Dec 14, 2006 — The presidents of the three New York City universities ranked in the top tier of national research universities by US News & World Report recently sat down for “An Armchair Conversation” at The Jewish Center on the Upper West Side.
YU President Richard Joel served as moderator of a discussion on “Academic Integrity, the Middle East, and the State of the Academy,” with Columbia President Lee Bollinger and NYU President John Sexton.
President Bollinger led the discussion by stating that the role of a university is to transmit knowledge to future generations and to “hold in one’s mind the complexity of a subject and see things in a complicated way.” Agreeing with his colleague, President Sexton described that approach as a “scholarly temperament” and said that complex thinking was never more important.
“Relativism of information permeates our society,” President Sexton said. “We have an allergy to nuance and complexity today. We live in a world of slogans, and there is a marginalization of seriousness.”
The presidents also advocated that students engage the outside world and apply the knowledge they gain to the world around them. President Joel posited that the year YU students spend studying in Israel prior to entering college gives them a “system that informs their lives by being immersed in the dialectic of the Talmud.”
President Joel posed other intriguing issues such as: what are the limits of freedom of speech, should a university also nurture the soul, and should the classroom be used to advance political views. All agreed that the critical thinking that is characteristic of American universities is the envy of the world.