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Behind The University of Tokyo: Vision 2020 - A Discussion with the President and the Plan's Drafting Members on Its History and Future

UTokyo as a Base for Creative Collaboration

Makoto Gonokami
President, The University of Tokyo
Born in 1957. After working as a professor in the Graduate School of Engineering and the Graduate School of Science, a University vice president, and the dean of the Faculty/Graduate School of Science, he became the 30th president of the University of Tokyo in April 2015. His area of expertise is optical physics.
The University of Tokyo: Vision 2020 was drafted not just by President Gonokami and the University's executives, but also by a varied group of academic and administrative staff members.
On January 8th, 2016, four of these members, along with the president, came to Yasuda Auditorium to discuss the behind-the-scenes making of Vision 2020, explaining the background of the draft, giving supplementary explanations to its content, expressing thoughts behind the words of the final plan, and contemplating the plan's future. We hope that reading this discussion will give you a sense of the heart and soul of Vision 2020.

Suzuki: Four professors who were part of the group that worked on the draft of The University of Tokyo: Vision 2020 have joined the president and me today. With the exception of Special Adviser to the President Professor Sakata, everyone present today was also involved in the planning of former President Junichi Hamada's Action Scenario (1). President Gonokami, could you start off by telling us how the members of the group for working on Vision 2020 came to be chosen?

Gonokami: When considering specific ways to solve modern issues, I looked back on the experiences I had when helping to plan the Action Scenario. I thought that if I could discuss issues with the same individuals with whom I had worked on the Action Scenario, we would be able to communicate and debate ideas effectively. Also, my plan was designed with the intention of carrying on the legacy of what had been accomplished during the President Hamada years, and I wanted to make public these guiding principles as soon as I could. I decided that the optimal path to accomplishing this goal was to utilize the wealth of discussions we had in the past.

Suzuki: What did the four of you think when you were asked to assist the president?

Saito: To be honest, my first reaction was, "why does he want to do this with the same old members?" Since the administration had changed, I thought it would be better to have new people participate in the planning. However, when we got together and talked, we all understood each other well, as could be expected. We also had the advantage of becoming involved in our main work and research duties after formulating the Action Scenario, which enabled us to share not only theory but experience regarding specific issues. I realized afterwards that having many of the same members this time was for the best.

Sato: I concur. One could say that rather than utilizing "formerly-used land," "formerly-used people" are being put to work. As an aside, most of the "Seven Samurai" (2) die at the end of the film, you know. (laughs)

Fujii: I remember the president saying that it would be good for us to share our opinions with each other so that we could refine the ideas which will become the base of the University's operations for the next six years. I understood that to mean that we should focus on quickly constructing this base rather than creating something lengthy and wide-ranging.

Suzuki: And Professor Sakata, you took part in writing the plan as a new member.

Sakata: The president has stated from early on that there is need to improve the employment environment of young researchers, and also that UTokyo should take a central role in pursuing further collaboration between industry and academia. When I was invited to participate, these two points resonated with me, so I enthusiastically accepted the offer.
Diversity is more like a jungle than a zoo
Animals in a jungle may eat each other

Introducing University Operational Reform

Ichiro Sakata
Director, Policy Alternatives Research Institute
Born in 1966. He assumed his current position in April 2014 after working at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). He is also a professor in the Graduate School of Engineering and a special adviser to the president. His areas of expertise are innovation policy and industrial organization.
Suzuki: President Gonokami, looking back on the press conference you gave after you were elected, the time you made public your Policy Declaration, and now Vision 2020, it seems that your stance on changing the University's operations has become clear.

Gonokami: I wanted to share my stance on reforming University operations with the other members of the University community. With this thought in mind, in the early days of my presidency I created an opportunity for all of us who worked on the Action Scenario to gather together in a sort of reunion-like setting. My discussions with them reaffirmed my belief that if I worked with these individuals, we could solidify the basic principles of my plan. Also, as humanities professors are experts at dealing with words, I wanted to draw upon their wisdom to see how the "collaboration for pursuing excellence fueled by the energy of diversity" I touched upon in my Policy Declaration could be expressed in a widely understood way. In essence, I decided to take our reunion as an opportunity to put together the principles of my plan with this group of individuals.

Suzuki: Just to confirm, is "2020" supposed to be read as ni-maru ni-maru (two-oh two-oh)?
Gonokami: I usually refer to it as nisen nijuu (two thousand and twenty).
Sato: Provided that the significance of what is written remains unchanged, having a diversity of readings, similar to Medieval Latin, is fine. Additional possible readings might include "TT" or "T2" ("T squared") as abbreviations of "twenty twenty."
Gonokami: I learned this after the fact, but there is an English term called "20/20 vision," which describes the ability to see something well from 20 feet away and also refers to the ability to perceive things clearly. I believe I named my plan well.

The two guiding principles stemmed from a discussion on "incommensurability"

Mareshi Saito
Professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Born in 1963. He assumed his current position in 2015 after working as a professor in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Books authored by Professor Saito include The Horizon of the World of Kanji (Kanji-sekai no Chihei) (Shinchosha) and The Context of Chinese Classics in Modern Japan (Kan-bunmyaku to Kindai Nippon) (Kadokawa Gakugei Shuppan).
Suzuki: What sorts of discussions did all of you have that led you to decide upon the two guiding principles of your plan, excellence and diversity?
Sato: The term "incommensurability" is used in the philosophy of science. This word is rendered as kyouyakufukanousei (literally "impossibility of sharing a common measure") in Japanese, and signifies that the same measure cannot be applied between differing paradigms. We tend to compare individuals, objects or concepts and consider the ones that stand out above the rest to be "excellent"; however, this kind of comparison is merely one test using one standard of measurement. We live in a world in which a "diversity" of values intertwine. I recall that our discussion about these two guiding principles stemmed from conversations on how to best express the importance of both excellence and diversity.
Saito: I believe universities are spaces where varying ideas can be examined in contrast with one another while acknowledging incommensurability. Our discussions underscored the concept of the universities as these kinds of "spaces."
Fujii: It is possible to cultivate a mutually stimulating environment without having to compare and decide upon superiority. Through this process, the value of each individual excellence shines brighter.
Suzuki: How are diversity and plurality different?
Sato: Diversity presupposes a certain type of universality and public role. This concept differs from plurality in that it features breadth and depth. Furthermore, plurality is an idea that is seen from an external standpoint only, whereas diversity necessitates that one independently creates an inner awareness.
Saito: Animals that are placed in separate cages in a zoo do not cross paths or otherwise communicate with one another, so such an environment is different from that of diversity. Diversity's environment is more like that of a jungle. The lack of cages in jungles means that there is a concern that the animals there may eat each other, though. (laughs)
Sakata: The defining characteristic of this plan is that it incorporates diversity and excellence into a synergistic mechanism. The term "knowledge collaboration" also conveys the importance of this interdependent connection.
Suzuki: Could you explain why you decided to divide the plan into four "Visions"?
Sakata: The first three Visions—Research, Education, and Cooperation with Society—are all brought together by Operations, the fourth Vision. Vision 2020 was written in such a way as to place operational reforms as the point of convergence towards which the other three Visions advance while relating deeply with one another.
Saito: In other words, Vision 4 (Operations) supports the activities outlined in the first three Visions.

Gonokami: We also debated whether or not we should make "internationality" one of Vision 2020's four pillars. Ultimately, we decided against doing so since internationality is something that relates to all aspects of the University. When taking all of humankind into consideration, Japan is a vital component within the world for supporting diversity. In a similar fashion, the educational and research activities of the University of Tokyo are conducted under the basic premise that they are not limited by the borders of a single country.
Suzuki: Let us now discuss the contents of Vision 2020. First, could you tell us about Visions 1 and 2, Research and Education?
Gonokami: Individuals are the wellspring of research. I aspire to improve the situation of unstable employment that is now commonly faced by young researchers, and encourage them so that they can enjoy a life engaged in research. With regards to education, I would like to adhere to the continued development of the Comprehensive Reform of Undergraduate Education put forth and implemented by the previous president, Professor Hamada. My impression upon observing the classes of first-year students was that this reform is fortunately taking hold quite well. The next step in fostering knowledge professionals is to reform the Graduate Schools. The prominent trend is for students in the sciences to enter the workforce after earning their Master's degrees. Due to changes in industrial structures and globalization, however, Japanese companies face increasing difficulties in cultivating skilled individuals on their own. The idea to form World-leading Innovative Graduate Study (WINGS), a graduate-level program of international excellence, originated from the awareness that the University would have to take on this responsibility. Furthermore, in the humanities, the fact is that many students do not even continue on to earn Master's degrees.
Saito: One issue regarding the humanities is that it is getting difficult for students to see future prospects for themselves if they proceed to graduate school. To make UTokyo into an attractive place for such individuals, it is imperative that academic staff members themselves must be appealing as knowledge professionals.

Fujii: From the standpoint of sending talented individuals out into society, we also shared the understanding that the University should heighten its awareness towards cooperation with society.

Suzuki: So, could you tell us about Vision 3, Cooperation with Society?
Gonokami: The essence of Cooperation with Society is that the University should not merely be a place for cultivating talented individuals; the University must also take actions that overlap with those of society. Accordingly, I aim to create a "collaborative platform" between industry and the University. In fact, when I talked with alumni of all ages at the Homecoming Day last year, this idea received enthusiastic support. The individuals attending the 20-year Reunion, in particular, voiced strong approval for it… this encouragement convinced me that such a platform was earnestly in demand.
Sato: In the social sciences as well, there was a time when scholars considered the issue of how an unchanging society should be perceived. We now understand, however, that society is something fragile and easily lost. A striking illustration of this fact is our post-3/11 world. Precisely because of these conditions, the manner of the public role that the University constructs will become the focal point of its cooperation with society.
Sakata: When I was entrusted with leading the Policy Alternatives Research Institute, I felt that academia could become stronger by communicating research results to society. In this manner, academia and society are intertwined.
Fujii: I am glad that we were proactive in putting forth collaboration among industry, academia and the public and private sectors in the Actions section of Vision 2020. It was good that we also touched upon the public role of the University from both a temporal and a spatial perspective. I believe that we managed to express an appropriate balance between continuously generating support for the University's public role while proactively working with society.

Universities Shoulder Unique Responsibilities as They Operate on Extensive Time Scales

Kenji Sato
Professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Born in 1957. He assumed his current position in 2005 after working as an assistant professor at Hosei University. Books authored by Professor Sato include Literacy in the History of Social Research (Shakai Chosa-shi no Riterashii) (Shinyosha) and Manners of Historical Sociology (Rekishi Shakai-gaku no Saho) (Iwanami Shoten).
Sato: This discussion about public roles calls to mind a question raised by Kunio Yanagita, a scholar specializing in agricultural administration. Yanagita's question was that even though decision by majority is considered to be a democratic process, is a decision made unanimously by all humans who are now living authentic? He argued that from a viewpoint of the greater public good, generations that have passed away and those that have yet to be born should have a right to be involved in deciding matters. I think that this argument is relevant to ongoing environmental issues.  

Saito: Universities should act on an extensive time scale so that ideas like those raised by Mr. Yanagita can be made possible. Time flies in daily life, but we would like for universities to be able to stop time to a certain extent and to dive deep beneath the flow of time.

Gonokami: I would like to convey that there exists an exceptionally diverse array of time scales in universities, and this characteristic of universities entails distinctive responsibilities. If universities decide to earn money through cooperation with industry just because their financial situations are difficult, I think it would mistake the means for the end (laughs).

Sakata: Speaking of the public role of the University, UTokyo has contributed to reconstruction activities implemented after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in a wide range of areas spanning both the humanities and the sciences. I think that the University can make these contributions because of the diversity of knowledge the University has accumulated over a long period of time.

Gonokami: At the end of August 2015, I visited areas in northeastern Japan affected by the disaster and saw UTokyo students doing volunteer work to help local middle and high school students with their studies. Those initiatives are significant not only because UTokyo acted as a source of encouragement for people in these areas but also because participating UTokyo students grew and enhanced their awareness. I think that this experience of visiting those areas was what convinced me to include the ideal of cooperation with society as one of the Visions in Vision 2020.
Suzuki: In Vision 4: Operations, one of the Visions outlined in Vision 2020, a focus is placed on the concept of "space."

Fujii: "Space" can be defined in two different ways. One is physical space, and the other is a forum that is created by the exchange of words among individuals.

Sato: The University Library System is a facility that symbolizes the latter. Researchers in science fields mainly refer to the current journals in their areas of specialty, but those in the humanities must consult the huge volumes of literature that have accumulated over the years. In this case, what is required are libraries which can be likened to "forests" or "mines."

Saito: As shown by the Chinese character "科 (ka; section)" in "科学 (kagaku; science)," progress is made in science basically by categorizing matters into groups. In contrast, disciplines in the humanities consider matters by placing segments within a wider framework. Libraries, where the magnificent knowledge of the sciences and the humanities is embodied in a physical form, are spaces in which accumulated knowledge and future-oriented time coexist.
Fujii: In those diverse time scales that span from past to future, humans meet, interact and cooperate with each other in various ways.

Sato: History is embedded in words themselves. For instance, to translate the English word "business," the Japanese word "実業" (pronounced as jitsugyo) was coined during the Meiji period. Consulting with a dictionary, however, we see that the word "実業" (pronounced as jitsugo) had been a word used in Buddhism until around the Edo period and meant the embodiment of karma. Now, this coexistence in meanings of this word is mentioned only in dictionaries. However, I think that it is actually those in the space of business who need to understand the meaning of "karma."

The differing weight of words in the humanities and the sciences

Teruo Fujii
Director General/Professor at the Institute of Industrial Science
Born in 1964. After working at RIKEN, he was appointed as professor at the Institute of Industrial Science in 2007. Became the Director General of the Institute of Industrial Science in 2015. His area of expertise is research and development of applied microfluidic systems.
Gonokami: When preparing and discussing Vision 2020, I came to notice that the degrees of care that people take when selecting words differ greatly between the humanities and the sciences. I decided to consider the University Library System as a space that represents this depth and breadth of scholarship. When I am in a library, I can definitely feel something special. I discerned that this "something" may have essential meaning to those in the humanities. Also, the fact that the Japanese created a variety of words during the Meiji period left an impression on me. 

Sato: They seem to have made strenuous efforts to assimilate new concepts imported from foreign countries by creating new words such as "哲学" (philosophy), "物理" (physics), "化学" (chemistry), "社会" (society)" and "心理" (psychology).
Saito: Instead of borrowing the original Western words, they took the extra step to replace them with new words using Chinese characters. I think that this coining of words was a space in which new value was created.
Fujii: I believe that this is one way to comprehend the West from an Asian perspective. 

Sato: Another question is whether or not the University should merely anglicize. For example, individuals tend to think that the Japanese term "文化" (bunka) translates into the English word "culture." However, the word "culture" originates from the Latin word "colere" and is connected with the words "cult" and "colonialism." These connotations are not readily apparent if the word "文化" is used as a translation of "culture." Rather, "文化" calls to mind a vivid comparison between culture and military because the word "文" (letters) is often contrasted with the word "武 (military)," as in "文武両道(bunbu ryōdō; proficient in both the pen and the sword)." Different words have varying nuances of distance, as well as conceptual perspectives. When communicating ideas, we have to consider that words create "spaces" and their influence on those spaces. I believe that the quintessence of translation lies in this context.
Gonokami: I think that the key point of Vision 2020 is to promote the communication of a set of original values from Japan rather than just replacing Japanese with English.
Suzuki: President Gonokami, I hear that you are in the course of visiting all the Faculties, Graduate Schools and Institutes to explain the content of Vision 2020.
Gonokami: Fortunately, I have received positive feedback from each one that I have visited. They say that Vision 2020 is clear and specific, and they are proactive about wanting to utilize it in their work. I feel that Vision 2020 can be also useful in developing strategies for discussion over national university reform.
Suzuki: How has the response from industry been to Vision 2020?
Gonokami: I am keenly aware of the expectations from industry, particularly regarding the expansion of the University's mission. What is important is how we specifically implement these missions. I am focusing my energies on this effort.
Shinji Suzuki (moderator)
Director of the Public Relations Office / Professor in the Graduate School of Engineering
Born in 1953. After working at the Toyota Central R&D Labs, he became a professor in the Graduate School of Engineering in 1996 (and the director of the Public Relations Office in 2014). His area of expertise is flight mechanics. His books include The Story of Airplanes (Hikoki Monogatari) (Chikuma Shobo) and others.
Suzuki: Let us now move on to the final comments of each participant.

Fujii: As universities have been asked to define their relations with society, participating in the preparation of the Vision 2020 draft was a valuable opportunity for me to reconsider the roles of universities. As the Director General of a University institution, I feel that Vision 2020 is structured to ensure that staff in research areas can easily understand the points that need to be undertaken. I also believe that Vision 2020 provides a conceptual foundation on which staff members can easily formulate plans.
Sato: Through systematic observations and experiments, Professor Takaaki Kajita discovered that neutrinos—once thought to be massless—do indeed have mass. I think that part of our work may be to prove systematically and practically that scholarship in the humanities, which has been criticized as without substance, actually has an indubitable "mass." (laughs) I believe that an additional characteristic of the Visions in Vision 2020 is that they convey to the public the importance of scholarship in the humanities.
Saito: The other day, I explained the future of UTokyo to individuals from corporations by using excerpts from Vision 2020. I found that Vision 2020 is very convenient to use in such occasions. It is clear and specific in communicating ideas. My impression is that we managed to create a compact and useful action plan.

Sakata: We were able to prepare and publish Vision 2020 in a very short span of six months, and this speed was important. To creatively collaborate with the University members and society as a whole, it is important to share the University's vision as soon as possible. As the director of an Institute that places emphasis on public communication—the Policy Alternatives Research Institute—I also feel that I was able to discover significant research topics from this drafting process.

Gonokami: What was particularly gratifying about Vision 2020 was that those engaging in research activities at the University's Graduate Schools and Institutes said to me that they feel Vision 2020 was created for them. I hope that they will proceed with their operations in accordance with their needs based on Vision 2020, and I am looking forward to seeing results. Of course, for the collaborative creation of a new society, we need valued partners not only within the University but also from outside the University, particularly our alumni. Treasuring the passion that I felt from our alumni on the Homecoming Day, I would like to implement the Visions and Actions outlined in Vision 2020 one by one.
Suzuki: Hearing about The University of Tokyo: Vision 2020 directly from the members of its drafting committee truly deepened my understanding of the plan. Thank you very much.
UTokyo will join together forces both within and outside the University and Japan
to advance the collaborative creation of a new society
The discussion took place at the Special Meeting Room in the Yasuda Auditorium. The five participants enjoyed the creative collaboration of discussion against the backdrop of the wallpaper echoing back to a traditional motif once used in the Auditorium

1. Action Scenario: An action plan published by the 29th President Junichi Hamada in April 2009 to inform the public about the University's intentions and aspirations.

2. Seven Samurai: A 1954 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa. The members of the Action Scenario drafting committee were called the "Seven Samurai" because there were seven of them. Professor Sato's comment was inspired by the film.

Photos: Junichi Kaizuka

* This interview was originally printed in Tansei 32 (Japanese language only).

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