April 25, 2010

Four C.U. Professors Inducted into American Academy of Arts & Sciences

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In an era of higher academia’s increasing specialization, few realms of communal scholastic enterprise remain.But one of these, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, announced the future induction of four Cornell faculty members last Monday.  The four Cornellians—along with 17 members of the Harvard faculty and 9 members of each Stanford’s and Princeton’s—join 229 other “leaders in the sciences, social sciences, the humanities, the arts, business and public affairs” in becoming new AAAS fellows, according to the Academy’s website.Cornell’s inductees — Prof. Valerie Jean Bunce, government; Prof. Theodore Eisenberg, law.; Prof. Ronald Hoy, biological sciences; and Prof. Roberto Sierra, music — will join dozens of Cornell faculty past and present who have been involved with the Academy. Prof. Kurt Gottfried, physics, who has been a member of the academy since 1982, said the academy serves the joint function of “honor[ing] people who have done distinguished research or scholarship” and providing a public service through its many programs.Gottfried said that the academy, which functions out of Cambridge, Mass. and has lobbyists in Washington, D.C. “had quite a significant impact” on a nuclear arms control agreements in the 1970s, and is now working on “education” and the security of “weapons being deployed in space.”The varying backgrounds of Cornell’s new fellows reflect the diversity of AAAS’ 2010 class — and the intentions of the academy’s founders. Founded in 1780 by John Adams, the academy harkens back to the age of the Renaissance man, when it was possible for one person to be an expert across many fields.The Enlightenment thinkers of the American Revolution “shared the belief that, as ‘men of genius,’ they had the duty to … cultivate the arts and sciences,” writes John Voss on the academy’s website.  He adds that these men believed in the individual’s ability to solve “wide ranging” problems, and the importance of “creat[ing] a forum [for] intellectuals of all sorts [to] share their learned insights.”For that reason, as Gottfried said, AAAS is “different from other major academies [in that] it is interdisciplinary.”  Gottfried agreed that there has “been a trend for a long time” towards specialization in advanced studies, and said that “do[ing] things across the standard frontiers [is] progressively more difficult,” despite maintaining that some people can still “remarkably” do so today.Although professors at elite universities constitute most of the new inductees, the class of 2010 also includes actors Denzel Washington and Steve Martin, director Francis Ford Coppola, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.Cornell alumni also feature prominently amongst the ranks of the academy’s 4,000 members, including authors Toni Morrison M.A. ’55 and Thomas Pynchon ’59. Additionally, current Cornell instructors Prof. Isaac Kramnick and Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, along with Prof. Stephen Squyers, astronomy, count themselves as current members of the academy.Gottfried said that being an active member of AAAS from Ithaca can be difficult, given that most of the academy’s meetings are held in Cambridge.  He added that, despite all the merits of being a member of AAAS, joining will actually cost its members money, due to the organization’s annual $250 fee.

Original Author: Jeff Stein