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A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - October 2021
Provost Jay Akridge

By Mary Jane Chew

A Message from Jay

Dear Colleagues,

While I hope you had the chance to catch your breath over fall break, my guess is that relief is quickly fading as we begin the marathon-sprint to the end of the term! It is that time in the semester when you are deep into your teaching, research and/or engagement duties – or supporting that work in some way. Despite the realities of the day to day, I thought I would share something in this column that I came across recently that caused me to pause and reflect a bit on the “why” of our work.

As I was preparing my remarks for our Named and Distinguished Professorship Recognition Ceremony last week, Mary Jane Chew, a member of our communications team with an amazing ability to find interesting Purdue historical documents, gave me a copy of Purdue’s very first report from our Agricultural Experiment Station. (More on our most recent named and distinguished professors, and the wonderful Named and Distinguished Professorship Ceremony planned and delivered by our friends at Purdue for Life, here). The report is dated 1888 – Purdue started holding classes in 1874, so the campus was only 14 years old. It was submitted by Purdue’s fourth president, James Smart, to the Governor of Indiana.

Here is an excerpt from the report, shared at the Named and Distinguished Professorship Recognition Ceremony, that I thought was worth sharing more broadly:

“Among the most important subjects with which the Station will have to deal are those which are connected with the exhaustion and the renovation of the soil. We are beginning to realize the enormous destruction of values every year through soil deterioration. We are beginning to find out that nature will not be cheated. We cannot expect the soil to respond with a continued harvest, if subjected to constant robbery.”

That certainly was a different time and we’ve come a long way since then with respect to soil fertility and soil health as our friends in the College of Agriculture would attest, but what really caught my eye was the phrase, “we are beginning ....”

“We are beginning to realize... We are beginning to find out.” The realization captured by this phrase reflects the very beginnings of our land-grant university’s research mission. As Purdue’s faculty were beginning to conduct studies in this area so important to the farmers in our state more than 130 years ago, they were creating new knowledge that would become absolutely critical to Indiana, to the United States and, ultimately, the world.

Now, from those early faculty who were beginning to learn so much more about soil in 1888, draw a straight line to our Purdue faculty and staff in 2021. You are some of the great learners, the great researchers, the great creators and transmitters of knowledge in our time. Today, we are living our land-grant charge, investigating, exploring, creating, at the beginning of so many questions and issues important to our world.

We are beginning to define and build the residential learning experience of 2030 (Transformative Education 2.0). We are beginning to understand and act on what it will take to help our University “ensure all members of the university community have the opportunity to experience all Purdue has to offer equitably” (Equity Task Force). We are beginning to reflect on our experiences with COVID-19 and extract the lessons we have learned for the way we will work going forward (Future of Work). We are beginning to put together new structures and support to help us capture research opportunities that previously would have been impossible (Purdue Applied Research Institute). As always, I could go on when writing about all of the ways our faculty and staff are engaged in launching the new, pushing the edges, imagining and creating what comes next.

Just as we were called to do in 1888, as a land-grant university we are called today to discover new knowledge and to find new ways to share that knowledge with everyone who might benefit.  Sometimes, when we are deep in the day to day, we don’t fully appreciate the fundamental importance of our work. However, it is this relentless pursuit of “beginnings,” answers, new and better ways that, ultimately, will enhance the excellence and impact that is Purdue. One brick higher, indeed.

I wish each of you the best as we enter the back half of our semester.