Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed May 23, 1998
Contact: Mark Nickel

The Inaugural Address

Gordon Gee: Brown's history and traditions will shape 'the new university'

In his inaugural address, delivered at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 23, 1998, Brown University President E. Gordon Gee honored the University's history and academic traditions and cited them as significant factors that would "set the standard for the new university in the new century."

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Brown University's historic penchant for taking the unexpected step and for taking risks in the pursuit of excellence will sustain Brown as a leader in an age of unimaginable change, said E. Gordon Gee, Brown's 17th president, in his inaugural address, "The Convergence of History and Potential."

"No one has more cause for celebration and optimism than the men and women of Brown, past and present, here and remembered," Gee said, "for we are different. We have always been unique. We have always traveled to a beat of our own, and we are the drummers at the center of what will continue to be an extraordinary educational journey."

Speaking late Saturday morning to thousands of alumni, parents, degree candidates, faculty, staff and officers of the University, Gee delivered an address that honored Brown's history and academic traditions while focusing squarely on the University's role in shaping the "new university" of the next century - certain to be a period of unprecedented social, technological and intellectual development.

"When the Class of 1948 arrived here," Gee told his audience, which included hundreds of alumni from the 50th reunion class, "the first transistor had just been created, the world was still at war, the first atomic bomb was about to be dropped, the long-playing record had not been invented, and Orville Wright was alive."

During his address, Gee honored the men and women who have helped develop Brown's unique strengths, particularly the faculty, who have used Brown's unique collaborative curriculum to stimulate and challenge their students. "You have moved a generation of graduates beyond learning, to knowledge and understanding," Gee said. "We are grateful to you, the scholar-teachers of Brown, who have made us what we are today and who will be at the center of this learning community's future." Gee also acknowledged the Class of 1973, attending its 25th reunion, as pioneers who were the first to study under the Brown Curriculum, which was instituted in 1969.

[Editors: The full text of Gee's address is available by fax from the News Bureau by calling (401) 863-2476 or by email.]

Though he discussed serious issues in the future of higher education, Gee frequently used humor to make his points. Early in the address, he engaged in a conversation with Brown's 11th president, Henry Merritt Wriston. Wriston, a Wyoming native installed in 1937 as the first Brown president who was not an ordained Baptist minister, proved an excellent foil for Gee, the Mormon from rural Utah. As Wriston, one of the giants of Brown's history, strove to awaken a deep sense of pride and community spirit, Gee said his own charge would be "to give this private institution a world view, a world voice, and a public purpose.

"I would tell [Wriston] that the times demand that we become not simply a collection of intellectuals but a community of scholars who acknowledge the contributions of all members of this community. I would say that each of us has a responsibility to teach, to learn, to serve - to become true citizens of this University. I would tell President Wriston that we must understand that at Brown, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts."

A world of instantaneous communication, rapid technological change and intense research - unimaginable 50 years ago - "may raise new and more profound ethical, economic, philosophical, religious and political questions than we have ever before confronted," Gee said. It will not be a hospitable place for persons who have only trained for careers.

"At Brown, teaching is not for profit. It is for life," Gee said. "Teaching is for understanding, for creative, informed thought. Above all else, our greatest challenge, at every institution of higher education, from the smallest community college to the largest university, is to resist the temptation and the trend to train students for specific careers instead of teaching them to think about the vast range of intellectual possibilities."

The Brown curriculum, the educational philosophy that supports it, and the University's historic commitment to teaching and learning are the cornerstones of Brown's academic leadership and "will keep us in the vanguard of the most desirable institutions of higher education in the world." The flexibility of that curriculum makes Brown uniquely able to support intellectual pursuits that cross traditional academic boundaries. Indeed, Gee said, "the new university must be a superdisciplinary learning community based on the moral imperative of our experience, our creativity, our imagination and boldness, and our willingness to take risks. If we continue to do these things, we will have fulfilled our mission. We will have set the standard for the new university in the next century."