whatever they’re going to do will make a
positive contribution and why it’s worthy of their philanthropic attention. So
we spend a lot of time thinking about
how to shape a vision for the university,
what we could do, why it would be distinctive, and why it would make a difference. Once you shape that vision, it’s
a lot easier to talk to people about how
they might support it personally.
What do you make of the debate that
the Knight-Hennessy program inadver-
tently sparked about funding institu-
tions that are already well endowed?
I think there’s two parts to it. One
is ensuring people believe you’ll be a
good steward. Most philanthropists
I know have worked really hard to
acquire the ability to give to a cause,
and they want to know that you’re go-
ing to be a good steward of their do-
nation. The other part is the vision.
I found that it’s very compelling to
people when you can actually say,
“You’re contributing to the scholar-
ship of a deserving student who oth-
erwise couldn’t afford to come to this
I think the real challenge we’re fac-
ing in the U.S. is that our public insti-
tutions are suffering under cutbacks
in state funding. Philanthropy is going
to have to fill in, so we’ll need to ar-
ticulate a message to potential donors
so that they understand the need and
why it’s important. And then we’re go-
ing to have to develop compelling op-
portunities, whether it’s hiring faculty
members in a key area or supporting
students on scholarship.
Leah Hoffmann is a technology writer based in Piermont, NY.
© 2017 ACM 0001-0782/17/12 $15.00
interdisciplinary education presents.
I think the solution is not to say,
‘we need to teach everybody everything.’ It simply isn’t going to work.
Instead, I sometimes say that we’re
trying to educate people who will be
‘T-shaped,’ so they’ll have depth in a
field—that’s the vertical bar of the T.
But they’ll also be able to engage with
other people, perhaps to learn some
part of a new vocabulary from other
fields, so at least the conversation will
be on common ground.
These days, it’s difficult enough to keep
up with all the changes in a single field,
let alone across multiple disciplines.
Certainly now, in the field of computing, you have to. When I was a
graduate student, I felt like I could go
to anybody’s job interview talk or thesis
defense and understand what was going on. But the field has grown so much
now that it’s hard for a systems person
to understand a thesis in theory, or for
an AI person to understand a systems
thesis. You have to assume that computer science will continue to grow and
transform, and so, you have to be willing to learn new things.
What made you inclined to get in-
volved with the administrative side of
I’m probably the frog in the proverbial pot of water, where you raise the temperature slowly and the frog doesn’t realize it’s being cooked until it’s too late.
I think what I found is that I’m just an
intellectually curious person. I enjoyed
talking to my colleagues in other fields
and finding out what was the cutting
edge of thought in their field; what were
the interesting questions they were trying to focus on. When the chance came
to become president, I jumped on that.
Nowadays, most people assume that being the president of a major university
is less about satisfying intellectual curiosity and more about raising money—
which you’ve undoubtedly been good at.
In fact, more of my time and more of
my staff’s time is devoted to developing
why we want to ask someone for money
rather than actually doing the ask.
Most people who are philanthropic
want to do something that has a good
social return. They want a vision of how
[CONTINUED FROM P. 112]
“You have to assume
science will continue
to grow and
transform, and so,
you have to be willing
to learn new things.”
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