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‘Exploring the Soul of Syracuse’: The text of Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s letter
CHANCELLOR AND PRESIDENT
August 1, 2004
Greetings to my University colleagues and friends,
After months of anticipation, I can hardly believe that we are actually together, on the ground, here at Syracuse. I’m eager for conversation and collaboration and want to get started right away by inviting you to participate in this year’s inaugural activities.
Many people on campus have suggested that we use the opportunity of the inauguration to go beyond the November 5 installation. I hope we can use the coming year as a chance to collaborate, to forge new relationships, to spotlight our University, and to explore new opportunities.
In that spirit, I invite you to join me and all members of our community-students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends-in a yearlong conversation on the theme Exploring the Soul of Syracuse, focusing on the essence of both the city and the University, on how they perceive their existence and purpose in the world and how they try to achieve their goals.
Syracuse University has a crucial role to play as a public good. We educate future leaders. We address important societal issues. Our discoveries can and do change the world. We lay the groundwork for the future as we work to preserve the culture of the past. And we try out new ways to build community.
Here are some questions we might consider in the coming year:
What do we mean by “liberal education”? In a consumer society embedded in a global economy, how does liberal education serve our needs? How do we harness, within the boundaries of an education, the complexity-human, technological, physical, moral-of our world? How do we prepare for professions and for life? What is responsible citizenship, at home and abroad? Should we re-imagine the University in light of the age of the computer and the Internet, which simultaneously offer both intimacy and isolation? Are there new ways to use our physical spaces-from the Carrier Dome to the residence halls-and our expressive capacities-from inter-collegiate athletics to inter-group dialogue?
What critical societal issues can we tackle? At a time when many critical issues, both social and scientific, cannot be addressed within a single academic discipline, how can we practice the skills of collaboration? Across disciplines, constituencies, and roles, how can we engage thoughtfully to make a difference? Who defines the problem-faculty or student, scientist or artist, humanist or technician, expert or novice, campus or community-and how do we talk to each other and listen respectfully?
How can Syracuse build on its unique historical landscape? This region served as an arena in the struggle for the rights of women, slaves, and Native Americans. This institution welcomed Jews when others didn’t and gladly embraced the opportunities of the GI Bill. During World War II, Syracuse became one of only a handful of colleges and universities that accepted Japanese-American students; Chancellor William Pearson Tolley agreed to take 65 students who were then released from internment camps; church groups paid their expenses. In a multiracial society that remains profoundly divided half a century after Brown v. Board and in a global world divided-perhaps as never before-can we still be a place of opportunity and mobility?
In a society where knowledge is power, how should the University serve as a power broker? What are the ethical and social issues involved? What are our goals for community engagement, and who is our “community”? Can we imagine a more expansive role for the arts as a medium of exchange? How does mass communication become local? What is our role in the revolution now going on in biology and genetics-from ethical, legal, social, and scientific points of view? What roles, in an age of terrorism and genocide, can we take in trying to preserve democracy and human rights?
In Exploring the Soul of Syracuse, I invite all our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community partners to grapple with these kinds of questions. Our different understandings will add richness to the whole, especially if we talk and listen to each other. Through lectures, performances, symposia, and other gatherings we will spotlight the many strengths of Syracuse and the University, from the city’s vibrant arts community to the wide-ranging reading list for incoming students that ranges from Paul Rogat Loeb’s Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time to Neal Gabler’s Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality. We will structure some intentionally provocative cross-talk and embed our strengths within conversations that eschew the physical and psychological boundaries of our disciplines, our positions, our university and our city.
The coming academic year will be shaped by events at the beginning and the end. The formal installation ceremony will be on Friday, November 5, at the Carrier Dome. I urge our faculty to bring their students to the ceremony and to see it as a class session. I hope that University staff will come and that our community partners will, too. The year will end with a series of events in the spring. In between, I heartily welcome your ideas, suggestions, and participation. Toward this end, I have asked Thomas Wolfe, dean of Hendricks Chapel, and Mary Jane Nathan, executive director of special events, to head a steering committee that will oversee a number of broadly based groups gathering ideas for both the installation and the inaugural year.
Thank you for your warm welcome to my family and to me as we join you in what I believe will be a wonderful and thought-provoking year.