Nearly four dozen of the world's great institutions of higher learning were founded before 1500, some of them long before. China's Nanjing University, for example, dates back to the year 258. Morocco's University of Al Karaouine was founded in 859, Italy's University of Bologna in 1088, France's University of Paris in 1150, England's University of Oxford in 1167. And so on.
These institutions have outlived empires. They've survived financial cataclysms, pandemics, and wars. They've seen the rise and fall of successive political movements and economic systems, not to mention the birth and death of countless corporations.
There's a reason for that. And I think it's a reason worth pondering at a time when our economy has been undergoing such upheaval, and when our country has been forced to ask itself, in stark terms, what it is about.
Societies—our own in particular—seem to go through cycles where values like integrity and caring come to be widely viewed as ponderous relics. Fascination grows with "me-first" routes to success, which somehow grow increasingly alluring, until they're suddenly exposed as destructive illusions, typically at a terrible cost to the population as a whole.
And then the ancient lesson has to be learned all over again: core values are not only forever-relevant, they are in fact the glue that holds everything else together. Whenever they get lost in the frenzy, sooner or later, things get derailed.
At NYU Langone Medical Center, our mission is all about core values. They have defined us since our founding in 1841. The same is true of the ideals of the wider University, which was built on the then-revolutionary concept that education should be open to all, not just those born to privilege—that it should welcome students of all national origins, religious beliefs, and social backgrounds.
On April 18th, still deriving its ultimate strength from the aspirations of its motto—"to persevere and to excel"—New York University will be 178 years old.