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Closing Remarks to e-summit@virginia

John T. Casteen III
November 13 , 1999

We have come to the end of a powerful and important series of conversations about the Internet and the digital future. We have talked about values, about futures, about technologies, and how those concepts fit together. We have heard a series of extraordinary stories that have much to do with how we will live our lives and how we will probably do our work over the course of at least the next generation. This morning Bill Wulf said something profound and useful, when he described the phenomenon that American universities have tended to live in 50-year cycles. He described the development of graduate education as a core component of what universities did in the first half of this century. In the second half of the century, there followed the development of research, and quite often research conceived as having both value for its own sake and value for the larger public good.

One of the stories we heard this weekend is about the next reinvention of the American university. The new university will likely move beyond its campus, away from its traditional ways of conducting business, and toward an engagement by way of these technologies with populations that are far larger and very probably far more diverse than any populations we've ever seen or served before. That is a beginning.

Let me retell another story in slightly different terms. Yesterday, many of you heard the Dean of the Colgate Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, Ted Snyder, describe Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia's founder, working alone in his study at Monticello. Around Jefferson as he works are artifacts of human making, the products of the humanistic engineers whom Bill Wulf described this morning. These artifacts are technological devices by which Jefferson works his way through a world of knowledge. He works at five-sided moveable bookstand. He sits in a swivel chair. He uses a polygraph, a handwriting-duplicating machine that lets him make in the course of his lifetime copies of some 20,000 letters that survive as American artifacts. He writes and copies most of those letters in the same motions, in that swivel chair, in a room that virtually all of us have visited. Around him in that room are 6,000 other technological devices--artifacts of human invention--books. There are, in fact, three generations of those technological devices that surround him over the course of his lifetime.

The first becomes the Library of Congress of the United States. He catalogues, arranges, and sells those technological devices to the nation, and they become the first objects of our national memory. The second becomes the library of the University of Virginia. It is part of his legacy to us and to our future, and it is his conception that the core of a great university is this peculiar collection of technological devices by way of which we can recover human memory, human understanding, and explore human creativity and human possibilities. And the third generation of that library is the one sold after his death. Many of those books have found their way into libraries over the years. They were auctioned off, but many others remain very active in the marketplace, including the marketplace of ideas. They are among the most avidly sought artifacts of American culture when collectors go out and look for objects that stand for what we have done or what we have been as a people.

Beyond that room, when Jefferson wanted further information, he had to travel physically, perhaps just over the hill to the hunting lodge maintained by his friend James Monroe, or perhaps the better part of a day north to James Madison's home in the next county, or perhaps journeys of six months or more to London, to Paris, to Bordeaux, or further a field to Bologna, or to Vicenza. Each of those efforts to acquire knowledge, to expand what he understood, involved a massive exertion of effort but provoked a massive product in the sense of what he imagined, what he learned, what he encapsulated in technological devices of various kinds and passed on to us.

There's a local vice here in Charlottesville of explaining what Jefferson would have done. I played that a bit yesterday when I speculated that Jefferson would have embraced the Internet as a treasure trove of information, as an empowering force, as a means to free the human spirit. One ought to be honestly skeptical in this place about speculations as to what Jefferson would have thought, so I will be skeptical in my speculation. But I think this speculation is basically sound, and I think it poses another question that perhaps we ought to be thinking about. That question is how he might have used technologies of the kind that would have made less formal (formidable/restrictive) the physical barriers that he confronted by way of artifacts of human invention. One suspects that he would have remained in that room pretty much as he did when he worked there. But in that room he would have been connected online, and he would have extended his conception of the bulwark of the human mind, the function he imagined for this University and for universities in this nation, from his Little Mountain to the entire world. This is what he tried to do with those 20,000 letters that he sent to every imaginable correspondent in the course of his lifetime, and what he tried to do in inventing the concept of the university on this continent.

Today, we are privileged to live in more connected times, and that may imply both opportunities and obligations to do what perhaps Jefferson would have done. We actually live in demonstrably more democratic times than Jefferson enjoyed, with the extension of the franchise, of the rights of citizenship, of the obligation to vote to all citizens — to African American women and men, to women and men, to persons simply not imagined as belonging or owning, if you will, this culture in the time in which he lived. The last 200 years have in a sense seen the development of a playing field that the Internet perhaps has leveled and extended more than has ever been the case before, and that poses challenges that we heard discussed: challenges about equity of access and about the means to extend the franchise that the Internet represents to ever larger populations.

The next phase of technology moves quickly. In terms of the lifecycles of universities, maybe the next 10 years, maybe the next generation, maybe the next 50 years, maybe a century, will be the era of the Internet and whatever technological permutations are built on it. Many of the women and men in this room and in the larger conversation by way of broadcast will form this era, will form its values. Fortune Magazine, as you know, provoked this conversation by making an observation about the University of Virginia's alumni. We have benefited as a university by listening to you in the course of these days, but the benefits need to be spelled out. Many of the conversations have been available to a broader audience who has watched them on the web. Others have taken place over dinner or in corridors as we have passed back and forth from one room to another, and many obviously have been conversations on this stage or the stages of other rooms where these conversations have gone forward.

Listen to the kinds of advice we have heard. First, the University ought to build a continuing community of trust. One of the implications of the conversation about education is that the Honor System is fundamental to what the University does and has to do. The University must continue its vision that students learn to be self-governing women and men by performing the acts of self-government. Second, we ought to make ethical principles the foundation of all that we teach and all that we do. This observation tracks the development of the Olson Center and the Darden School and the spread of evermore complex engagement of ethical issues as part of what we do in Engineering, Medicine, the College of Arts and Sciences, the McIntire School, and indeed right across the entire curriculum. Third, the University should recommit itself to improving education in the kindergartens through the 12th grade, a kind of work perhaps best symbolized in recent times by E.D. Hirsch's efforts to educate political leaders about the real nature of education and democracy that intends to make its individual citizens free persons.

Fourth, we have been told to be quick to adapt to change. A conversation I heard in connection with the development of the Robertson Media Center and the Clemons Library had to do with the way libraries, which have become technological generators, should change. Libraries have become more than places for research, for reflection, for reference; they are the places where the most active kinds of teaching occurs. Fifth, we have been told to seek to be part of an inclusive and global community. This is an issue with our faculty, and indeed it is the subject of one of our 2020 planning commissions. More importantly, our conversation about the Internet today is really about the future of the American university. It is a conversation about the future of learning globally, a reality that asserts itself every time we sit down with colleagues from around the world or link up with them on the web to carry on discussions about the future of the work we do together.

Sixth, we have been told to redevelop, to rethink, lifelong learning for alumni and for others. Distance learning can include learning conducted by way of teaching on the web, but it can also include programs such as the associates program, which brings alumni and others together over the course of an academic year to work with faculty on core matters of public concern. I heard one observation last night to the effect that one of our great technological devices is not an artifact humanly made but an artifact perhaps divinely made, namely the faculty member who takes on great public issues. Larry Sabato and Don Hirsch were cited as examples of faculty members who engage with issues that extend the University's reach far beyond its physical limits. And finally, we are advised to seek connections with scholars working around the globe and to use those connections as a way of improving the quality of learning here and elsewhere.

We owe thanks for what has been done in the course of this weekend to many people. We started by acknowledging that this conference was first, foremost, and ultimately the product of Bert Ellis's imagination. Bert, I can't imagine a better gift to have been passed to your alma mater than the concepts that lay behind the work we have done together. We thank you.

Thanks to our two commercial partners, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Fortune magazine, which provoked Bert's initial suggestion. Both committed themselves as partners to do what we talk about doing in partnerships between the private sector and our universities. The deans, the student panelists, the faculty members, the others who have taken part in these conversations, and especially the extraordinary number of alumni and others who have come from the new technology companies this weekend to help us think about our world, our University, our technologies, and our futures. We will benefit and America's universities will benefit by your insights and your advice. We take very seriously the reconception of the University's mission that this entrance to a new century brings to the forefront of our thinking.

Bert has suggested that we have another conference to talk about the Internet. I think it is inevitable that we do this again. As the technologies change, as we look forward one year and imagine what can be, we must on a regular basis but also on an urgent basis seek out the technological core of the kind of work that we can hope to do in the future. So we will do this again.

At the end of yesterday morning's session, a student who is an entrepreneur with his own beginnings in a web-based enterprise turned a man a little older than I am sitting next to him and he said, "You know, it seems backward that people like these (and he waved his hand at a panel like this one) would talk to someone like me." His companion looked at him and said, "No, that's the future. That's what this is about." Let me conclude by reversing something that my favorite philosopher, Pogo, said. He said, "We've seen the enemy and it's us." We've seen the future in the course of this weekend. We have seen the future very clearly, and it's you -- the women and men who have built on the kinds of educations that we attempt to provide in places such as this University. We have seen a technological future that has transformed our economy, our workplace, our capacity to recall, to reason, as nothing else has in the course of any active memory.

This is a conversation about the University's future mission, and that means the University with an upper-case letter, as we spell it here, and also with a lower-case letter. It's a conversation about the conditions which expand the capacities of people to create, to reason, to understand, to invent the artifacts of human making that change our lives, whether those artifacts are books, or products of engineering laboratories, or technologies that will extend the benefits of the web and similar devices far beyond the audiences we now reach. In the end, the mission is something like the mission that was spelled out in the land grant college legislation of 1862. It has to do with improving the condition of humankind. But the mission is also something about human pleasure, enjoyment, and excitement.

Bert, Mark, and others, maybe the most valuable vision you have brought us is the sense of excitement about these futures you describe. We owe a debt of gratitude to each of you. We want you back often, and we'll harass until you come back often.

Thank you all very much.