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Change and Tradition

June 2004

Fortune smiled on this magazine when the regents introduced our new President at the peak of cherry-blossom season in the Quad. The wonderful cover photo of Mark Emmert amid the blossoms connects him at once with UW traditions and memories that many of you cherish.

Of course, the blossoms are now gone and, in a longer view, even the trees are transitory. They came to the Quad in the early '60s as refugees from the Arboretum, and they are now nearing the end of their lives. With the help of the class of '59, they will have to be replaced over the next several years. There will still be blossoms, but on young and vigorous trees.

Change and tradition are interwoven in the fabric of this university. The president's office, where I've spent the last 18 months, sits right where the forces of change come face to face with our core purposes and values. The pace of these encounters may be faster than it's ever been, but the basic task remains the same: guiding change in ways that are true to the central values of the University.

For example: undergraduate learning here is increasingly individualized (students working in faculty research labs and doing independent projects) and experiential (service learning and internships). So we are experimenting with new kinds of undergraduate structure, based on learning objectives instead of standard course requirements. The goal is to give students more flexibility while sustaining rigorous expectations.

President Lee Huntsman. Photo by Mary Levin.


President Lee Huntsman. Photo by Mary Levin.

Similarly, as state dollars shrink and educational demand soars, we have been growing our educational outreach programs faster than any other aspect of the University. These excellent, fee-based programs (both on site and through distance learning) let us serve thousands of learners in the state that we can't admit as regular students.

xIn research, a major force for change has been the big push toward interdisciplinary work. For example, we're on the verge of a real explosion in the science of learning, based on advances in both the biological and the behavioral understanding of how learning takes place. By the time you read this, we may have announced the establishment here of a major new National Science Foundation center to advance this work. The UW is already a leader in other fields that didn't even exist a few years ago, such as nanotechnology and astrobiology. "A decade ago," UW Professor Roger Buick recently told The Chronicle of Higher Education, "I would have described myself as a paleontologist. Now I describe myself as a paleo-bio-geo-chemi-astrobiologist." v

These new frontiers are tremendously exciting. But keeping the traditional disciplines strong is absolutely essential to all the hyphenated fields and to the UW's eminence in research.

In adapting to these and many other forces of change-globalization, technology, growing interconnections with the region's economy-the UW is thinking hard about how to be a public research university in the state of Washington in the 21st century. Ongoing conversations with the Legislature are an important part of that process. We need to grow still more agile and more entrepreneurial. But we are determined to sustain the values that have always steered us: academic quality and integrity, staying focused on students, serving the state.

I think Mark Emmert is a terrific choice to take the University of Washington forward. He's a native son, an alumnus, and a veteran academic leader with fresh ideas and a gift for winning institutional friends. He knows, I believe, what we can become-but also what we have been and what we must not lose. The pace of change is not likely to slacken on his watch, but the UW's values, like the cherry blossoms, will be safe.

You, the alumni, help guarantee those values and the UW's distinctive identity. It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to serve as your president. I thank you for your help, your support, your good company on so many occasions, and your increasing engagement with your alma mater. It's a wonderful place.

Lee Huntsmans signature

Lee Huntsman, Interim President


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