In the Service of Advanced Study

"Learning is a lifelong process," says Judy Eichhorn, an Indiana University alumna who serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the Society for Advanced Study. Her statement could stand as the society's credo. The society, like other programs sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study, is dedicated to the promotion of university research. Simultaneously, the society wishes to increase intellectual discussion between Indiana University and the public, to mend the divisions (perceived and real) between town and gown. James M. Patterson, director of the Institute for Advanced Study, believes that the society is one avenue for the activities of the university to reach the wider public. The society is also a mechanism through which influential members of the nonacademic community may lend their aid to the university.

The Society for Advanced Study was founded in 1985 as an auxiliary branch of the Institute for Advanced Study. As such, the society has a threefold function: 1) to increase public understanding of and appreciation for the Institute for Advanced Study and for academic research in general; 2) to support the institute monetarily; and 3) to take the activities of the university to the nonacademic public. Membership in the society is open to all, and currently dues-paying members of the society number approximately one hundred. The majority live in Bloomington, though there are pockets of society activity in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, as well as in other parts of the state and country. Most members are Indiana University faculty, though many business and civic leaders are active in the society as well. Fort Wayne businessperson Larry Lee, who serves on the society's board of directors and executive committee, shares the society's commitment to increasing communication between the university and the public. As an alumnus of Indiana University, a former member of its executive council, a past president of a local alumni club, and an active supporter of Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, Lee values his long association with IU and wishes to bring IU's benefits to his home community.

Eichhorn also hopes that the society will serve as a bridge between the university and the wider public, as she herself has done. After receiving her master's degree from the School of Education at Indiana University Bloomington, Eichhorn worked for many years in counseling and student personnel at Indiana University Northwest. Later, she founded her own counseling business in Gary. In this business, she takes insights gleaned from research and applies them to the problems of her community. Research is important, Eichhorn believes, because it "provides opportunities to grow, to learn, and to create."

The society hopes to foster such opportunities by providing forums for discussion within the university and between the university and the interested lay public. A popular society activity is the annual members' dinner, held in conjunction with the Society's Distinguished Lecture Series. These events take place in Bloomington and have featured such eminent scholars as Umberto Eco and Shirley Brice Heath. Two new initiatives, the Roger G. Newton Professorship and the Henry H. H. Remak Distinguished Scholar program, further represent the society's goals of increasing communication within the university and between the university and the wider world. The Institute of Advanced Study recently announced the Newton Professorship and will soon choose the first Newton Professor for the 1996-97 academic year. The professorship is named after Roger G. Newton, a distinguished professor emeritus of physics and the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study. According to Patterson, the goal of the Newton Professorship is to promote "the reintegration of knowledge" and thus to provide an antidote to the narrow specialization inherent in much university research. It is the responsibility of the Newton Professor to provide interdisciplinary forums, such as faculty seminars, for the exchange of ideas among Indiana University faculty members. Funded by the society and administered by the institute, the Newton Professorship is a one-year appointment. Recipients will be competitively selected from among the IU faculty.

The idea for the Remak Distinguished Scholar program was formed in 1994 as a way to honor Henry H. H. Remak, who retired that year as director of the Institute for Advanced Study. Remak, a professor emeritus of Germanic studies, comparative literature, and West European studies, had been instrumental in shaping the mission of the Society for Advanced Study. Any member of the Indiana University faculty, on any campus, may apply to become a Remak Distinguished scholar for one year. The Remak Distinguished scholar will visit society chapters and IU campuses throughout the state to give lectures and facilitate discussion that engages the public in serious intellectual issues. In this way, society members--whether or not they are formally connected with Indiana University--may participate in the intellectual exchange that is the hallmark of the research university. Patterson hopes that this sort of experience will increase the public's appreciation of the importance, validity, and excitement of university research.

The first Remak Distinguished Scholar is Richard S. Westfall, a distinguished professor emeritus of history and philosophy of science, who is serving in this capacity for the 1995-96 academic year. Westfall, a historian of science and a world-renowned scholar on Newton and Galileo, is an ideal choice for the first Remak Distinguished Scholar. He was a founding member of the Institute for Advanced Study, a longtime member of the society, and a former chair of the society's governing board. His primary field of inquiry is the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, an epoch that replaced a predominantly Christian world view with a largely scientific one. "I am convinced that modern culture is a scientific culture," Westfall says. "There is no more important feature of our culture than its scientific content, both in the intellectual sphere and in the practical sphere. So I regard the rise of modern science, which is precisely what I study, as the most important thing that's happened in European civilization. Not all of this is good; it's brought with it many problems, but it is a fact." Though Westfall remains convinced that there is no fundamental spiritual or intellectual conflict between religion and science, he reminds us that historical conflicts are just as fierce today as they were when Galileo was hauled before the Inquisition for daring to claim that the earth moves around the sun. This was a devastating blow to the mental equanimity of beings created in God's image. With the discovery of the heliocentric system, humans had to come to terms to with the knowledge that, as Westfall aptly puts it, "We are not central, and we are not at rest." In the same way that Copernicus and Galileo troubled the sixteenth-century imagination, Darwin continues to trouble those who fear the power of the human mind.

With such issues involved, it is hard to sustain the claim that academic research exists in an ivory tower. At a time when American research universities are the envy of the world, they have, ironically, come under attack in their own country. Denigrating research is common in the nonacademic community, and many are fond of the maxim that claims, "Experts are people who know more and more about less and less until finally they know everything about nothing." It is just this sort of conception--or misconception, one might say--that the society wishes to change.

--Jean Freedman