With the blessing of Pope John Paul II, the praises of Vice President Walter Mondale, and in the presence of richly robed academicians from more than 100 colleges and university around the nation, Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino yesterday was installed as the 12th president of the Catholic University of America.
In his inaugural address at rites at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Pellegrino, only the second layman to head the school in its 90-year history, stresses the importance of the ethical dimension in higher education.
"The Central intellectual malaise in higher education today," he said "is the malaise of value-free learning, of studied moral neutralism, of a defect in equipping students to make value decisions in a morally pluralistic society."
He asserted that democratic societies "cannot survive . . . without the capacity to judge critically about values and morals."
He faulted higher education for failing over the years to raise moral and ethical issues. The ethical dilemmas of American life today, he said, were "created by the universities of two decades ago-universities excelling in the acquisition of knowledge and techniques but overcommitted to moral neutrality and value-free teaching."
Pellegrino, a physician who specializes in internal medicine, came to Catholic University last fall from the presidency of Yale-new haven Medical Center where, as Mondale pointed out, he pioneered in the development of courses in medical ethics.
His formal inauguration as president was postponed by the deaths last summer of two popes.
The formation of Catholic University was begun by American bishops of the Roman Catholic Church meeting in the historic Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866, and opened its doors in 1889. It is the only university in this country under papal sponsorship.
Begun as a "graduate school of sacred sciences," the 8,000-student institution today includes nine schools at both graduate and undergraduate level.
Ironically for the new physician president, who has spent most of his professional career in medical education, Catholic University has no medical school. To keep his hand in, Pellegrino lectures occasionally at Georgetown Medical School across town. He plans to teach there regularly this summer "when his schedule is lighter." a spokesperson said.
Mondale praised Pellegrino, the son of an Italian immigrant, as "one of the most decent, caring and dedicated educators in America today."
"His whole life has been a symbol of everything that we should cherish in America today," Mondale asserted.
In his address, Pellegrino stressed the relationship of faith to scholarship. "Any university under religious auspices helps man to locate himeself in an important dimension of human experience," he said. "No man is educated who has not formed his own opinion about the divine and the transcendental."
He said "it is the responsibility of Catholic universities to perserve, enrich and examine the beliefs that constitute Christian Catholic humanism for all who wish to examine it critically and sympathetically," and that other religious traditions have a like responsibility.
He said "it is the responsibility of Catholic universities to preserve, enrich and examine the beliefs that constitute Christian Catholic humanism for all who wish to examine it critically and sympathetically," and that other religious traditions have a like responsibility.
Acknowledging frequent conflicts throughout history between reason and faith, the new president suggested ways to minimize such confrontations.
"If Catholic universities wish to be regarded seriously as constructive critics of culture," he said, "they must learn to speak with authority and without authoritarianism, of morality without moralizing, of the spirit of the law without idolizing the letter, of licit limits to dissent without repressing new explorations of all truths."
Pellegrino is the author of more than 200 articles, papers and books in his own area of specialization. His inqugural address, studded with references to scholars of many disciplines, reflected his reputation as a humanist and philosopher aa well as a scientist.