A Celebration of Values
"There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university."
Those words, written by the poet John Masefield, rang especially true when TC Professor Lambros Comitas spoke them at the inauguration for President Susan Fuhrman in January.
The two days of festivities that surrounded the formal installation of TC's 10th president were both a visual pageantry--the blue and red stained glass of Riverside Church, brilliantly backlit by the January sun; the crimsons, greens, blues and blacks of the academic robes, including those of representatives from more than 100 colleges and universities around the country--and a parade of ideas and values put forth by a sparkling cast of speakers and panelists that concluded with Fuhrman herself pledging to work towards the goals of "equity and excellence," above all others, for "as long as I serve Teachers College."
It all began on Tuesday, January 30th, in the College's new Cowin Conference Center, with a forum on how education schools can promote great research and ensure that it makes an impact on policy and process. Forum chair Lee Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said that while a university flourishes through a stance of academic detachment, for education schools and other professional programs "to become more disengaged and respectably academic, would be to pervert the reason we exist in the first place."
TC Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan said that to make knowledge count, "you must have a codified and compelling knowledge base-'the public will-'and a codified social strategy." As an example, she said that all three have been essential in driving recognition of the importance of early childhood education.
Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, a TC alumna and former Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, called for a required course for all master's degree education students that would focus on research addressing central questions facing practitioners. And Pat Forgione, Superintendent of the Austin, Texas, school district said that education schools "can and must" partner with schools on the ground level: "Public education really needs critical friends with the perspective and expertise to stand by our side as partners."
In remarks at a dinner later that evening, held in Columbia University's Low Rotunda, Barnard College President Judith Shapiro told Fuhrman, "Susan, I have already seen how fine a colleague you will be" and said she was "looking forward to expanding Barnard's relationship to TC," particularly in science education.
Columbia University Provost Alan Brinkley praised Fuhrman--who formerly served as Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania--for having created, in Philadelphia, a model for collaboration between the private sector and public schools. Brinkley said that as Columbia embarks "on a similar collaboration here with the Department of Education, we have already benefited from Susan's guidance." And TC Professor Margaret Crocco thanked Fuhrman for conducting "a listening campaign" since arriving at the College and for delivering a message that has "emphasized collaboration and consultation."
Finally, on Wednesday, January 31st, to the strains of William Walton's stirring "Crown Imperial March," a capacity crowd filled Riverside Church to watch Fuhrman (a TC alumna) formally receive the Chain of Office as President. Fuhrman's former TC mentor Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami welcomed "this daughter of New York-'home to the city she loves and to the College where her dreams were made."
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein thanked Fuhrman for including him in the proceedings, saying that her doing so ensured "that the 1.1 million kids in the City of New York and--by extension--the millions of others throughout this nation would be represented."
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said that Columbia and TC must work together to bring the benefits of education to people of all backgrounds, regardless of means and said of Fuhrman, "I can think of no one better suited or more capable of achieving these ends."
TC Professor Emeritus Edmund Gordon formally presented Fuhrman for investiture, telling her that TC is "fortunate to have chosen you" as President and reminding her that she has "the privilege as well as the responsibility" of leadership.
And then the woman of the hour took the podium, declaring herself "overjoyed be-yond words to return to Teachers College, my alma mater" and noting that she had defended her dissertation "exactly 30 years ago this month." (See an excerpt of Fuhrman's speech on page 16.) She spoke of the legacy of the College's great thinkers who shaped fields and influenced practice--including John Dewey, James Earl Russell, Lawrence Cremin, A. Harry Passow, Morton Deutsch, Edmund Gordon and Maxine Greene. She reminded her listeners of Dewey's exhortation to "think in terms of Education itself rather than in terms of some -'ism' about education," calling it "perfect advice for these ideologically fraught times." And she expressed the hope that "when TC's 20th president reflects on our legacy, she will refer to the early years of the 21st century, when Teachers College became the most consequential institution of its kind in the world-'and feel the same pride and joy that I feel today."