Harvard's new president, Lawrence Bacow, was formally installed on Friday afternoon. His speech (a full text of which is here), touched on several issues of significance beyond Harvard. Among them were the importance of reading news skeptically:
Now that technology has disintermediated the editorial function, allowing anybody to publish his or her own view of events, our fragmented media struggle to make the distinction between opinion and facts. The result, often, is a feverish diffusion of rumor, fantasy, and emotion unconstrained by reason or reality....Given the necessity today of thinking critically and differentiating the signal from the noise, a broad liberal arts education has never been more important. It is our responsibility to educate students to be discerning consumers of news and arguments, and to become sources of truth and wisdom themselves.
Free speech and intellectual diversity:
our search for truth must be inextricably bound up with a commitment to freedom of speech and expression.
At Harvard, our alumni span the political and philosophical spectrum, including those who have served in the White House, in Congress, on the Supreme Court, and in comparable positions throughout the world. Here in Harvard Yard, we must embrace diversity in every possible dimension, because as Governor Baker said so eloquently, we learn from our differences — and that includes ideological diversity.
As faculty, it is up to us to challenge our students by offering them a steady diet of new ideas to expand their own thinking — and by helping them to appreciate that they can gain much from listening to others, especially those with whom they disagree. We need to teach them to be quick to understand, and slow to judge.
failing to welcome talented students and scholars from around the world is to undercut America's intellectual and economic leadership.
In this global economy, financial capital moves at the speed of light, and natural resources also move swiftly. The only truly scarce capital is human and intellectual capital. That is what a nation must aggregate and nurture, if it intends to be prosperous.
Fortunately, many of the best and the brightest from around the world seek to study at America's great colleges and universities. In engineering, mathematics, and computer sciences, over half the doctorates awarded each year are granted to foreign nationals. Many of these students will return home with their sights raised, and go on to build thriving companies and institutions of higher learning; to fight poverty, disease, and climate change throughout the world; and to lead their own nations toward goodness and greatness.
But a considerable number of these international students will do everything possible to stay right here. Rather than turn them away, we should embrace these extraordinary people. Over a third of our faculty were born someplace else. Over a third of the Nobel Prizes awarded to Americans in chemistry, medicine, and physics since 2000 have gone to men and women who were foreign-born. Over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
America has to continue welcoming those who seek freedom and opportunity, lest we shut the door to the next generation of great entrepreneurs, scholars, public leaders — and, dare I say, university presidents — for it is immigrants that get things done, as Lin-Manuel Miranda said so well in "Hamilton."
Governor Charlie Baker's talk, which starts the video of the event embedded below, is also worth a listen: