Campus News

Gary Bertsch 2010 Founders Day Lecture

Gary Bertsch 2010 Founders Day Lecture

UGA and “the Rising Hope of our Land” in a New World Order

Gary K. Bertsch

What an honor to be part of the Founders’ Day series! I must confess that I have an ongoing love affair with this university. I also have deep respect for all who have been part of its founding and who have contributed to its development over the years. It is a privilege to be part of an institution that has as its motto: “to teach, to serve and to inquire into the nature of things.”

I thank the UGA Alumni Association, Deborah Dietzler, Vic Sullivan and all those who make our celebration of Founders’ Day possible.

I would also like to recognize the important role of the Emeriti Scholars, under the dedicated and enthusiastic leadership of Sylvia Hutchinson, for continuing their many contributions to this great institution.

Before I launch into the heart of my remarks, allow me to say a few words about my title and topic. In the charter of our beloved university, Abraham Baldwin noted our obligation “to form the youth, the rising hope of our land” in order to provide “essential services to our country.” This declaration was significant in 1785. It remains so today.

I see Founders’ Day as important because it provides us a chance to reflect on the past and on those who had the amazing vision to create an institution that not only changed the lives of their contemporaries, but continues to enrich our community and world more than 200 years later.

We admire the Founders—of our University, and our country, for that matter—because we recognize their remarkable foresight and the concern for future generations that animated their passions. Today, in a world that seems increasingly engrossed in the present moment—in an era of 24 hour breaking news, Twitter, and reality TV–we are losing the virtue of foresight in favor of instant gratification.

I believe that universities remain unique institutions precisely because they encourage reflection about the past and thought about the future. Our faculty is given the intellectual freedom to engage in deep and long-term thinking, allowing them to teach and conduct research without the intense pressure of producing for the here and now.

But I focus today on “the rising hope of our land” because of my deep belief in the importance and power of our youth. Students are the heart of our university. They are the ones who will have the most powerful influence and long-lasting impact on the future. In the current environment of economic, social and political challenge and despair, I remain optimistic. I do so because of what I see on this and other campuses every day. I see our youth prepared and wanting to create a better world.

My experience in higher education makes it clear to me that a university’s central role is to ensure that our youth, “the rising hope of our land,” are prepared to understand–and contribute to–their world. We should demonstrate to our students the value of thinking beyond the present. We can inspire them to do what is necessary to rebuild our economy and contribute to a Georgia and an America that will make our Founders proud.

I also included the words “New World Order” in my title. But I want us to be careful here. I realize that the phrase “New World Order” has a sinister connotation referring to the emergence of a bureaucratic, collectivist one-world government. For the record, I do not support the emergence of a collectivist, one-world government. But, I agree with others that a new world is emerging.

In 1990 President George H.W. Bush told a joint session of Congress–and I quote–that “a new world order can emerge: a new era, freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.” Certainly, we all hope for such a promising state of global affairs.

But others see alternative world orders emerging. In The World is Flat, Thomas Freidman argues that “the global competitive playing field [is] being leveled.” In a “flattened” world, we Americans will have to do better to succeed. Freidman predicts that in such a world the United States must enhance and invest further in the education of every American, so that our citizens will be able to compete for jobs in this flattened world.

Henry Kissinger agrees with Friedman and also predicts that the United States will be a less powerful nation-state in the 21st century. Kissinger foresees us moving toward a multi-polar world where there will be more centers of power and influence. This is in contrast to the uni-polar world where the United States serves as the world’s only superpower. But, I should caution, the world still needs the United States.

The lead singer of the band U2, Bono, recently closed a New York Times op-ed with the following words: “The world wants to believe in America again because the world needs to believe in America again. We need your ideas—your idea….” I believe Bono is correct. The American idea is needed and our universities can renew it and help carry it forward.

What all three of these perspectives share is the idea that we must work actively to preserve America’s role in the world. I foresee a future in which the United States will be of increasing importance but declining power. With rising economic power in Asia and other parts of the world, the United States will find it difficult to maintain its preponderance of military and economic strength.

However, because of its experience with freedom, democracy, private initiative, and civil and human rights and dignity, America is of critical importance in the world of today and tomorrow. And students, “the rising hope of our land,” are our best bet for ensuring that American leadership is devoted to these meaningful and constructive ends.

Research and public service-oriented universities like UGA have both responsibilities and unusual opportunities in influencing our students and the new world order. Our faculty can conduct research that effects needed change. You—the faculty– can inspire students to contribute to the development and strengthening of democratic societies and a more peaceful world. Our University, and the thousands of others across this nation and the world, can do much to contribute to a better future.

So what should we be doing here in Athens? During this time of economic challenge, the instinct of some is to hunker down and simply continue the status quo while waiting for the economy to improve. This of course would be a mistake. Although there are important tasks that we are unable to undertake because of the shortage of funding, there are many critical things that we can be doing.

For example, we can think more critically about preparing “the rising hope of our land” to meet the challenges and opportunities of this flatter world. We will benefit from careful thought and discussion about the kind of student we want to graduate from this university. We should encourage–and listen more carefully–to those who are working and have worked on these important questions. Every individual, every department, every unit in this university can do more to contribute and benefit in the process. The stakes are high. The world is changing, and what we do is important.

So what curricula, what programs of study, what special opportunities and experiences can and should we provide our students?

I believe that we should prepare our students to be more engaged in our communities, our nation and in the world. The “rising hope of our land” should be better prepared to serve and they should have an active concern to better our country and world.

In order to serve effectively today, students must understand different cultures, appreciate different view points, and communicate in different languages. We need to help our students function and succeed as global citizens and public servants, whether they become diplomats, doctors or dancers.

Values, science, technology and knowledge will play critical roles in the 21st century. To build a new world order that will sustain and improve the human condition, “the rising hope of our land” must be able to process large amounts of information, think critically and find ways of arriving at decisions that are good not just for themselves but for larger segments of our nation’s and the world’s populations. Let us help our students understand that much more can be accomplished through constructive collaboration than can be through partisan posturing and its resulting conflict and governmental stalemate.

Many of us will recognize these suggestions, and we should. They were all part of the 2005 Report of the UGA Task Force on General Education and Student Learning. The Task Force recommended that graduates of this University should have developed the ability to engage in complex thought, analysis and reasoning; to communicate effectively in both speech and writing; to value lifelong learning and community service; to understand the world through international experience and the study of a foreign language; to reason quantitatively; to learn collaboratively; to appreciate and engage diversity in the University community and the world at large.

The Task Force Co-Chairs Jere Morehead and Delmer Dunn—and their dedicated committee—provided us an excellent report. But have we—the faculty and others—done all that we can do to transform it into reality?

Drawing on my 40 years at this University, let me say that we have not done enough. As I examine my own experience, and what I judge to be the experiences of others, I believe it is fair to say that we can do more and we can do better. And our UGA scores in the recent National Survey of Student Engagement suggest there are areas where we can improve.

So what can we do? How many of us can say that we have carefully studied and digested the UGA Task Force Report? How many of us have sat with our departmental colleagues and discussed how we could improve? I do not mean to say that faculty are not working hard to excel, but I do think there can be a problem of priorities, and, frankly, a lack of creativity in combining research, teaching and service responsibilities in ways that will do more to prepare our students for the new world that they will encounter.

There are of course wonderful things happening at UGA. We offer an impressive variety of 25 languages, from Swahili to Vietnamese to Classical Greek and Arabic. (And by the way, congratulations to all of you who teach and study these languages.)

Our residential, study abroad centers are giving our students critical learning opportunities beyond our shores. The Oxford program founded by Judy Shaw and now led by Kalpen Trivedi provides life enhancing experiences in one of the world’s great universities; Cortona and Rick Johnson provide a world class artists colony for reflection and growth; Costa Rica and Quint Newcomer, facilitate a remarkable experience in sustainable agriculture and tourism.

And UGA’s progress in service learning is tremendous. Do you know that during the 2008-09 academic year, over 15,000 UGA students contributed approximately 300,000 hours of work through community service, student activities and academic service learning courses. Because of its student and faculty achievements in this regard, UGA has been on the Higher Education Community Honor Role the past three years. Kudos to Shannon Wilder and all of the faculty and staff leading these efforts.

Our international service learning programs stretching from Mexico to Cambodia and China provide our students “hands on” international service work. With President Adam’s leadership, and the hard work of you and many others, UGA students—“the rising hope of our land”—are better prepared and more engaged with a genuine concern for the future of their country and the world. To me, this is very promising news.

Over the recent holidays, I had an opportunity to communicate with a few of our students who exemplify these qualities:

Matt Crim went though our UGA Security Leadership Program before winning Truman and Marshall fellowships resulting in two London-based master’s degrees and an MD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Matt is committing his life’s work to finding better ways to deliver and finance improved healthcare.

After spending two years with the Agency for International Development, Fruzina Csaszar joined the US State Department to promote humanitarian assistance and international development in the most poverty stricken corners of the world. Fruzina recently wrote: “Part of my sense of public service comes from the idea that a lot was invested in me [at UGA] and I should try to give something back.”

When we invest in our students, they are likely to pay back to society many times over.

Kate Vyborny completed stints at two leading Washington, DC-based institutions—the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Global Development—where she worked with experts to eradicate extreme poverty and promote international development. Kate is now at Oxford continuing her studies through a Rhodes Scholarship.

Today, three of our current students, Nicolas Fernandez, Emily Goff and Charles Ford, are in Vienna, Austria, participating in an international conference on nuclear security organized by my colleagues in the Center for International Trade and Security. Nick, Emily and Charles will return to campus next week appreciating a life-changing experience and understanding how they can contribute to a world free of the fear of nuclear weapons. Their classmate, Caitlin Taber, founded UGA’s chapter of Global Zero, an international movement working to create a world without nuclear weapons. Caitlin is now serving at the Arms Control Association in our nation’s capital.

I mention these students and alumni to illustrate that UGA can and does produce students who are contributing to a safer and better world. These young people have the skill and energy to do great things. And we have a responsibility to prepare more of them to seize the opportunities. Let us never forget what a privilege it is to work with the thousands of students on this campus, and how powerful is our encouragement and guidance!

While attaching special significance to our students and rightly referring to them as “the rising hope of our land,” the challenges are too great to leave to our youth. As I look around this chapel today–and in our community, nation and world more broadly–I see how much experienced talent there is, and benefit to derived, from those of us who are more “chronologically challenged.”

Accordingly, we and other colleges and universities should facilitate lifelong education and engagement. We can be pleased that our university and community are leaders in lifelong learning. With our School of Education, Center for Continuing Education and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, we have hundreds of dedicated professionals opening doors and facilitating the contributions of those who can do much to help our state, nation and the world.

Years ago I wondered what I would do in my “retirement.” I am pleased to say that I find myself immersed in a public-private UGA project which I believe will expand the opportunities of our youth, extend the reach of our intellectual resources, and contribute needed revenue to our University.

To be sure, the recession and contemporary financial challenges mean that the present may not be the best of time at UGA. But no one can deny that this is a time filled with incredible opportunity and promise. As our undergrad Lucas Puente recently noted in The Red & Black, the tragedy in Haiti offers us another chance to make a difference, and many in our University and community are responding.

The opportunity to prepare “the rising hope of our land” is an honor and a privilege. We know that Deep Shah, Kate Vyborny, and Lucas Puente will contribute to our nation and the world. We know what we can do to prepare more of our students to go forth and serve. So let’s keep going.

Let us follow the paths of the world’s leaders—people such as Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela–who went beyond the call of duty, and in so doing, received our Delta Prize for Global Understanding and became part of the UGA legacy.

President Jimmy Carter called the UGA/Delta partnership “profoundly important.” As the inaugural recipient, he concluded his Delta Prize acceptance speech with these words: “Peace, human rights, freedom, environmental quality and the alleviation of human suffering. Those are the things that make us proud.”

President Nelson Mandela called for a “world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression, and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees.”

In closing, let us show the world that we at UGA are prepared to help. Let the American face in the world become one of understanding and constructive engagement. Let’s get more civilians involved in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti, and in the fight against hunger, poverty, desperation and terrorism. Let us show the world that education and public and international service are the best ways to fight terrorism.

Let us do more to make good on Abraham Baldwin’s promise “to form the youth, the rising hope of our land.” Let us erect his statute on North Campus and walk by it proudly knowing that we are doing our part.

To succeed in this promise, we must commit ourselves to the future and to doing more. We must be bold and innovative no matter what our diverse roles and callings. We are all vital parts in creating an enduring legacy of this University. We are all partners in creating a better world.

We are fortunate to be here and fortunate to serve. Together, we can contribute to a better University, a better Georgia, a better America, and a better world. This is my dream. This can be our future.

Thank you.