A Welcome at the Start of Academic Year 2019-2020
Date: September 4, 2019
TO: THE NYU COMMUNITY
FROM: President Hamilton
It is wonderful to be gathered together with all of you at the start of a new academic year. I hope your summer was restful and enjoyable, and that it has left you ready and eager to start a new year.
During the spring 2019 semester, we marked the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. However, this summer was also the 50th anniversary of another milestone: humankind's first landing on the moon. I was just a little younger than our first-year students at the time of the Apollo 11 mission. It was sensational – a feat that seemed impossible to believe had been achieved, while freeing our imaginations to dream of new destinations and even greater accomplishments. To me, it exemplified so much that was fine: courage, extraordinary teamwork, determination, the triumph of intelligence, and talent in engineering, physics, and mathematics.
Of the many dramatic moments that constituted that thrilling exploit, the one that stood out for me wasn't the thunderous take-off of the Saturn V, or even that famous first step onto the dusty surface of the moon. Rather, it was the image of earth from the moon –how vibrantly colorful our home was against the gray of the moon and the darkness of space, and how small it was. It was humbling to think that the whole of humanity, in all its diversity and all its achievements, was to be found on that small blue and white sphere. Given that perspective, it was evident that whatever our challenges, this earth is where we must work them all out, and we must do so not just constructively, but together. Differences that seem so momentous on earth seem a great deal smaller from 250,000 miles away.
This is not to say that overcoming differences is easy; that lesson is the companion of the hopeful but turbulent era of the first moon landing. When I spoke to the incoming freshmen last week, I discussed Tara Westover's Educated, which they and many others in the NYU community were reading this summer. In interviews discussing her book, one of the most striking points Tara Westover makes is that arriving on campus at Brigham Young University was, essentially, the first time that she encountered people with views different from her own.
This year's freshman class is the most diverse in our history. Intentionally so, it is a source of pride that even as NYU has become more selective, we have become more diverse. In bringing together a community with as an expansive a range of backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences as ours, we want our community members to encounter perspectives other than their own. We consider it an indispensable companion to the free exchange of ideas, and, like Dr. Westover, an indelible part of the college experience.
But what we see as a source of strength, others regard differently. As we saw on the national stage this summer, we are living in a moment when old hatreds – racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and all the rest – not only remain present, but are seemingly on the rise.
We encourage engagement; debate and difference of opinion are expected outcomes on a campus such as ours. However, the resulting dialogues should align with our values and community expectations. They should embrace open-mindedness, engagement, and respect, while repudiating derision, ostracism, and bullying.
We have an exciting, important year ahead. We are sustaining our commitment to global engagement by adding a program in Los Angeles, developing a new campus in Shanghai, and celebrating the 10th anniversary of both NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Tel Aviv. We will be working on developing our new high-performance computing cluster, increased activity in Artificial Intelligence, and our initiative in chemical biology as we continue to focus on improving science teaching. We will launch new efforts aimed at faculty research development. We shall carry on our efforts at student success, with a particular focus on improving student retention and graduation rates, as well as improving the student experience. We shall re-emphasize important community values – inclusiveness, community-building, respect for one another. Our cross-disciplinary efforts in aging, inequality, urban issues, entrepreneurship, and the social sciences will continue to draw in the participation of our scholars. We will sustain our focus on affordability. The construction and refurbishment of vital academic facilities – including 181 Mercer in Manhattan, 370 Jay in Brooklyn, Rogers Hall, and the Silver Center – will carry on. And our sustainability efforts will be advancing with the placement of photovoltaic panels on the roof of Bobst Library and reduction of plastic water bottles, among many other initiatives.
I am certain that each of you has set important goals for yourself for the coming year: research to begin, books to finish, proposals to write, new material to master, musical pieces to practice, skills to sharpen. Good luck with all of them. I hope your year is successful and fulfilling. Jennie and I look forward to seeing you around campus and hearing about your different projects.