IN Beyond the Ivory Tower Derek Bok presents an ex-
tremely well written, thoughtful and cogent analysis of some of the most complex and emotional issues before higher education today. Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, colleges and universities have been grappling with the thorny problem of defining their relationship to the broader society, trying to determine whether they should take positions on issues of social concern, and, if so, how.
Bok asks all the hard questions which have grown out of that debate: Should academic institutions engage in affirmative action in admissions and hiring policies? Should they have consulting relationships, patent procedures and research agreements with individual corporations? Should they enter into entrepreneurial ventures with members of their own faculties to exploit discoveries in recombinant DNA? What should the role of universities be with respect to research in such areas as the cloning of human beings or the modification of human behavior? Should universities provide technical assistance abroad? And should they refuse monetary gifts from certain individuals or firms?
To be sure, this is an ambitious agenda and a timely one. There is an enormous benefit in addressing these questions when there is no major crisis brewing to cloud their analysis.
Bok recognizes that universities cannot, even if they wish, isolate themselves from society; they have a social role. The challenge is to define that role in ways that keep faith with the basic academic mission of providing a place for free inquiry and the pursuit of truth.
Bok brings to Beyond the Ivory Tower careful reasoning and balanced judgment. This is clearly the work not only of a university president but of a lawyer. He has a pragmatic respect for the legal implications involved in these questions as well as for their more obvious moral ramifications. He emphasizes concepts such as due process and applies judgmental tests such as the views of the "reasonable man." These guidelines serve Bok well as he navigates through the series of prickly questions which he poses.
He evaluates each question by presenting the full spectrum of ideologies surrounding it and then returns to a fundamental touchstone, namely: Is the university's involvement with the activity in question supportive of and consonant with the university's basic role of providing a place, indeed a haven, for free inquiry and the pursuit of truth in which academic research, teaching and learning may flourish? If the answer is no, then Bok concludes that the university should not participate in the enterprise. Concomitantly, any activity not in harmony philosophically with the role of a university or the academic mission will lead to serious administrative problems in its implementation and supervision. "Universities," he concludes, "have an important responsibility to address social needs through their normal academic functions, such as teaching programs, research, or technical assistance."
Further, he says, "Universities must constantly address moral issues and ethical responsibilities in all their relations with the outside world. . . . Within this framework of basic social obligations, universities also have obligations to uphold certain academic values that are widely considered essential to the progress of learning and discovery. These responsibilities include a commitment to maintain an atmosphere within the institution that leaves every member as free as possible to learn, to search for knowledge and to express his own individual beliefs."
This approach justifies, in his view, university responsiveness to social inequality by affirmative action in admission policies, but does not justify formal statements on political issues. If such relative neutrality is disappointing to some who would urge that universities assume a more active and activist posture in matters of social significance, it is undoubtedly equally disturbing to those who would counsel strict neutrality.
The key to understanding the wisdom of Bok's position is an understanding of the role of the liberal arts themselves. Training in the liberal arts encourages the intellectual and personal qualities necessary for dealing with the most important issues of the day. The liberal arts are basically concerned with the fundamental questions of human existence. They illustrate and draw upon the wisdom of the past; they foster an awareness of the continuity of cultural traditions; they actively promote our attention to basic human values, ethics and civic responsibility. They assure us that other men and women in other times have coped with problems as weighty and grave as our own. And it is the liberal arts which teach one to think and to learn and to call upon one's imagination and heart.
As Bok implicitly, if not always explicity, suggests, those skills and sensitivities, and the university environment which supports them, themselves foster the social dynamics and value system to produce the kind of society many activists seek. It is not the university's role to articulate positions on specific issues, but rather to promote social responsibility by providing a place and atmosphere in which those skills and sensitivities can best be developed through normal academic undertakings. Ironically then, while a standard of relative neutrality may not please either activists or traditionalists entirely, it nevertheless serves them both well: enabling a university to play a social role while maintaining its focus on its fundamental academic mission.
The appropriate functions for higher education today are enormous undertakings and carry with them a great trust: the duty to help define and communicate our value system while seeking to discover the broader truths of life. If, along the way, the posture of relative institutional neutrality yields an inconsistency or two, or, on occasion, what may be recognized by all concerned as a less than fully satisfactory solution to a particular problem, that may simply be the inevitable by-product of higher education's having assumed an inherently inconsistent role of providing a pure environment for the pursuit of truth while simultaneously being a participant in the affairs of society. If this is candidly acknowledged, if the value of the special environment which the university provides and the fact that its academic mission is supportive of a social role is appreciated, and if we can bring to each issue the kind of cogent and humane analysis that Derek Bok suggests, then the formula should prove eminently workable and satisfactory.