December 2004 -

The DNA of the University of Washington

This column is adapted from President Emmert's address at Come Together Washington, October 15, 2004.

This stage, at this university, with this community of people, is by far the most exciting and gratifying place I could possibly be at this moment in my life.

President Mark Emmert. Photo by Mary LevinThe University of Washington has emerged as one of the preeminent research universities in the world. For this, I know exactly where the credit lies: it lies with all the people gathered here tonight, and with thousands of others whom you represent. This extraordinary University owes its being and its distinction to the people of the Northwest

What might the future University of Washington look like?

Its future, like its past, will stem from the distinctive character of Washington and its people.

The Northwest is a very special place. We are open to all kinds of people and ideas here. We don't stand on ceremony. We're not bound by tradition. We trade and compete with the world. We invent new ways of doing things-building airplanes, creating software, making coffee, selling books, communicating. We're pragmatists, but also, in important ways, we're idealists. We really believe we can make the world a better place. And of course we're very attached to the mountains and waters and vistas that surround us.

All this is in the DNA of the University of Washington. UW faculty, staff and students have achieved distinction by crossing the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines. Our culture is creative, collegial and entrepreneurial. Our people focus on the problems at hand, the great puzzles to solve, the mysteries to unravel. They value ideas and energy, not pedigrees or pomp. We will build upon this culture of idealistic pragmatism. It will be our signature.

The Future of Washington and the future of the UW are 
inextricably bound togetherThe University of Washington will be known for its eagerness to grapple with very large-scale questions-the big, thorny questions around global health, sustainable development, international affairs and politics, climate change and the countless other enormously complicated issues that characterize the 21st century. These great questions will be solved only by those who see the interrelationships among ideas, people and places. By supporting the strengths of our faculty, staff and students-their collegiality, their broad field of vision, their interdisciplinary instincts, their willingness to take risks-we can make the UW a world leader in addressing the compelling questions of our time.

What follows from this vision?

First, the University of Washington will embrace the world around it. We will create new partnerships with business, government and communities-partnerships that bring the intellectual resources of the University to bear on real-world problems and opportunities.

Second, we will hold our students to the highest academic standards-because the world demands it. For the same reason, our students will demand educational excellence from us. Our goal is to provide an education second to none, distinguished especially by cross-disciplinary connections and active engagement with society.

Third, we will become an academic community that mirrors the varied faces of our society. The challenges of our time require the creative energy and ideas of all our people. But beyond this practical argument, equality of opportunity is a matter of simple justice. It's the right thing to do, and this University will do it.

The University of Washington will focus, not on what it can become, but on what it can doFinally, the University of Washington will focus, not on what it can become, but on what it can do-how our faculty and students and alumni can channel the UW's incredible intellectual riches toward creating a wiser, healthier, more prosperous and more humane society.

This University is crucial to any strategy for building the kind of life we all want to live here in the state of Washington. There is no such thing, today, as a dynamic and prosperous society without first-class education and first-class research. Our vitality as a state and a nation depends upon our wits and our creativity. And what are the two essential products of the University of Washington? Smart people and groundbreaking discoveries. It can truly be said that the future of Washington and the future of the UW are inextricably bound together.

From here, as I look around at this magnificent gathering, that future looks bright indeed.

This University belongs to you. As its current steward, I give you heartfelt thanks for all that you have done to make it great. And I urge you to remember that your expectations, your values and your love of this University will create its future and thereby the future of Washington.

Mark Emmert, '75