NYU's Global Future

John Sexton: NYU starts with a spectacular asset, which is our inheritance.  That is the first two words of our name--New York.  We start with this spectacular city, which as we enter this century is a kind of foreshadowing of the world that will be as the century unfolds.  I have created this word which allies global and local, to talk about New York as the first glocal city--global and local simultaneously.  The world is miniaturizing.  When I grew up, it was possible to think about gating yourself off from people that were different from you or

ideas that you didn’t want to hear or that you found offensive.  Today, gating strategies are impossible, whether they be physical gating strategies, economic gating strategies, or intellectual gating strategies.  The world is miniaturizing.  New York is the first example of a fully miniaturized world.  There are other great world cities, but there’s no city that completely miniaturizes the world the way New York does.  I am a fan of Dan Docktoroff and Jay Kriegel and their attempt to get the Olympics for New York.  But I said to them from the beginning, and we started talking in the early 1990’s, that more important than trying to get the Olympics, because that was simply the icing on the cake, was the story that they told of New York, the wonderful data that they derived and began to weave into a story of our community.  Listen to this.  Of the 202 countries that were at the Athens Olympics, 199 of those countries are represented in the New York City public school system by kids that were born in those countries.  The cardinal archbishop would say he’s got the other three countries covered in the Catholic school system.  You could taste the bread of every country in this city.  You could hear the language of every country in this city.  You actually could visit, really visit, not Epcot Center visit but really visit people, old timers.  Forty percent of the citizens of this city were born in other countries.  This city is the first example of the whole world miniaturized.  We are an experiment in whether or not you can create a community out of those microcommunities without
homogenizing. When I grew up they used to talk about the melting pot.  We’re going to turn American into some great Velveeta cheese of humanity.  No, no.  We now realize that would be giving up.  We spend all kinds of time.  We’re now post-environmental movement.  We understand you spend all kinds of money to save the snail darter.  Biodiversity is good.  Human diversity is good.  Intellectual diversity is good.  This is a wonderful gift from God.  We don’t want to homogenize.  We want to create communities of microcommunities.  New York is the first experiment in what the whole world is going to be.  Really the future of humankind, in a way, depends upon are we, as humankind, going to be able to create a community of microcommunities, maintaining the diversity of the communities while building bridges and tunnels and connecting?  So humanity begins to operate like a great watch of interconnecting parts, not isolated from each other, but a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.  I have a doctorate in religion trained by the Jesuits, so I tend to think in tardyon terms about a kind of noosphere, where there’s a whole different way of existence for humankind as we really begin in an analogy to the ecumenical movement in the Catholic Church back in the 1960’s.  We really begin to see that there’s an advantage to seeing the various facets of the diamond, not just the single facet through which we live.  So New York is the first experiment in that.  NYU starts with that asset.  At the research university presidents’ meetings, we would sit alphabetically.  Larry Summers from Harvard would sit next to me, because I’m S-E, he’s S-U.  I would turn to him and I would say, “You know, Larry, you’ve got the greatest brand in education.”  Even when they made the movie The Great Debators, when the team gets to debate in the finals, it was actually USC

that was the national champion that James Farmer debated against in the true story.  They changed it to Harvard, because Harvard’s the brand.  If you want to have them debate the best, they’ve got to debate Harvard.  It can’t be USC or NYU.  I said, “Larry, you’ve got the best brand in education, but I’ve got the best location.  Brand can change, but you can’t move.”  So there we are.  We’re right in this city, this wonderful city.  We’re in it in a special way.  Albert Gallatin, who was Jefferson and Madison’s secretary of treasury, founded NYU in 1831, because he wanted to create a university unlike the universities of his day, which were withdrawn, in the country, contemplative.  He wanted a university “in and of the city.”  So we embrace the city.  There’s not a single gate on campus, no quadrangle to which you can retreat.  You walk out of our buildings, usually to the right and to the left, across the street, no NYU building.  You’re ecosystematic in the city.  There’s only one thing you can step on--sidewalk.  You’re in the city.  Then we take being in that local city and we extrapolate it out into the world.  If you come to NYU as a student, we expect you to spend at least one semester abroad.  We have created a dozen study abroad sites on four continents other than North America, which we run with our professors and our courses and you can register for a continent as easy as you register for a course.  Now if you’re in our Stern Undergraduate School of Business and you’re in the top quarter of the class, you qualify for Stern World.  With NYU professors, NYU courses, you take five semesters in Washington Square, one semester in London, one semester in

Shanghai, and one semester in Buenos Aires.  It’s a different kind of business education.  It’s the same if you’re studying film.  You can do one semester Europe, one semester Asia, one semester Latin America.  It’s a whole different education.  Then finally, what we’ve done now, because we now realize and this is part of the sign that if we’re not careful, America’s dominance in higher education is not going to endure.  There used to be a river of talent that came to the United States for higher education, kind of a powerful river of talent.  About ten years ago, two big tributaries opened up upstream.  Europe unified its educational system and said that by 2016 they wanted to be bringing in as many students from outside of Europe to Europe as the United States was bringing in from outside the United States.  The second tributary was Australia and New Zealand.  They did the same thing.  Then 9-11 happened and we started putting up a dam on that river.  Now you’ve got the tributaries and you’ve got the dam.  Then about five years ago, two huge reservoirs opened up upstream.  China began to build ten research universities a year and India began building three a year to keep their talent home.  Now the talent doesn’t come so much to the United States.  There are conversations going on around the world that we won’t be in unless we go out to be in them.  The best faculty and the disciplines are already in that conversation.  They’re going to conferences or they’re on the Internet.  But there’s no institution so far, and NYU is the first that is doing this, that incarnates itself into, that is institutionally present in those conferences.  We start with the study abroad campuses.  Now what

we’ve done and the first one we’re doing is a campus in Abu Dhabi, one of the great crossroads of the world.  We’re going out and we’re going to create a campus like the Washington Square campus to which students can come from around the world and spend their entire eight semesters there.  I’m focusing principally on undergraduate, but the same thing would be true in graduate.  Spend their entire time there or spend five semesters there, come to New York as a study abroad experience, go to London as a study abroad experience, go to Beijing or Accra or Mexico City as a study abroad experience.  The idea is then to network all of this in what we’re calling a global network university.  So that if you’re a student in Abu Dhabi and you’re taking four courses, three of them will be in Abu Dhabi with an Abu Dhabi instructor, just as if you were in New York, that would be the case.  But you will be allowed to take a quarter of your courses through technology, immersive classrooming and so forth anywhere in the system.  So you could sit in Abu Dhabi and take a course that’s being offered in Ghana, for example.  And this will be a full integration of the community of NYU faculty and students into the conversations that are going on at the highest level around the world.  So it is trying to create in the university an analog to the world of ideas where there’s this matrix system of these idea capitals, six or eight or ten or twelve of them.  We want to be, as a university, in each of those idea capitals and allow our students and faculty to flow through them as they wish.  So if you’re in the economics department, you could say to your department chair, “Two years from now, I’d appreciate it if you would assign me to our campus on” and you name a continent and a city, “because I and my family would like to spend a period of our lives there.”  Your department chair could accommodate you.

Recorded on 5/29/08

Pursuing a global reach and competing against Harvard.

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Supreme Court to hear 3 cases on LGBT workplace discrimination

In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
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