The YDN still has it. Yale certainly does have a mandate to save the US and it starts with the sciences. I was an econ major but would go into engineering if I could do it all over again.

  • Yale12

    The Anti-Yale, the YDN is advocating bringing sciences UP TO the level of our humanities; they are in no way advocating elevating science above humanities, just acknowledging the well-known fact that our humanities departments tend to be stronger than those in the sciences, and that that must change. Nobody is pushing for science without the “heart” of the humanities at Yale. Of course, knowledge of this would require either actually reading the articles and responding to the content of them rather than using them as a way to promote your own inane thoughts and blogs.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “UP TO the level of our humanities”?

    I hadn’t noted a West Campus devoted to the Arts. Yale’s Faustian bargain has already been struck not only with Science but with China. You just haven’t noticed.

    Yet.

  • Yale12

    If you had actually GONE to Yale undergrad, you would know that the reason there’s a separate science campus is because the MAIN campus is devoted almost *entirely* to the arts & humanities.

  • The Anti-Yale

    There was no West Campus. Science Hill was on campus when I attended (’76-’80). The Fine and Performing Arts are not the same as the Liberal Arts. And what’s this elitist “GONE to Yale undergrad”?

    Follow the money path. It does not lead to the Liberal Arts.

  • Jaymin

    I understand the argument that labs are half a credit but more than half the work, but I’m not sure I would support weighting them as a full credit. Haven taken quite a few of them, labs are many hours of work but they aren’t necessarily as intellectually demanding as lecture because of the very fact that labs are designed to provide empirical methods to substantiate the very same thing we learn in lecture. And practically, given that a premed will take a minimum of 8 labs, weighting them as one credit would take up way too much space on the course schedule. If my labs were a full credit, nearly every one of my last 5 semesters would have been over 6 credits.

  • Yale12

    It’s not elitist … this is a Yale newspaper, and you’re commenting on the undergraduate education programs–which you clearly have no experience with.

    Where did arts come in? You said “Yale must strengthen its humanities.” I am making the point is that Yale’s undergraduate humanities education is the best in the country. Our science education is not. Trying to improve the education we give science undergrads is not devaluing the humanities.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Maybe.
    Ask Harold Bloom about the status of the liberal arts at Yale and elsewhere.

    PS.

    As for experience of “undergraduate” life at Yale:

    I took Outka’s undergraduate “Religious Ethics and Modern Moral Issues”course.

    I proposed and helped create, with then undergraduate quarterback and Sillimander Stone Phillips, the first colloquium the Yale Political Union ever held, inaugurating donation of the Kent State Collection to Sterling Memorial Library’s Manuscripts and Archives division. (I ate most of my meals in Silliman where I was in touch with undergraduate scuttlebut on courses and campus life.)

    I worked daily for a semester with then undergraduate journalist (now historian) W. Hampton Sides, helping uncover the dangers on New Haven’s streets of the first heterosexual prostitute in America known to transmit AIDS, a story which wound-up on 60 Minutes, February, 1984.

    I spent hours on the phone and in person with President Giamatti’s counseI, ensuring my activity with the AIDS issue would not entangle Yale in violations of the law.

    Finally, and nostalgically, I on hung-out with Roland Bainton (my adopted grandfather), in his fifth floor Sterling office, and ate with him at JE where he was a longtime Fellow.

    I know a tad about undergraduate life and the humanities downtown—-at least in the 70’s and 80’s.

    PK

  • SY10

    Paul Keane,

    I assume you are aware that the “liberal arts” include the sciences (other than engineering) and mathematics and have ever since the liberal arts education came into existence (the Quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, astronomy, music and geometry to go along with the Trivium’s grammar, logic, and rhetoric). Devoting resources to science education is a form of support for the liberal arts.

    As for Yale’s humanities education, you would have to be very much out of touch with the university not to recognize that Yale offers as strong an education in fields like History and English as any university in the world. They are in no danger.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “The term liberal arts denotes a curriculum that imparts general knowledge and develops the student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities, unlike the professional, vocational and technical curricula emphasizing specialization. The contemporary liberal arts comprise studying literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science.” Wikipedia

    ” literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science”

    I would venture to say the Sciences at Yale get more than 1/5th of the liberal arts budget.

  • The Anti-Yale

    OOOPS. I can’t count. 1/6th of the liberal arts budget.

  • SY10

    So, from a Wikipedia list, you’ve determined that there are 6 categories to the liberal arts, all of which should be weighted equally? Look, I was a history major, and would love it if the history department got 1/6 of Yale’s budget, but that would be clearly ridiculous. History, philosophy, and math are all single departments (which is logical – they each are a single, relatively coherent field), while the sciences include many different departments/fields. To argue that the funding for the sciences, as a whole, should be equivalent to that of the philosophy department, on the basis that “science” and “philosophy” are both mentioned in a list of Wikipedia, has no basis in reality. Also, your list ignores the social sciences entirely. Should Yale simply eliminate the study of economics, political science, anthropology, etc? The humanities are not neglected at Yale – and I doubt you’d find very many Yalies who majored in them who would say otherwise. So why do you insist that they are?

    On the funding side, another problem worth noting is that research in the sciences is much more expensive than research in the humanities. Given that research is an important part of Yale’s mission (including its education of undergraduates), the sciences need more funding on that basis alone.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Look.

    Let’s talk turkey.

    The country had gone GAGA over science, numbers, statistics, accountability, verification.

    We have already sold our souls to the God of Data.

    That Lux et Veritas Yale should engage in this idolatry with its endowment money turns my stomach.

    PK

  • Yale12

    Aaaand, having been officially out-facted and out-logic-ed, Paul Keene officially resorts to his usual gibberish.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Worship at the Altar of Facts at your peril.

  • River Tam

    Facts are stupid things.