William O. Baker

September 12, 1990


Service as a Trustee of The Rockefeller University is a privilege and a joy for so many reasons that only a couple of primary areas can be mentioned now. The mode of formation of the University put it far ahead of conventional research universities in certain basic elements of academic structure. Its freedom from prescribed courses, departmental rigidity, its openness of faculty-student choice, its interdisciplines and so on, have been supported by superb facility initiatives. So the institution has gown in a modem pattern toward which we see many outside elements of higher learning are reaching. The Board is part of this progressive wave. Unlike in many other distinguished institutions which many of us also serve, Rockefeller Trustees have not had to push and shove the entity toward a framework consonant with the daunting demands of 21st Century science and learning. Change, always essential, has come gracefully, from strong beginnings. The decade completing the Presidency of Joshua Lederberg provides many illustrations, as described at our earlier occasion in June. Heartening examples include the help of one of the great new enterprises for biomedical research, the Howard Hughes Medical Inst., led by Purnell Choppin, and an annual a growth in other private support from $6M to $16.2 in the last decade. Other advances include creative industrial funding and formation of a patent policy. President Baltimore will present tomorrow other important considerations for change and initiation of new systems.

So the course of being a Trustee has been exciting and full of opportunity. But the people of this Board have added another dimension, and that hasn't been by chance or accident. This remarkable quality of the cohort we are celebrating right now came from the tireless and genial selection and persuasion of the first Chairman. He worked for a quarter century in that role, and continues it in leading the Executive Committee.

Let us say a little more about these personal qualities of the generation and operation of the Rockefeller Board.

This gracious gathering is about Trustees. Happily, it includes the whole Rockefeller University community for whom, with whom, and by whom these Trustees exist. This profound discovery gains force and felicity because we are here together on the eve of another phase of the history of The Rockefeller, where personalities, leadership, the genius of the individual—are the “heart and muscle” of the Institution. So we celebrate this week the eminent, though different, successions of leadership as we so warmly welcome the assumption of the Presidency by David Baltimore. And now in the suitably organic metaphor of University heart and muscle, what about the soul? This is an element less defined in physiology, and often merely noted as an offshoot of the psyche. Is it, really, where Trustees function? Are we led off into this fatuous figuring because really there's not much more to say about Trustees?

Well, that sort of easy out won't work for The Rockefeller University Trustees, because they have been given a part in the life and growth of the University unlike, it seems, any Board of any other places that we know. There seem to be two principal causes for this—closely connected causes. One we have commented on earlier, as related to the Institution having backed into its academic role. This came about by achieving eminence in science and research, long before there were designated students—eminence which began 55 years before the first degree was conferred. Obviously, an exceptional trusteeship was required to implant and nourish the age-old traditions of academic scholarship in a quite different culture of an already so firm and distinguished a base: The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. As Dr. George Comer eloquently reported, RIMR had been often overturning the sacred culture of medicine already for 50 years, ranging from the cellular tenets of Jacques Loeb to the polio agent identification of Simon Flexner.

Obviously, the Board would have had to sponsor a significant mutation, presumably employing some agent like reverse transmutase! The conventional evolution of a university has always been by teaching Latin, Greek, and a little math and science, which after one or two centuries (or a little faster in the case of Johns Hopkins and Chicago) might grow into advanced studies and graduate research. Here an immediate Bronk-inspired leap into stratospheric learning/teaching had to be made. But even that, in 1953, did not alarm or deter 15 Trustees of 1953, among whom five bankers, one industrialist, and one attorney were in elegant balance with the remainder of science-oriented members—each of whom undoubtedly knew exactly how the new University should be constructed. Every Board since has, with both resolve and zeal, supported faculty and its teaching of today's discoveries to tomorrow's explorers of the future. This requires a quite different academic skill than repeated instructions in Homer's Iliad in a traditional process 1,000 years old. So how did a Board of Trustees promote and keep tuned to this 20th Century mutation?

The answer has interesting and immediate, as well as historic, bearing on the second cause, the special genesis of The Rockefeller Trustees. This genesis was based on a revolutionary idea containing some of the realistic soul feeling cited earlier. The idea was that if you were going to have an unsurpassed institution, which is what Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Sr. had in mind when he said “You, here, explore and dream.” There should be some competent, even animated, Trustees.

This startling notion was held by a young family member who was elected to the Board of the Institute in 1940 and became its Chairman in 1950. In this year, coincidentally, his marriage to the charming Margaret McGrath likewise extended his several aspirations for the improvement of the human race, (two such successes are already known to us on the Board). But the careful discovery and recruitment of you and your predecessors as Trustees, has been one of his most steady and consistent missions. The morphology of this mission itself deserves professional study—on how one group of highly successful business and public leaders, knowing little or nothing about science and research, but much about material matters—industry, banking, government, philanthropy, law—were induced to blend with another group of professional and scholarly eminences. Ibis blend is then able to represent to the precious talents of faculty and staff, to the outside world, and especially to the inside ideals, an enduring purpose of scientific understanding which could work for health and well being of people everywhere.

Yet this is what the new Chairman of the Board, first called President of the Board of Trustees, undertook in 1950 after a decade of experience as a working trustee. In this calling on behalf of the University, David Rockefeller has never slackened nor slowed. So we are able, in this Tower Building, to look out on an arena wherein the minds of scholars, students, and their supporters have indeed probed and shaped parts of the future and the present and past. Growing from the Bronk Committee of 1950-53, not only have been achieved the dreams bespoken by the Founder as a goal of the community, but also the dreams of generations of Trustees as to the kind of Institution which the Rockefeller might become.

Of course, there is not time now to recount how this Chairmanship of the Board, extending continuously to 1975, and then followed by chairing of the Executive Committee, exercised such collector's skill in acquiring membership of you and your predecessors. The immediate correlation with a world-famous collection of beetles seems uncertain, although not impossible. But along with this talent at recruiting you for a noble cause has come a relentless urge for excellence, from a source cryptically known as DR. Successor chairs Patrick Haggerty and myself ever saw and felt that the behavior this person had prescribed for himself was projected to the Trustees of The Rockefeller. The author Dryden used these words in Amphitryon: “There is a pride of doing more than is expected of us, and more than others would have done.”

We have had skillful, and compassionate, help in our responses to these themes. From Room 5600 for astute years, Trix Smalley, and now Marnie Pillsbury have so gracefully and expertly articulated our mutual efforts, in the high tradition achieved by Rick Salomon and his predecessors. Earlier, Mabel Bright brought the style and essence of the campus into the administrative needs of a university.

So you see the joy and comfort we feel in knowing that these patterns of Trustees and their Board will flourish with Dick Furlaud, so wisely and perceptively gifted and experienced in that very animation that DR sought at the beginning.

Of course, the assembly of such talented trustees exacts a certain toll. There must be provided some way to absorb their dynamic ability to run almost anything—or everything. This merciful buffer for the Administration we have developed through a series of committees. Actually, they are a valued, responsive, indispensable resource, chaired by working wise ones. We have vastly esteemed their enhanced and diligent activity—another legacy of the 1980's.

So the tactic of great expectations for science and learning implanted by the chair of the Executive Committee so long ago has spread through the Board. Despite this tactical compelling force in the University, each of four Administrations has been tolerant about what Shakespeare said in Troilus & Cressida: “There is expectance here from both sides, What further you will do.”

We have been treated evermore by Administrations and Faculty with kindliness, about our visions—even if with a tinge of sympathy at times. And the Board's Secretary, Lila Magie, is herself a living legend of how humanism fosters every element of the academy.

So we turn toward the future lifted by the qualities and actions of our comrades of this Board. We thank Dick Furlaud and David Rockefeller for calling us together this evening. From our hearts we welcome David Baltimore as President, to shape a further luminous destiny for the Rockefeller University.

We pray that these Trustees and their successors hold high and dear their feelings—for this faculty, this staff, these students. They have a precious trust, unfettered by the drag of ignorance, and guided by the ideals of knowledge.

Let us go now to hear harmony in Caspary as a forerunner of joyful doings on the morrow.