Institute's tack questioned


I wish to correct misinformation about the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton contained in the article describing the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies in UBC Reports (Dec. 12). Contrary to what is stated, the Princeton Institute does not "focus primarily on the hard sciences with little presence in the social sciences and humanities." In fact, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton consists of four separate schools: Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Social Science. Each school has its own permanent faculty of distinguished professors and emeritii and each year selects by competition a number of visiting members who are usually appointed for one year and supported by fellowships. What results is a stimulating international company of nearly 200 scholars drawn from every continent, ranging in age from 25 to 70, and embracing the broadest imaginable spectrum of intellectual interest. Having been privileged to experience the intellectual excitement of membership in the Princeton Institute, I can recommend it as the ideal target for the aspirations of those engaged in setting up the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC.

Unfortunately, if the first major thematic research project is typical of what we may expect in the future, UBC's version of an Institute for Advanced Studies offers scant prospect of winning the worldwide recognition "as the pre-eminent institute focused on basic research linking all fields of enquiry" that its director seeks. The narrowly utilitarian thrust of the topics selected by the crisis points group for their endeavours promises no escape from the confining limits of our own time and place. What true depth of understanding of "crisis points" in human affairs can be gained when there is no historian to provide the perspective of past experience, no philosopher to define the moral and ethical conflicts that crises invariably provoke, no student of literature, art or music to show how the human spirit responds creatively to crisis and nobody speaking another language from another culture to offer a different view on "crisis points?"

Clearly we must look to the other initiatives mentioned in the article "to build a new type of creative environment" for UBC's Institute -- "the three world-class scholars" perhaps, brought in to discuss ideas amongst themselves and generate a "global interactive discussion" on the World Wide Web. Their ruminations, I fear, are no more likely to endow distinction on the Institute than the presence of three tenors guarantees world-class status for the city that entertains them.

Prof. James Russell
Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies

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