2023 New Year’s greeting from the University President
A Happy New Year to you all.
Please accept my warmest greetings at the beginning of the year 2023.
Last year, a major event occurred when Russia invaded Ukraine by military force on February 24. The war continues to this day. The day after the invasion, I issued a statement as President of the University of Tokyo saying that this attempt to unilaterally change the international situation by military force was completely unacceptable and that a peaceful solution should be achieved through dialogue and negotiation. I felt it was important for our university to make our position clear as soon as possible in order to show that we do not tolerate or condone the unjust invasion and human rights violations. It was also important that we offer support to those in need.
In March, we formulated and announced a special program for the admission of students and scholars who had lost their places of study and research. At the same time, we established “Emergency Relief Fund for Scholars and Students at Risk” to quickly and securely provide housing, livelihood, and financial support for those who were accepted. To date, we have accepted 35 students and researchers, 29 of whom have actually arrived in Japan. The fund has received more than 300 donations totaling 15 million yen. We are very grateful to the many donors as well as to the faculty and staff who have worked so hard to make this program a reality.
The basic idea behind “nurturing people” advocated by UTokyo Compass is to expand the abilities of ambitious students and then help them realize their dreams. However, war does not take into account the feelings of individuals; rather, it tramples on their dreams and aspirations and drastically changes their lives. Eighty years ago, more than three thousand students of this university were forced to abandon their studies and go to war under the name of “wartime mobilization of students.” It is said that more than 1,600 soldiers affiliated with our university were killed in the war. Even for those students who returned, the time lost to the war could never be recovered.
Such crisis situations are happening now not only in Ukraine but in various places around the world. We have all followed the news about the difficulties faced by people in harsh situations in places such as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Kurdistan, and Myanmar. The reason the University of Tokyo has made statements and established acceptance programs in response to the invasion of Ukraine is not because Ukraine is special. Rather, we want to use our response to the events in Ukraine as a model for establishing ways to deal with the various situations that may unfortunately arise in the future. As a university that serves the global public, we must fulfill our responsibility by raising the international awareness of each member of our faculty and staff and developing the ability to respond to events at home and abroad with fair and appropriate judgments.
At the Matriculation Ceremony last April, I spoke about entrepreneurship. I believe that our university should promote entrepreneurship because it fosters the ability to persevere in the face of challenges, the ability to think of new possibilities for solutions, and the talent to work with others to achieve those solutions. The practice of entrepreneurship is also linked to the importance of “care,” which is the ability to identify potential needs and wants in society and act accordingly. I encouraged the incoming students to have the courage to act. This message, coming from the University of Tokyo, received a great response.
Also in April, when I had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch of the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League, I was reminded of the important role universities have played in promoting sports in Japan. It is said that the word yakyū, the Japanese translation of the word “baseball,” was coined by Kanae Chūman, a graduate of the University of Tokyo, while compiling the history of the university’s baseball team. The Athletic Foundation of the University of Tokyo has sections for more than fifty sports in addition to baseball. Our athletes are constantly striving to improve their competitive abilities and to manage athletic competitions, including the National Seven Universities Athletic Meet, for which we currently serve as the lead school. Such extracurricular activities of our students are an important part of their university experience, and I hope we can support them both materially and mentally. Today, our university’s involvement in sports is expanding in many ways. For example, our researchers are improving the skills of elite athletes through sports science research that makes full use of information technology to measure and analyze physical activity. They are also helping people of all ages maintain their mental and physical health by exploring ways for people to exercise safely and without strain.
Since international students became able to come to Japan again from the autumn semester of 2022, the strict atmosphere of self-restraint that had affected events both inside and outside the university has eased. Many countries and regions of the world have already made the full transition to the post-COVID era. While divisions among countries have increased in some respects, I believe it is a good sign that discussions on important global issues that had been stalled have now resumed in earnest.
At the Presidents’ Meeting of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) that I attended in May, I heard in detail about the development of new COVID vaccines by University of Oxford in collaboration with AstraZeneca. As soon as the genetic sequence of the Wuhan virus was announced in January 2020, University of Oxford quickly gave the go-ahead for the development of new vaccines.
Developing vaccines for practical use requires large-scale clinical trials and investment. In UTokyo Compass, we stated that the ability to creatively design our own practices “as an institution that serves the public good worldwide” is our “management capacity” and that “it is this kind of management that the university must develop for itself to expand its scope as an academic institution.” The fact that University of Oxford was able to successfully develop a vaccine in collaboration with AstraZeneca and share it on a nonprofit basis is a strong testament to the importance of universities having sufficient resources with discretionary power to manage themselves.
Last June, I participated in Stockholm+50, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. At Stockholm+50, our discussions focused on the initiatives needed to maintain a healthy planet. Although the rapid increase in public discussion and the development of green technology may suggest that progress is being made toward this goal, the Global South is still forced to suffer the negative effects of overdevelopment by the countries of the Global North. In this sense, the agreement reached at COP27 last November to establish a loss and damage fund in response to these challenges is a step forward. Similar issues were discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos last May, which focused on the theme of “History at a Turning Point.” As the world view that peace and prosperity will be achieved through globalization is now being challenged, I believe that the leadership role that universities should play in society has also reached a new inflection point.
In October, I attended the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in New York. There, I discussed with representatives from Spain, the Middle East, and North Africa how we can strengthen our partnerships with other institutions and create universities that are adaptable, viable, and responsive to new needs. In addition to promoting internationalization through our strategic partnerships with nine universities and university groups around the world, the University of Tokyo also pursues a wide range of interdisciplinary exchanges involving our faculty, staff, and students. Last year, we renewed our partnership agreement with University Alliance Stockholm Trio, expanding our exchanges with them beyond engineering and education to include medicine and the life sciences.
Another remarkable aspect of the international conferences I attended last year was the active participation and comments of the younger generation, including university students. At the Stockholm+50 conference, there were discussions referring to a Stockholm+100 conference fifty years from now, which made me realize again how important it is to recognize the proactive participation of people in their 20s and even younger, as they will play a central role in creating a sustainable future.
In October, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel came to the Hongo Campus and spoke about his experiences at age 19 and about career development. 19 of our students attended this event. In November, Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever, who is a leader in promoting sustainability and helped formulate the SDGs, participated in a talk session attended by our students. Both events provided excellent opportunities for our students to take part in active discussions. I hope that we can provide more such opportunities for our students to interact directly with global leaders who can serve as role models for them.
UTokyo Compass was announced in September 2021, and last year many actions were taken based on it. For example, in October, the University of Tokyo formulated “UTokyo Climate Action”, an action plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This effort is necessary to participate in the “Race to Zero”, and our progress will be regularly reviewed and adjustments made as necessary. In the coming months and years, we will develop specific actions so that students, faculty, and staff can work together to achieve our goals.
Another important step is “UTokyo Statement on Diversity & Inclusion”, which we issued last June. There is a tendency in human society to regard the majority in a group as the “norm” and to exclude those who deviate from that “norm” as a minority or as somehow lacking. This way of thinking represents only a superficial understanding of what is most easily seen, and it closes off opportunities to broaden our perspectives on the world. To translate knowledge into action, we must be able to imagine the world as seen by people of diverse backgrounds. Last fall, we announced a plan to hire 300 new female professors and associate professors. Our goal is not just to meet a numerical target. We also want to improve the working environment and promote a change in attitudes, including among younger people. I hope that the voluntary efforts of the departments responsible for recruitment will help to make our campuses places that anyone in the world would want to join.
What I hope to achieve through these reforms is the creation of a “new university model,” as we have indicated in UTokyo Compass. If there is no model for what a university should be in today’s increasingly complex society, then we must create one ourselves.
To create such a model, I believe it is essential for me to engage in dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders. That is why I attended the 19th Annual Meeting of the Science and Technology in Society forum held last October; this has been called the “Davos of science and technology.” In the session I chaired, we affirmed that interdisciplinary research is essential to solving global problems, and we discussed the importance of collaboration and research funding that breaks down the traditional silos of research fields and promotes dialogue between industry and academia.
In December, we co-hosted Tokyo Forum 2022 with the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies. The theme was “Dialogue between Philosophy and Science.” In the face of major problems such as war, pandemics, and climate change, universities must create a new common philosophy that can be deployed on a global scale and expand science with self-critical ability and ethical sensitivity. With SDGs often being mentioned these days, there is a growing recognition of the need to achieve inclusive development that leaves no one behind. However, the meaning of “development” is not self-evident and not necessarily shared. It tends to be seen as economic growth and an increase in material well-being, but “development” as it has been understood in the past, that is, the acquisition of resources and the disposal of wastes without regard to responsibility for the future of each individual, is no longer viable. We are approaching the limits of the Earth’s resources, and there are no regions left to exploit. I hope that the University of Tokyo will contribute to the creation and promotion of knowledge to confront this situation head on.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us all an opportunity to pause and begin a real dialogue about solutions to global problems. Online technology has become a part of our lives at an amazing pace, and global dialogue across borders has been able to advance rapidly. I myself have been able to participate in more international conferences than I ever imagined. Now that we seem to be entering the post-COVID era, we are finally able to meet people face to face again and have global dialogues in person. Rather than simply returning to the pre-pandemic era, we can now combine the best of the virtual and the real, the cyber and the physical, to engage in dialogue with people around the world.
In November, a cherry tree-planting ceremony was held at the Koishikawa Botanical Garden. This small event was another realization of our desire to continue the work of our university while considering global issues. The ceremony was planned by the Czech Republic, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, in cooperation with UTokyo and the nonprofit Cherry Blossom Association (Ikuokai). Among the attendees were students and researchers that UTokyo is hosting from Ukraine, as well as the Ukrainian ambassador and representatives of EU countries. At the ceremony, I was able to reaffirm UTokyo’s commitment to solidarity with and support for Ukraine.
The year 2023 marks the third year of my tenure as President of the University of Tokyo, the halfway point of my term. As the principles of UTokyo Compass gradually gain traction both inside and outside the University, I intend to take on a variety of challenges to help the University of Tokyo move forward even more resolutely toward our goals. When I spoke at my first matriculation ceremony after taking office, I mentioned the words of Professor Hideo Itokawa: “No-one’s done it before, so let’s give it a try!” With that in mind, I would like to build this new year of 2023 together with all of you.
I wish you all the best for the coming year.
February 2, 2023
FUJII Teruo, President
The University of Tokyo