Since being named Teachers College’s president, I’ve been repeatedly asked two questions. The answer to the first — “Why did you want this job?” — is that we produce graduates like Sam Totten, whose story launches the new “TC Heroes” section in these pages. An internationally renowned genocide scholar, Sam has immeasurably enhanced understanding of why and how regimes perpetrate this most horrific of mass crimes. But beyond bearing witness, Sam also risks his life to truck food into Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, where the government is waging a scorched-earth campaign against indigenous villagers.
That kind of commitment to helping others is part of TC’s DNA. Like all great universities and colleges, we are home to brilliant people doing fascinating work. But what truly sets us apart is that — from shaping more effective teaching to getting entire communities to embrace healthier lifestyles — we directly apply our knowledge to building a better world.
The answer to the second question — “So, what are you planning to do?” — is on one level simple: everything I possibly can to increase our impact. In reality, of course, that’s a complex challenge. To meet it we must ensure that we attract and support the best students, increase our research funding, and assure the coherence of our programs and course offerings. Ultimately, we must work with each other and with practitioners to create solutions broad enough to address major societal issues yet sufficiently nuanced to work in different cultures and contexts.
As you can also read in this issue, we’re applying just such a comprehensive approach to helping American colleges and universities better serve students from poor, minority and immigrant backgrounds. With the United States on pace to become a majority non-white nation by 2045, these students literally represent the future of our country. “They” are us, and — as visionaries at TC have always understood — if we fail them, we fail ourselves.
And speaking of visionaries, TC has lost three in recent months: Trustee Emeritus John Klingenstein, creator of our Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership and the most generous donor in our history; Professor Emerita María Torres-Guzmán, a pioneer in multilingual and multicultural education; and Professor Emerita L. Lee Knefelkamp, a prime leader in student development theory and 21st-centuryliberal arts curricula. People like John, María and Lee can’t be replaced, but their passing offers us a moment to reflect on their legacies and redouble our efforts to build on their work. As we begin a new era at TC, their ideas, their commitment to excellence, and their passion for teaching and learning have never been more relevant.