In his Jefferson Lecture tonight at 7, Edward Shils may be expected to hit the government squarely on the head for its "ham-handedness" and "flightiness."
Shils, a man of outspoken opinions, has as his topic the separation of state and university. What he sees as ham-handed and flighty is the government persuading universities to go ahead full steam on some project (the training of doctors, for example), and then dropping the matter flat, the instant government needs are satisfied.
Shils admits, though, that "it takes two" to make a seduction. Universities, he thinks, have often leapt into the arms of their seducer.
Each year the National Council on the Humanities chooses the Jefferson lecturer who is given $10,000. Shils' talk, in the Department Auditorium on Constitution between 12th and 14th Street, is expected to draw a capacity crowd of 1,500. It is free and the first of three talks Shils will make. The other two will be in Chicago and Austin, Tex.
His theme in all three is based on the admonition of Christ to "render unto Caesar" what is his, and to God what is his.
Shils is Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago's sociology department, where he began teaching in 1938. At 68 he is plump, bright-eyed and gregarious, loving (as he says) good food, good music, agreeable and polite people. He has never known what it is to be bored.
"I like everything. I have never had any desire for possessions like a pet tiger in my apartment (someone had mentioned a fellow who owned a tiger) and there is hardly anything that fails to interest me.
"Well, maybe I doN't like absolutely everything. Pornography, for instance, fails to interest me. And ruffians. Ruffians fighting in the streets, I don't like that."
He does not duck the implications, in his talk of strict standards and of a university's right to autonomy in appointing faculty, that he is opposed to such things as cutting off funds even if the government thinks not enough minorities are represented.
Shils, for example, has never quite seen how the appointment of unqualifield blacksto teach, or the acceptance of unqualified blacks into universities, has helped the cause of civil rights.
"There have been plenty of blacks who are not very good," he says, named to teaching positions, and "it's giving rise to resentments."
And yet race is peripheral to his greatest worry. If black rights or affirmative action were no issue at all, he would still be concerned that the government oversteps the line that should separate a university from a state.
A school owes the government many things, such as rational arguments, he says.
If there is opposition to a government position, he thinks a university, of all institutions, should argue rationally and soberly and courteously, avoiding cheap shots, inflammatory babble, unholy pressure and spiritual balckmail.
But the state owes the university, something, too, beginning with the acknowledgement that the chief function of a university is to pursue truth-if you will excuse the term-in this sense:
To think, to experiment, to search out more and more facts in physics, mathematics, the nature of Sanskrit classics, the language of an isolated tribe-you name it. To learn more and more and to understand as much as possible. And this without regard t o its seeming usefulness at the monent or its "relevance" or its "practical" value.
"But too often the government treats the university as thegoose that lays the golden egg. Or as a natural resource to be exploited at will "
And to be turned off the minute it has had enough.
"A university does not lay just golden eggs, but sometimes bad ones," he goes on.
He attaches enormous importance to the reinforcement a scholar or aresearcher gains from the academic community. A man's work may go slowly, meet endless obstacles, and he may have little to show for all his pains. But the belief that thousands of others are in spiritual tune with him on a tremendous frontier, each one pushing back the unknown-this sustains effort that might otherwise flag or fail.
A university has onlyso many resources of brains, of energy, of morale, and the state must observe restraint in what it asks a university to do.
He says the state, as the main giver of cash, is in a position of great power. For reasons of patriotism, or the prestige of government praise, or various other reasons, the university is under pressure to accede to government requests.
But a university is in a weak position to send the state a full bill for its services.
"The government didn't create the university," he points out, "nor the great aim of the university."
But the state too often treats the university as a natural force that would exist no matter how government used it and the state feels free to draw on the universitywithout paying any of the vast overhead.
It's as if, he goes on, a customer were to argue a Coca-Cola should cost two cents, since the can and the liquid aren't worth much. But, in fact, anybody buying a Coke is charged for the building and maintenance of plants, the interest on money invested in the operation and so on.
The state also should pay, he believes, not only for the particular research it requries, but also part ofthe overall cost of maintaining a university so that the site and meansof research are possible to begin with.
"By and large the state has kept hands off the affairs of the university," he has said. In general, the university has been free to appoint its faculty and assign its resources without much intereference.
But he views with suspicion and hostility the governments interest (through such agencies as the Department of Health, Education and Welfare) in "fairness" at a university. Not because he doesn't believe in fairness, but because he distrusts the politician's and the bureaucrat's commitment to intellectual rigor. The state can too easily yield to political pressure, being a political creature, after all, while a university's interests are best served by attracting and keeping the finest intellects.
"But how do you answer," he was asked, "if someone says the urgent need of the country is to do something about the reservoir of unemployed, under-educated blacks, says, and that inthe face of that need, things must yield?"
Shils trains his piercing gray eyes on the questioner and says, "don't forget that society is differentiated." The solution to black unemployment is not hastened, in other words, by making faculty appointments that are politically dandy, but intellectually suspect.
He digresses a bit into teacher's colleges and the jargon of administration which, he thinks, have managed virtually towreck American lower education.
"There are children who have never seen a map, and do not know the meaning of north and south. Children who cannot read a very simple textbook because they do not know what the words mean."
But the answer to that outrage is not, he thinks, to lower standards at a university.
In speaking of Caesar and God, by the way, Shils does not identify the university with God. But more than with Ceasar. CAPTION: Picture, Jefferson lecturer Edward Shils