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Haskins Laboratory president touts importance of research (Released: 5/19/96)

by Richard Veilleux, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Carol A. Fowler, president of Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Sunday afternoon told nearly 1,500 advanced degree recipients at the University of Connecticut to never forget the importance of basic research, and urged them to fight for funding of the sciences as they move into careers in teaching, business, research, and scientific study.

"I would like to emphasize how important it is that society support the largely basic research and scholarship that goes on in this country almost uniquely in academic institutions. Its importance lies in the crucial contributions it makes, albeit necessarily slowly and inefficiently, to the survival and development of human culture. I urge all of you, whatever your own career goals may be, always to support allocation of sufficient resources to basic research and scholarship, which will help to promote not so much the short-term requirements of human societies, but their long- term health and well-being," she said.

Fowler, who earned her master's (1973) and doctoral degrees (1977) from UConn and, as president of Haskins Labs, holds dual teaching appointments at UConn and Yale University, also told the graduates they must always guard against becoming dispassionate in their work, "so that we do not gradually stop thinking, stop learning, and stop caring about the work...Dispassion is too close to apathy and it tends to be correlated with a willingness to live with mutually inconsistent outcomes of different sets of observations: passion or caring is required to keep digging, to keep thinking, in order to determine how apparently contradictory observations can emerge in this one world whose relevant characteristics we are struggling to understand."

Fowler's career has been devoted to the study of the brain and the intricacies of how people hear, receive, and translate speech. She is one of the top five researchers in the world in the study of speech perception -- how the brain processes language -- and has made major contributions in the area for 20 years, adding to both research findings and theoretical development. She has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship for her efforts.

Fowler's speech and the awarding of 1,232 master's degrees, 28 professional diplomas in education, and 252 doctoral degrees, marked the end of UConn's 113th Commencement and, with it, the last of six Commencements presided over by President Harry J. Hartley, who announced his resignation in February. Hartley will return to a teaching post in the School of Education, where he began his UConn career 24 years ago. Saturday, he told nearly 2,800 bachelor's degree candidates that the Class of 1996 would always hold a special place in his heart.

Sunday, Hartley also presented honorary degrees to four international stars in their respective fields, including Barbara Chase-Riboud, an author, poet and sculptor who has produced four novels, several volumes of poetry and dozens of sculptures; Simon Konover of West Hartford, a survivor of Nazi labor camps, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Holocaust, who created and built one of the largest real estate development companies in the nation; Patrick A. McKeown, one of the world's leading experts in the field of high precision manufacturing, and the former chairman and CEO of Cranfield Precision Engineering Ltd.; and Laural T. Ulrich, the winner of a 1991 Pulitzer Prize in history for her book, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, and a professor of early American history and women's studies at Harvard University.

Sunday Fowler warned the graduates that success in research does not come easily. And, she said, the most serious flaw in a researcher "is that of misrepresenting or fabricating findings.

"What distinguishes the best from the very worst (is) a commitment to the highest standards of ethical practice, and that of course in another essential responsibility of those of us who live a life of scholarship. What we publish remains published for all time. No local goal such as getting a raise because we appear to be productive, getting tenure, achieving fame, can balance the damage to our field, to our profession and, ultimately, to humankind that occurs when evidence is misrepresented in print," she said.

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