Rupp Warns Against Diversion from Basic Science

Photograph: From left: Leon N. Cooper '51; Roald Hoffmann '58; Clarice Schwinger, widow of Julian S. Schwinger '36; Norman F. Ramsey, Jr. '35, and Melvin Schwartz '53. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

President Rupp said last Thursday that great universities should resist pressure to perform applied research at the expense of pure science.

"Universities must not be construed as simply job shops for industry, just as college teams should not be considered a farm league for professional football," he said.

"It is crucial to our very identity as a great research university that we resist pressures to become preoccupied with short-term economic payoffs at the cost of the disciplined, long-term, fundamental inquiry that is our irreplaceable contribution. A failure to resist those pressures would endanger both research and education."

Speaking at a ceremony to award Columbia College's highest honor, the Alexander Hamilton Medal, to five Nobel laureates in science who graduated from the school, Rupp said:

"Today there are potent pressures on universities to produce research that is more and more applied: that promises economic benefits in relatively short order, that will support, or even initiate, a resurgence of American capacity to capture market share." These are important national goals, he said, and Columbia's scientists and engineers play a major role in such research, maintaining "solid working relationships with industrial partners." But, he said, "we must resist pressure that deflects us from our central purpose."

The Hamilton Medal was awarded by Rupp to:

Columbia College has conferred undergraduate degrees on nine Nobel laureates in science, more than any other American college. The other four Nobelists received the Hamilton Medal in a similar celebration in 1961.

Rupp noted that all of the five honorees "devoted their careers to the quest for truth, the beauty of the search, the journey of discovery" and won their Nobel Prizes for basic research "that has created whole new worlds."

Among their findings from pure science that had benefits in the long-term was Ramsey's development of measuring techniques that led to the use of the cesium atomic clock as the international time standard.

Columbia University Record -- December 1, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 11