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WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 1997
Columbia's Rupp Calls for Renewed
Tells Commencement Audience that Private Funds
Cannot Compensate for Declining Public Support
of Higher Education
In student aid, scientific research and health care, the relationship
between government and universities is changing, President George Rupp of
Columbia University said today.
Addressing thousands of graduating students and their families at
Commencement exercises, Dr. Rupp said:
"The relationship is in danger of shifting from a confident partnership
formed to seize opportunities to a stagnant or even a declining venture
preoccupied with shifting costs from one partner to the other."
Since 1980 the government's share of financial aid to undergraduates has
declined sharply, he said. Various budget projections show a further decrease of
as much as another 20 percent in Federal investment in research and development
over the next five years. And at medical centers, funding for graduate education,
advanced diagnoses and treatment and care for low-income persons is threatened.
"All of us as citizens, and certainly our leaders, must take on the tough task
of reshaping an appropriate role for the public sector even as government retreats
from responsibilities it has assumed over the past two generations," said the
"We must do more than refer to the vitality of the private sector or invoke the
magic of the market place - just as we must do more than appeal for volunteers
to meet social needs."
For private colleges and universities, partnership with government has
been a crucial feature of the impressive achievements of American higher
education since World War II, he said. From the G.I. Bill on, government
student aid has provided access; research funding has forged American
universities into the most powerful engines of ingenuity the world has ever
known, and the quality of university medical centers has been enhanced
Now, in the face of diminishing government support, colleges and
universities could continue to transfer to themselves more responsibility for
providing student aid to assure access and diversity, said Dr. Rupp. "But then we
should not be surprised by upward pressures on tuition charges."
"As for research support, we often hear that private industry can be
expected to step in as the Federal government withdraws," he said. "But
corporations geared to quarterly profits will not provide the patient capital
required for basic scientific research."
And in health care, the nation must find alternative ways to fund graduate
education, make medical discoveries and treat the poor "rather than simply to
mandate cuts and expect medical centers and hospitals to deal with the
consequences," he said.
"Government will still have to be part of the solution."
Dr. Rupp was the principal speaker at the commencement ceremonies
ending the University's 243rd year. Columbia, founded in 1754, is the oldest
college in New York and the fifth oldest in the nation.
More than 8,900 students received degrees or certificates in the University's
15 schools and two affiliated institutions, Barnard College and Teachers College.
Honorary degrees were conferred on Sydney Brenner, the British geneticist;
Kathryn Wasserman Davis, the writer, lecturer and philanthropist; Eric
Hobsbawm, the historian; Donald Keene, University Professor Emeritus, and
Representative John Lewis of Georgia. United States District Judge Joseph A.
Greenaway Jr. received the University Medal for Excellence.