Research and Creative Activity

Indiana University

Office of Research and the University Graduate School
Volume XVII, Number 1, April 1994

From the Editors

All universities claiming public support must teach and teach well. But a truly great institution, writes Herman B Wells, president of Indiana University from 1937 to 1962, is one "heavily engaged in research." So we would like to dedicate this issue, "Memory," to those who have enriched Indiana University through their dedicated research and scholarly activities.

Research means different things to different people. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as "a search or investigation directed to the discovery of some fact by careful consideration or study of a subject; a course of critical and scientific inquiry." Research is thus a process, not an outcome. Were all the questions and problems either known or unchanging, we might need universities only to prepare the young for executing and transmitting the received wisdom. Research skills could thus be neatly limited to sharpening our decision-making processes day to day. After all, decisions are based on the knowledge one already has, information gathered for the specific task at hand and reached through a deductive process that leads to a sound resolution of the problem. More than the end-product of applied decision-making, for most of us within the university research is not so bounded.

Instead research begins with the habit of inquiry, the restless pursuit of knowing often without a particular goal or problem to solve. The professor in the classroom, with years of study behind him or her, has a broad understanding of the subject matter presented. In addition, the professor's own continuing study adds to the excitement of teaching not only that which is known; it stretches the student to new directions of inquiry, challenging the learner to take risks and try new and unproved theories rather than accept things the way they are. The young are notoriously unwilling to settle for complacent acceptance of authority, so such habits form the critical preparation that higher education provides. President Ehrlich recently wrote, "Great teachers themselves must be great learners, and the quality of their teaching is an essential expression of their own love of learning and their dedication to increasing the sum of human knowledge."

Research at every level is critical to the well-being of Indiana University. It is not an exercise that is exclusive to the faculty, but essential for all who are associated with it. Research is not an idle pastime outside the classroom. It is the path through which the university discharges its duty to provide a nurturing environment for independent and critical thinking, for advancement of knowledge and the betterment of all it serves. The habit of inquiry is best learned by example, as the faculty dedicate their own lives to the quest for learning and innovation and pass this on to their students. Says Herman Wells, again in his autobiography, Being Lucky, "Universities must not only distill to students the answers of the past and present, but even more importantly universities must abet the new, wider and deeper searches that will advance the knowledge of ourselves and the world around us." In this scheme of things the students, too, have a responsibility, and that is to come prepared to learn and be challenged, to seek out faculty who can expand their horizons.

The research featured in this issue reflects some of the crucial features of pathbreaking research that cannot easily be done in a "think tank," or research center. Whether humanist, scientist, social scientist, or professional investigator, scholars in a university depend upon a broad and diverse intellectual community. The habits of inquiry so necessary to the research process in a university environment help to break the habits of questioning and framing problems that limit individual disciplines as well as individual efforts. A scholar in the humanities will have different associations and a much different intellectual resonance to the commonplace problem of human memory than will a research scientist. The very words one group of investigators chooses to express their questions and results help break habits of problem-framing in another discipline. Students too, poised at the gateway to the world of research, inevitably inquire in ways foreign to the habitual languages of fields and disciplines. In the presence of such open-minded skeptics, scholars must ever defend the answers and practices they hold. Thus by nurturing diversity of thought and inquiry and by insuring constant challenges to dogma and assertion, a research university provides our best chance of meeting the uncertain future with the skills and wisdom we will need.

P. Sarita Soni
Professor of Optometry
Special Assistant for Research
Office of Research and the University Graduate School

Ann G. Carmichael
Associate Professor of History
Special Assistant for Research
Office of Research and the University Graduate School