President Ainlay addresses science march to campus community
Dear Union College Campus Community, As you know, I called our community together several weeks ago to announce our planned investment in the sciences as part of the “rebirth” of the science and engineering complex. I consider this announcement, and many efforts preceding it, public statements about the importance that the College and I attach to science but the petition you shared with me suggests that I need to be clear about this. As you say, Union has a distinguished history in the sciences. We were among the first institutions to move toward the teaching of science, believing in its importance long before many of this country’s other prestigious schools. This commitment to science attracted distinguished faculty like Charles Chandler (founder of the American Chemical Society), Peter Irving Wold, Charles Steinmetz, Ralph Alpher, and others to Union. This remains true today and I can point to faculty in all o departments who are continuing to distinguish themselves through their research and teaching. Our distinguished science faculty have likewise educated a long list of students who have gone on to advance scientific knowledge across many fields of study. Baruch Blumberg discovered a hepatitis vaccine that saved millions of lives (earning him a Nobel Prize), Alfred Sommer discovered that small doses of vitamin A could eliminate childhood blindness (earning him a Lasker Award), and Gordon Gould made discoveries that changed the face of technology (credited as one of the inventors of the laser). Today, we proudly continue this tradition and, while there are many examples, let me give just two. John Kelly leads some of the most transformational work in artificial intelligence and Kathy Magliato guides the development in new technologies to address heart disease. The list goes on. Because we believe in the value of science and scientific discovery, Union has invested heavily in faculty, facilities, and instrumentation. In the past decade alone, we’ve invested significant resources in an effort to renew our science facilities. Notably, we renovated Butterfield Hall and built the new Peter Irving Wold Center. And, as I announced to the entire campus community, the Board of Trustees voted in February to undertake the largest, most complex, and most expensive project in Union’s history – the complete remaking of the science and engineering complex. The complex will be a beacon, announcing to the world our commitment to and belief in the sciences. We also continue to support scientific research by awarding sabbatical leaves, supporting faculty members seeking internal and external grants, and in many other ways affirming the value of scientific inquiry. We’ve also invested in instrumentation, securing the largest supercomputer on a liberal arts college campus and a host of other sophisticated tools to support scientific inquiry. Thus, it should come as no surprise to you or anyone else that I affirm that scientists should be free to conduct and communicate their research without fear of censorship or reprisal. The scientific community will make its own proper judgements, of course, about the quality of research and the soundness of findings. I also agree that the funding of science is an essential catalyst to the process of scientific discovery and agree that the world-at-large relies on the knowledge that is produced by good science. It is important that public policy be grounded in good science. To cite just two examples among so many, the contributions of science to improvements in health is undeniable and the widely held judgement of the scientific community regarding the negative effects of global climate change must be taken seriously. There’s a good “return on investment” because the results of good science can drive economic growth. While foundations and colleges and universities will invest in science, the continued support of science by the federal government is essential and it is absolutely critical that this support continue. I am committed to seeing the sciences continue to thrive at Union and be a part of the academic experience of our students. I would note that much of what I’ve said applies equally well to other fields within the academy and within Union College. We have a distinguished history across many fields of study and our institutional contributions to the world have also been remarkable. We were among the first institutions, for example, to allow modern languages to count towards graduation-recognizing the importance of being members of a global community. Alumnus Franklin Giddings held the first chair in sociology at Columbia and helped define American sociology as an empirical discipline. Alumnus Lewis Henry Morgan is credited with the first ethnography and the founding of anthropology. A more recent Union graduate, Andrea Barrett, won the National Book Prize for her work, Ship Fever. Again, the list goes on. Thus, I also want to affirm that social scientists, humanists, and those in the arts should also be able to conduct and communicate their work without fear of censorship. It is vital that foundations, institutions, and the federal government support these areas of the academy as well. The benefits to our world-at-large are also great. I “stand with science;” I also stand with these other fields of study. I will do all I can to make sure they too thrive and to make sure our students and faculty in these fields also know they are valued.
Sincerely, President Stephen C. Ainlay