We have recently seen a strong and much publicized defense of a university's financial dealings from the president of Harvard, Derek Bok. It is tightly reasoned, and is interesting. It has been given national prominence, since the issue is one that has faced many universities, including this one. It takes, however, a position that I do not think that the religious traditions of Georgetown University will ever permit it to take. Read at its worst, and perhaps in public platforms it is easier to read things at their worst, it claims that the university is in its external activity, and, by implication, in its internal teaching and research, a moral neuter. I do not think Georgetown wants to or can accept that definition of itself.
It seems to me that there are several major accents missing from the Harvard paper that Georgetown ought to labor to supply. The first of these is the understanding of the being and function of the university as principally centered in its undergraduate instruction, in the preparation of new citizens for an ever renewing republic, in the give and take of the relatively unstructured, partially unspecialized and explosive undergraduate classroom. In this arena the university's best teaching is done, over the course of the years the greatest challenge is issued to every bit of its received wisdom, and the important mesh is made between clear thinking and high living. Great universities in the Western tradition have acknowledged that the heart and center of their works are their undergraduate colleges.Whether you call this the liberal-arts tradition, modern humanism or simply an American college, doesn't matter much. This is a common note that goes all the way back to Georgetown's tiny grandfather in St. Omers, and well beyond it into the medieval beginnings of universities themselves. If that is the case, and if a university acknowledges this reality, then the notion of its being a moral cipher is unsupportable. There is no way in which we can claim that the good life is not an ultimate purpose of the examined life. And to lock ourselves within that examination is to cut our students off from the best learning their undergraduate years should bring them, and to reduce faculty to the shadow of their humanity.
It is perfectly clear that the president of Harvard did not mean to say this much about the internal reality of his university. It is precisely because the investment problems he raises cannot be put in strictly intellectual terms that they are problems in the first place. If the only moral issue facing the university is the use to which it puts its money, in the state of all our poverties (and in that I would include Harvard) there is very little possibility of immoral expense. But the problem of what support a university receives, for what purpose, under what circumstances, with what strings attached, and how it uses that support once it is received is not a matter that can be decided strictly on whether or not the cause of learning be advanced. The truth is a larger issue.
. . . oon a huge hill, Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will Reach her, about must, and about must go, And what the hill's suddenness resists, win so.
In this thicket of issues, Georgetown has not yet brought its own thinking into the clear. We should be grateful to President Bok for his courage in opening up the discussion. Our own position is now before a university committee, and I don't wish to preempt its recommendations. On the other hand, it is obvious to me that Harvard's desire to lean backward to avoid public moral stances is not a posture suitable to Georgetown. We are grateful, but we will not follow. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption