Former College provost advises ‘scholarly temperament’
By Sam Rendall
Published on Monday, September 26, 2005
Returning to Hanover Friday afternoon, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger addressed a crowd of 100 in Filene Auditorium on the role of academic freedom in higher education.
Bollinger, this fall's Dorsett Fellow at Dartmouth's Ethics Institute, emphasized the need for constant reassessment in the world of scholarship.
"What is worth knowing should constantly be under review," he said.
Bollinger's career has seen its share of controversy. As president of the University of Michigan, he was embroiled in a prominent Supreme Court case that eventually reaffirmed the use of affirmative action in public university admission policies. In 2002, his questioning of the Columbia School of Journalism's level of scholarship met with criticism from faculty and the program's supporters.
Bollinger focused the majority of his lecture on what he said was the necessity of maintaining a "scholarly temperament" within the university in order to maintain the integrity of academic freedom.
The "scholarly temperament," he said, depends on an openness to new ideas and an ability to see multiple perspectives. Bollinger also likened scholarly temperament to "judicial temperament," which is necessary to judge laws regardless of one's personal views.
According to Bollinger, partisanship -- like that often seen in think tanks -- has no place in scholarly discourse, because of "allure of certitude" that, he said, dogmatizes and politicizes ideas.
Bollinger exhorted professors to engage their classes with multiple perspectives and to be able to change their approaches to topics should their personal views be questioned.
Bollinger reinforced his message of open-minded scholarship with questions of internal reevaluation, asking how universities determine the subjects they explore. Universities, he said, are lagging behind the globalizing world, and their areas of research have been taking steps away from society.
According to Bollinger, universities ought to reevaluate the current research trend of "hyper-specialization," which he blamed on the fact that tenure-track positions at elite universities not only require candidates to become prominent scholars in a unique field, but also require them to "say something new."
Bollinger suggested that universities balance their emphasis on specialization and communicate more openly across fields of research.
Bollinger is no stranger to the Upper Valley. He served as the College's provost for two years between 1994 and 1996 and taught courses on free speech and the First Amendment as a government professor.
Bollinger left Dartmouth in 1996 to serve as president of the University of Michigan. In 2002, he left Ann Arbor to serve as the 19th President of Columbia University.
Bollinger is the fall 2005 Dorsett Fellow. The program, established in honor of Burt N. Dorsett '53, is intended to support a visiting fellowship in applied and professional ethics.