Great Universities Need Great Science
Chancellor of The City University of New York
When we designated 2005 to 2015 the “Decade of Science” at The City University of New York, our goal was to elevate the importance of science across the University. It was a commitment to the future and a renewal of CUNY’s legacy of world-class science.
The resurgence has taken hold and comes in many forms—recruitment of new faculty, construction and renovation of facilities, strengthening of the student pipeline, and an aggressive expansion of our research capacity. But to truly support high-level science and the faculty whose work is concentrated on cutting-edge research, we must accelerate our efforts. That is happening now with the approaching launch of the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC).
The ASRC was conceived early in our Decade of Science, when it became clear to me that locating advanced research within a single facility would greatly enhance our ability to conduct high-end research and become a more entrepreneurial university through collaboration and commercialization.
The goal was to bring together creative researchers in a select number of important disciplines and provide them with the most advanced equipment available. Concentrating high-end instrumentation in one location, rather than creating separate, often duplicative facilities across campuses, would be more cost effective for the University. Serendipitously, land was available at City College, CUNY’s leading campus for science research.
The center’s development is guided by our core premise that the University can best advance its science programs by building on its strengths, focusing on areas of great promise, and drawing on the talent of highly regarded scientists at CUNY and across the country through a collaborative, integrated approach.
Under the leadership of Vice Chancellor for Research and ASRC Executive Director Gillian Small, the center offers tremendous potential for increasing science research and study at the University, thereby enhancing our contributions to preventing and treating disease, improving the environment, and securing our safety and well-being. As we build our recruiting, funding, and commercialization efforts, we also build a community of inquiry that encourages a strong science pipeline for generations to come.
CUNY’s commitment to science comes in a national context. Scientific literacy is a sine qua non of an educated citizenry. And now more than ever, our country and our city depend on science-related discoveries and ingenuity to drive industry, business and economic vibrancy. But too few Americans are pursuing educations and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the so-called STEM fields. A recent report from the National Academies pointed out that there are more foreign students studying physical sciences and engineering at our graduate schools than American students.
The Decade of Science initiative is aimed at strengthening the STEM pipeline by increasing participation and proficiency at every level—from bolstering doctoral programs in the sciences to developing professional science master’s programs to encouraging undergraduate research to partnering with the city’s Department of Education on initiatives like the New York City Science and Engineering Fair. Not every student will be a research scientist, but there are still significant career opportunities for those who get technical and community-college training in specific fields and skills.
CUNY’s full-time and part-time faculty in the STEM disciplines grew by 25 percent from 2006 to 2011. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in new or upgraded science buildings and laboratories, and research funding has nearly doubled since 2000. That support continues at every level of engagement, including the most advanced. While many of CUNY’s Ph.D. programs in the humanities are nationally recognized, our Ph.D. programs in the sciences, despite having pockets of excellence in several areas, have not been given the attention they deserve. As national calls for more STEM-related research intensify, it is critical that CUNY address the growing need for advanced study in the sciences. Strengthening these areas requires that we build a critical mass of talented faculty and graduate students.
To a large degree, 21st Century science will be defined by exploration and discovery in the areas that will be the five ASRC initiatives. We envision the center as a home for the best and most seasoned faculty researchers in these disciplines, and where talented students might launch their own careers in these imperative fields, joining the global scientific quests of their teachers.