From the President

Creating a Vision for the Future

Today I am looking out my window at the UW Class of 2003. In rain-soaked clusters (it's late June), they are following freshman-orientation leaders around the campus. By the time you read this, they will be deep in preparations for their first year in college, something far more momentous for them, surely, than the turn of the millennium in January.

UW President Richard L. McCormick

UW President Richard L. McCormick. Photo by Mary Levin
What will they find here? Unless you are a very recent graduate, you would probably have a hard time answering that question.

There is, of course, a recognizable University of Washington that persists through the years, with an evolving campus and an institutional memory and an enviable record of education, research and service over almost 140 years. But all of you know how time-dependent your own experience of the UW was. If you were here during the late 1940s, you knew one kind of university. Graduates of the 1970s knew quite a different kind, and those of the 1990s still another.

Those of us charged with running this place are now trying to imagine a university for the children of the incoming freshmen I see out my window today. Yes, there are bound to be surprises-who knew about the 1960s ahead of time?-but the decisions we make today will affect the UW for decades, and we want to make sure those decisions flow from a shared image of the future.

So for the next year or so we will continue, in a more public way, an effort begun several months ago by some UW faculty and administrators: the effort to shape and articulate a vision for the future of the University of Washington.

McCormick quoteHere are some of our premises:

First, the public research university as an institution is now at a turning point. Driven by the imperatives of the Cold War, the U.S. government poured research money into these institutions for almost half a century after World War II. That historic moment is now behind us. We need to redefine the public purpose and usefulness of the research structure universities like ours have built up. We must develop a new social compact between the research university and the society it serves.

Second, the world will continue to grow more and more interconnected. The society we serve is therefore in important respects a global society. Boundaries of all kinds, we believe, will become more and more permeable, whether between intellectual disciplines, between the academy and the "real world," or between nations.

Third, advances in information technology will continue to accelerate. At the same time, neuroscientists will continue uncovering the secrets of the human mind. Taken together, these developments will have profound effects both on ways of learning and on our very conception of learning.

What does all this mean for the University of Washington?

We have an early draft of a picture of the future. The picture will grow brighter and clearer over the next year, as we hold campus events, meetings and speeches addressing this subject. Alumni will most certainly play a part. Our goal is to present a UW vision statement in June of 2000.

But some things are already clear. This will be an outward-looking vision, focused on the needs and goals of society rather than on internal concerns of the institution. That is the new social compact I spoke of earlier-a pledge that our research and our students will be tackling the pressing human challenges of the world around us.

So the vision will be broad and ambitious. But it will also be rooted in the strengths of this particular university (for example, computer science and rural medicine) and in the characteristics and comparative advantages of this particular region (for example, high-tech industry and international trade). And it will require substantial change in the way we do business here. We must become more agile, more interdisciplinary, and more connected with partners in the community-and around the world.

No doubt rain will still fall on the Class of 2020. But much else about the University will be different then from your UW and from mine. That is as it should be. Please watch for the public events that will bring us all together to envision this future.

Richard L. McCormick signature

Richard L. McCormick, President

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