Press Conference on “America’s Languages”

On Tuesday, February 28, 2017, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Jonathan F. Fanton addressed more than 100 Congressional staff members and members of the Academy’s Commission on Language Learning at a press conference to release its final report and recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Good morning.  As the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the release and first public discussion of our new report, America’s Languages: Investing in Language Learning for the 21st Century.

This is the final publication of the Academy’s Commission on Language Learning.  The Academy created this Commission in response to a bipartisan request from members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives: Senators Orrin Hatch, Brian Schatz, Tammy Baldwin, and Mark Kirk; and Representatives David Price, Don Young, Leonard Lance, and Rush Holt.

The title of this report, America’s Languages, refers to an important historic fact about our nation, and one of its great strengths.  As the Commission writes in the report’s introduction:

“Linguistic diversity is deeply embedded in our history. The English we speak is only one of many European, Native American, African, and Asian languages that have been spoken on the North American continent. This diversity is a cherished part of our nation’s past, a fact of our present, and a key to our future: a valuable asset in our relations with other nations and cultures and a benefit to our children as they grow up in an interconnected world.”

In addressing the need for enhanced language education, this report brings the American Academy all the way back to one of its original concerns.

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“Before That Gilded Tower, Another President-Elect Had a Manhattan Home Base”

Full article from the New York Times, written by Jim Dwyer

At the stately age of 108, the handsome double-width townhouse at 47-49 East 65th Street bears no resemblance to a certain tower of gilt, glitz and high security just 12 blocks away.

Yet the last time a president-elect ran a transition from his home on the east side of Manhattan, it took place in that 65th Street residence, the home of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, on a street of understated grandeur.

“It was the Trump Tower of 1932-33,” said Harold Holzer, the director of Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, which now occupies the building.

If an estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., is landmarked in our historical consciousness as the Roosevelt residence, the family’s onetime city house, about 90 miles south, has its own claim as the incubator for the public lives of Roosevelt and Eleanor, two of the most consequential figures of 20th-century America. They lived there for most of 25 years.

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Remarks to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation

On Tuesday, December 2, 2016, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Jonathan F. Fanton addressed members of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and several dozen members of the Academy in Berlin, Germany.

Good afternoon and thank you for hosting us here today. The American Academy has 596 foreign honorary members from 45 countries, in addition to our approximately 4,000 members in the United States. We are actively trying to engage our foreign honorary members in the Academy’s work and are very happy to see you all here today.

We have begun to hold gatherings with our members around the world. For example, this fall alone we have convened meetings in Paris, London, and Israel.

As we reach out to members in other countries, Germany has been high on our list because of the many connections between scholars here and in the U.S.

We currently have 70 members (7 fellows and 63 foreign honorary members) in Germany, with 18 based in Berlin.  A total of 252 members affiliated with Germany have been elected since Johann Jacob Hemmer was elected in 1788. Over the years, other prominent members have included:

  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859); elected 1822, FHM
  • Jacob Ludwig Grimm, (1785-1863); elected 1857, FHM
  • Max Planck, (1858-1947); elected 1914, FHM
  • Albert Einstein, (1879-1955); elected 1924, FHM
  • Werner Karl Heisenberg, (1901-1976); elected 1958, FHM

We added five new German members in the Class of 2016.

They are:

  • Hans-Joachim Freund, (1951-); Director and Scientific Member, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft; elected 2016, FHM
  • Gerd Gigerenzer, (1947-); Professor; Director, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung; elected 2016, FHM
  • Joachim Küpper, (1952-); Professor of Romance Literatures and Comparative Literature, Freie Universität Berlin; elected 2016, FHM  
  • Horst Bredekamp, (1947-); Professor of Art History, Humboldt University; elected 2016, FHM
  • Christof Niehrs, (1962-); Executive and Scientific Director, Institute of Molecular Biology; elected 2016, FHM

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R2P Cultural Heritage Exploratory Fund Meeting

On November 30, 2016, Jonathan Fanton introduced a discussion focused on the “Responsibility to Protect Cultural Heritage” at the British Academy in London. The discussion was co-hosted with the Getty Trust.

Good morning. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and it is my pleasure to welcome you to our meeting to discuss the international community’s role in preserving at-risk cultural heritage around the world.  We are honored to co-host this meeting with the Getty Trust, which has been a leader in the conversation of cultural heritage around the world. Let me give some background on the American Academy and then turn the proceedings over to Getty President James Cuno, who will moderate our meeting.

The American Academy, founded in 1780, is one of the oldest learned societies in the United States.  When the Academy was created, the War for Independence had not ended and the American Constitution had not been drafted, yet the Academy’s founders, led by John Adams, John Hancock, and James Bowdoin, were already looking to the future, anticipating our young republic’s needs for new knowledge and practical ideas.

From its beginnings the Academy has brought together the nation’s and the world’s most distinguished citizens to address social and intellectual issues of common concern and to translate knowledge into action. Timely research and publications are central to the Academy’s mission to promote useful knowledge and advance the public good. As an independent research center, the Academy is known for multidisciplinary, nonpartisan research that provides evidence-based approaches for complex challenges in the areas of Science, Engineering, Technology, Humanities, Arts, Education, American Institutions, and Global Security.  Today’s meeting is a good example of such an interdisciplinary project bridging the worlds of art and history with global security and human rights.

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Populism and the Future of American Politics

On November 10, 2016, Jonathan Fanton introduced a panel discussion focused on “Populism and the Future of American Politics.”

The panelists were: Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Lawrence D. Bobo, W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University; and Jennifer Hochschild, Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.

The discussion served as the 2045th Stated Meeting of the American Academy. 

Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy. It is my pleasure to welcome you, and to call to order the 2045th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This evening’s program, on “Populism and the Future of American Politics,” could hardly be more timely—indeed, it has been a subject that has likely been on the mind of everyone in this room for the past several months. And when we chose it we did not anticipate the outcome of Tuesday’s election. I think this is a topic that some—maybe many—of us feel the need to talk about this week.

“Populism” is a term that did not exist when the Academy was founded in 1780. When the authors of the Academy’s charter wrote that the “end and design of the institution of the said Academy is to … cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people,” they meant something very different by the term “people” than did those who coined the “populist” label in the late 19th century.

It is clear that the founders of the Academy would not have described themselves as populists in the current sense of the term. Their view of classical populism would have been informed by the warnings of classical philosophers, such as Aristotle, who in Politics defined a “demagogic democracy” as a society where a popular faction “takes the superior share in the government as a prize of victory,” incited by the misleading rhetoric of a charismatic leader. Plato laid out the results in his Republic, predicting that the people—an “obedient mob”—would “set up one man as their special leader … and make him grow great.” These observations have more meaning to me today than when I prepared this Introduction two weeks ago.

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John Tishman: A Dear Friend and Mentor

John Tishman is well recognized as a master builder and genius in real estate. But at heart, he was a teacher and mentor.

My tutelage began in his office at 666 Fifth Avenue just after my appointment as President of The New School. He taught me about New York, taking me to its neighborhoods, introducing me to its leaders like Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. He educated me about the challenges of Manhattan real estate in the 1980s, counseling me to buy, not build, to take advantage of the market to expand The New School’s footprint in the Village. So we did: 26 East 14th Street, 55 West 13th Street, 72 Fifth Avenue at bargain prices—no rush to build. He knew we could construct a signature building on this site someday, a facility that would be a campus center with housing and classrooms and studios for all the scattered divisions of The New School. We gather today in the Tishman Auditorium, but we live and work together on the Tishman campus.

History will recognize John as a giant in The New School’s history, a trustee for 35 years, with a vision of its destiny worthy of Alvin Johnson, our founding president.

Most trustees came to The New School board through interests in one of its divisions, the graduate faculty, Parsons, Mannes, Eugene Lang College, Management and Urban Policy. But not John. He cared about the whole institution and grasped the potential of integrating its disparate parts into a university where art and design, urban and environmental policy, social sciences and more invigorated each other. The Tishman Environment and Design Center is emblematic of that vision. Indeed, it was John who led the movement to change our name from The New School for Social Research to The New School University.

And it was John who grasped the importance of technology, pushing for reforms in the Parsons curriculum to advance computer-assisted design, supporting the creation of The New School’s pioneering distance-learning programs, helping design ways to bring all our students together with advanced equipment.

In 1990, I was pleased to confer upon him The New School’s Distinguished Service Award, not for his work in university real estate, but for chairing the Board’s Educational Policy Committee. On that occasion, I said that John “brings passion and excitement to our work, always asking the big questions, always bringing a fresh and original perspective to issues before us. His far-reaching interests and talents have made him a central participant in virtually every important policy matter that this board has faced. John fuses a penetrating analytical power with creative flair, mental toughness with uncommon good judgment, an innate decency with a deeply rooted sense of fairness, bedrock integrity with steadfast loyalty to people and institutions in which he believes.”

John was a trusted mentor and a friend. He taught me about leading a large organization, respecting unions, defending free speech, campus and financial planning but also the art of taking calculated risks. I recall his steady leadership as Chair of the Board when we faced a challenging spring of faculty and student activism in 1997, and his pitch-perfect advice about restraint in the face of protests and sit-ins as well as his laser insight about when the moment came to engage with the dissidents. We emerged from that spring a stronger, more unified New School, reconnected to our founding values of respect for diversity and commitment to community, determined to protect freedom of expression and passionate about working together in the quest for a more just, humane and peaceful world.

More than a mentor, John was a close personal friend. Cynthia and I enjoyed our regular dinners in the country in Bedford and at our house in Fairfield. As I speak, I can visualize our last encounter, walking him up the front steps, his dog TJ greeting him, a smile on his face as I locked eyes with him before entering my car. I felt a sense of peace that reminded me of a reflection by Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, which I read at my father’s funeral: “The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life. Lead a good one, full of curiosity, generosity, and compassion, and there’s no need at the close of the day to rage against the dying of the light. We can go gentle into that good night.”

John lived a good life and now has gone gently into the good night.

Acceptance of Honorary Degree from Hunter College

On November 19, 2014, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab presented an honorary doctorate in humane letters to Jonathan F. Fanton. His remarks upon receiving the honor follow.

It is wonderful for me and Cynthia to be home again at Roosevelt House with so many friends from the Hunter family and other dear friends that reach back to our time at The New School.

Thank you, Jennifer, for this honor—and even more for the opportunity to make common cause with you and the Hunter faculty in building the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. You are one of the best university presidents of this generation, and Hunter benefits immensely from your vision, energy, determination, and courage. You challenge us all to do our best, to stretch our capacities, and to set high goals and exceed them. It has been a pleasure to work with you and learn from you.

We share a belief that universities have a role to play in strengthening our democracy, educating students to be engaged citizens, and producing research that improves public policy to embody the values upon which our country was founded.

Franklin Roosevelt understood the importance of higher education to the future of the nation then enduring the pain of the Great Depression. He gave the commencement address at Temple University, where he received an honorary degree, on February 22, 1936—Washington’s birthday. Hear his words:

“Suffice it to say this: What President Washington pointed out on many occasions and in many practical ways was that a broad and cosmopolitan education in every stratum of society is a necessary factor in any free Nation governed through a democratic system.”

Roosevelt elaborated on that theme in a message for American Education Week in September 1938:

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. It has been well said that no system of government gives so much to the individual or exacts so much as a democracy. Upon our educational system must largely depend the perpetuity of those institutions upon which our freedom and our security rest.”

I think Franklin and Eleanor would be pleased with what happens every day in their home. Hunter students from every background and from all over the world study human rights and public policy—how to make the world more just humane and peaceful. And students, Hunter faculty, policy-makers, and the general public—all of us—come together to discuss and debate the critical issues of our time through candid, spirited, deep conversations informed by evidence, not ideology.

I leave Hunter full of hope and faith in the future. I loved my years at Hunter, one of my happiest times of my life. What a privilege to work with its extraordinary faculty, leaders in their disciplines, caring teachers, and wonderful colleagues, all optimistic that research can inform public policy and strengthen our democracy.

We were a great team in creating this new institution, only five years old but already recognized as a leading public policy center. Professor Jon Rosenberg led our strategic planning process. John Wallach and Manu Bhagavan chair the Human Rights Faculty Committee. Joe Viteritti and Pam Stone gave leadership to our public policy committee. Lawrence Moss and Shyama Venkateswar proved to be strong choices to direct our undergraduate programs. And I owe a special debt to Judith Friedlander, who proposed to Jennifer that I become the first Franklin Roosevelt Visiting Fellow and who was later my wise and generous mentor in learning the culture of Hunter and helping me to connect with its faculty and students. And thank you to Vita Rabinowitz for her steadfast support. You are all great colleagues who have become dear friends.

But we could not have turned our dreams for Roosevelt House into reality without Fay Rosenfeld and her talented team. Our partnership means a great deal to me. How fortunate we are to have one of the most able, hard-working, decent, caring, and politically savvy people I know as the real leader of Roosevelt House. Fay not only supports other people’s good ideas but she is also the source of some of our most creative and effective programs, reaching high to ensure a continuous flow of interesting people through our institute. And what a team to make it all happen: Sindy, Dylan, Amyrose, and so many others.

We could not have built Roosevelt House so quickly without the support—both substantive and financial—of our Board, chaired by my friend Mike Gellert, whose steady flow of good advice and flexible resources were my bedrock. Romano and Ada Peluso provided the critical financial and moral support for every facet of Roosevelt House. Joe Califano made our landmark LBJ conference happen, Bob Katzmann educated us about justice for immigrants, Rita Hauser lifted our sites for the human rights program she generously supported, Ira Katznelson is helping us explore “The Anxieties of Democracy,” and Stan Litow introduced us to IBM’s Watson and P-Tech. David Rockefeller, Elbrun Kimmelman, Adam Wolfensohn, and Richard Menschel were sources of great ideas for Roosevelt House programs. We are grateful to Richard and his family for providing support for those thought-provoking public events. And Bill Vanden Heuvel was my indispensable teacher in all things Roosevelt.

So I accept this honor on behalf of all of you who have made common cause to create an institution of which Franklin and Eleanor would be proud. A passage in our strategic plans says it well:

“Roosevelt House has developed a personality in its early years. Rather than becoming an independent academic center, it seeks to serve the faculty and students of Hunter, supporting their interests and research. When a request is made of Roosevelt House the disposition is to say ‘yes, we will help.’ Words that describe the character of this new institution are nimble, flexible, nonpartisan, creative, connected, and modern. Its undergraduate and public programs are high-quality, interesting, and innovative. All points of view are welcome in the search for objective evidence to inform public policy. Roosevelt House is a meeting place for faculty and students from all across Hunter wishing to transcend disciplinary boundaries and to focus on serious challenges and opportunities that face New York, the U.S., and the wider world.”

I am honored to remain on the Roosevelt House Board, I am pleased with how Jack Rosenthal is moving forward on our plans, and I look forward to doing a few more of my conversations next year. Indeed, I hope the American Academy might partner with Roosevelt House in the future.

You can count on my steadfast commitment to Roosevelt House in the years ahead. You are friends for a lifetime.