Dean’s Message: A Risk Worth Taking
Dean James Gustave Speth
As many of you know from personal experience, taking a new position often involves a real risk. You can’t be sure whether you’ll be able to accomplish the things you think are important or even whether you’ll like the work.
Now, as my two terms as dean are up and I’m headed out the door for Vermont (see below), I can say with pleasure that coming to F&ES was definitely a risk worth taking! I feel very good about what we’ve been able to do together here over the past decade, and especially about the 2,057 students who graduated during these years and the things they have accomplished and will accomplish decades into the future. What a joy these years have been!
So, my purpose in this final column is simply to say thank you for the chance to work with you and for what you have made possible. Thank you staff and faculty, alumni and students, advisors and donors and especially Cameron—all of you.
And the forward momentum hasn’t stopped. In just the last few months, we have, among many other things:
- actively pursued searches for several new faculty members;
- moved into the magnificent Kroon Hall;
- launched a pathbreaking lecture series on attractive visions for the world of 2050 and how to realize them;
- acquired the talents of our friend and Nobel Laureate Raj Pachauri as the first director of the new Yale Climate and Energy Institute; and
- most important for our future, found a great new dean, Peter Crane, to lead the school for the next round.
On the subject of our new dean, I know that he can count on you, your friendship and generosity, just as I have.
Finally, I want to take this occasion to commend and thank David DeFusco, the tireless and creative editor of this magazine. It’s been his baby from the beginning, and he has raised her well.
Come July, Cameron and I will be moving to Vermont. After 10 wonderful years at Yale, an opportunity for which I shall be forever grateful, I’m extremely happy to report that I’ll be joining the faculty of the Vermont Law School after a bit of a break. VLS is a great place, and Cameron and I and certainly Weezie, the nearly perfect yellow Lab, are looking forward to our new home in Strafford.
As former Dean John Gordon said to me a decade ago, “Old deans never die; they just lose their faculties.” We will lose a lot leaving this fine place, but hopefully it will be a risk worth taking.
As the Dean Saw It
Editor’s Note: Below are brief excerpts culled from all of the Dean’s Messages published in the magazine since the inaugural April 2002 issue.
April 2002 Did 9/11 Really Change Everything?
Most of all, there is the prospect that September 11 may have brought about the beginning of certain cultural changes that we will do well to note and nurture. Ground zero has been the epicenter for more than destruction and great personal loss. Compassion and generosity also flowered there. A great many Americans have lowered personal barriers, reached out to friends and to strangers, and found something deeper to consider and to share. People have looked again at their values and priorities. Some are not as interested in material things or in “getting back to normal.” Some are avoiding flying, not out of fear, but because they want to stay close to home and family.
Fall 2003 Green Republicans—Quo Vadis?
There is a number that future generations will focus on the way we follow quarterly economic reports: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million, or ppm.
Spring 2004 Urgent Action Needed to Address Global Environmental Threats
Looking back over the past two decades, it cannot be said that my generation did nothing in response to Global 2000 and similar alerts. Progress has been made on some fronts. There are outstanding success stories, but rarely are they on a scale commensurate with the problems. For the most part, we have analyzed, debated, discussed and negotiated these issues endlessly. My generation is a generation, I fear, of great talkers, overly fond of conferences. On action, however, we have fallen far short … With more than two decades of dilatoriness behind us, it is now an understatement to say that we are running out of time. For such crucial issues as deforestation, climate change and loss of biodiversity, we have already run out of time: appropriate responses are long overdue.
Fall 2004 Unshackling Business
When Ronald Reagan famously said that “government isn’t the solution to our problems; government is the problem,” many in business cheered. But what if business is shackled by forces far more powerful than government and needs government to free it to do the job it increasingly knows must be done? Business leaders know they are trapped by the imperatives of market competition, consumer preferences, investor behavior and other factors. These imperatives often preclude attractive options. When the gap between the required answer and the right answer gets too wide, government action becomes essential.
We now have such a gap with regard to the challenges of the global environment. If governments do not get their act together soon on global warming, the extraordinary economic machine we have created is going to wreak such havoc on the Earth’s systems, both natural and social, that today’s disruptions by terrorists will look like child’s play. The result will not be good for business or the rest of us. Business needs government action now.
Fall 2005 The Heart of the Matter
In 1970, we were from Mars; today, we must be from Venus. Then, we broke things down to the component parts and laid out rational plans of attack. Now we know the most important resource is human motivation—hope, caring, our feelings about nature and our fellow humans. Today we need the preachers, the philosophers, the psychologists and the poets! In one poem, W.S. Merwin said: “On the last day of the world / I would want to plant a tree.” And in another: “I want to tell you what the forests were like / I will have to speak a forgotten language.”
“After the final no,” Wallace Stevens wrote, “there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends.” Despite the daunting projections of environmental decline, we affirm that we will win this struggle for the future. Yes.
And here we come full circle, for there is something vital from 1970 that we need to rekindle and rebuild, rather than move beyond, and that is the extraordinary spirit of that moment and the widespread popular demand for far-reaching change. One can hear that demand plainly in the words that citizens of Santa Barbara sent to the U.S. Congress in 1970 shortly after the devastating oil spill there: “We, therefore, resolve to act. We propose a revolution in conduct toward the environment. … Today is the first day of the rest of our life on this planet. We will begin anew.”
It can seem that we are now a long way from the prosaic subject of environmental management, but we are actually at the heart of the matter.