This document may be too large for your printer buffer to handle. We
suggest downloading this document to a disk if printing difficulties are encountered or e-mailing
the author for a hard copy by clicking on his/her name.
I should like to propose, late on this pleasant Saturday afternoon in the gentle Tennessee springtime, the very unpleasant allegation that major research universities within the United States have failed, and failed badly. There are, in my
view, two very basic reasons for this failure:
The first reason is that our research institutions have not adjusted to the incredible diversity with which they have been either blessed or burdened over the past 30 to 50 years. Think for a moment about the large number of divisions --"divisions" meaning splits or chasms -- that exist currently within a university:
We are divided by our professions. Law, Medicine, Management, Engineering, Architecture, Social Work, Government, Education, and these are just the most basic categories. Management (or Business) can be further divided into at least three functions, four techniques, and three integrative areas
We are divided by our disciplines. All of the professions, with the possible exception of the Law, tie back to more basic learning in the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences, and each of these fields of study is further subdivided into the specific academic disciplines.
We are divided by our positions. We have senior officials, support staff, and maintenance workers in the central administration; deans, chairs, tenured, non-tenured, and adjunct faculty and staff in the schools and colleges; and PhD, graduate, and undergraduate levels among the students.
We are divided by our clients. We serve the potential employers of our graduates, the consulting contacts for our faculty, the organizations and journals of our disciplines, the local, state and national recipients of our services, and the alumni and donors who support our activities.
Lastly, we are divided by our backgrounds. We differ in ethnic traditions, national origins, racial types, economic levels, political orientations and social affiliations that, together with the other differences in professions, disciplines,
sositions and clients. frequentls make it difficult even for us to communicate.
Forty years ago Clark Kerr, then president of the University of California, in an elegant book titled "The Uses of the University" foresaw these divisions. He forecast that universities would become "separate academic disciplines and departments held together by a central heating system and common disputes over parking" He also said that planning, under those circumstances, would be limited to "a division of the spoils rather than a determination of the goals".
The latter prediction has also come true, and this is the second cause of the failure of research-based universities. We have not produced a clear statement of the mission or goal, or a compelling "vision of the possible" that is relevant to all of the members, all of the stakeholders of the university
"Stakeholder" is a concept that is very current in the applied ethics of management. The meaning is perhaps more subtle than frequently acknowledged. Stakeholders are people who are affected by, butwho can also in turn affect, the achievement of the goals of the organization.
Stakeholders, in short, are people who should not for very practical reasons be excluded from considering or at the very least knowing the mission or purpose or vision of the university, but under present methods of governance that has not happened. Why do we exist? What function do we serve? None of us know.
I am 70 years of age, and have been privileged to hold appointments, either
tenured or visiting, at a number of what are considered to be first-rate universities. I have never heard a college president discuss the goal or vision of a university in meaningful terms, except upon one occasion. That made an indelible impression upon me, and evidently also upon the others who were there then for they still speak of it now, so let me share that statement with you.
It occurred in September of 1946. The war was over, and Harvard was faced --as were all other colleges and universities -- with a tremendous influx of veterans. Some had started classes in '43, '44 or '45; others had been accepted, but never started. All now returned, many more than Harvard wanted, or felt they could accommodate. All eager to get on with their lives.
We were sent to Memorial Hall for registration, a large, musty, seldom used building, with long tables for those in charge of the class lists. Latter we were directed to Saunders Theatre, a large, musty, seldom used lecture hall, to hear President James B. Conant explain how Harvard planned to adjust to this huge student body, and still maintain the quality of its education.
President Conant, an early scholar in physical chemistry and one of the major developers of the atomic bomb, looked out over this sea of veterans, many still wearing odd bits and pieces of their uniforms and some still scarred with wounds and memories, and talked not about the problems of adjusting, but about the opportunities. He did not apologize to us. He challenged us.
A college education, he said, should be for the sole purpose of improving the nation and the society. There was much to do, but to do it well would require technical competence in science and engineering, political skill in government, and a human perception in the goals of society and a personal knowledge of the ends of life that could come only from the humanities.
We should, he concluded, get on with this task of learning, jointly not separately. For his part, he planned to teach both physics and chemistry, and all other faculty had added sections. A cynic might say that he was encouraging us to be more general in our course selections to avoid overcrowding in the science lab courses, but James Conant was not a person who ever attempted to mislead.
Why is what he expressed 50 years ago not a worthwhile purpose for the research university today? Why should not a university exist for the purpose of improving the society of which it is a part? Why should we not, faculty, students, administrators, alumni, and donors together, select, study, design, experiment, and attempt to solve some of the major problems that exist within our society, and why should we not work jointly, rather than separately.
We certainly have enough problems to address. Primary and secondary educational programs are not as good as they could be. Public services are not as efficient or as effective as they might be. Health care and social welfare providers are not as caring as they should be. Inner cities. Violence. Land use. Presidential selection. The list goes on and on.
We certainly have the knowledge to address those problems. If we don't, that is the function of research. The difficulty is that our knowledge is too specialized, too fragmented, too inappropriately placed. What we need is a matrix, with task forces for each of the problems cutting across the schools, departments and disciplines of the university, starting to tie this disparate enterprise back together.
We have this matrix to a very limited extent now. At the University of Michigan -- and at others, as well, I now understand -- the Business School and the Engineering School have finally recognized that the basic design of a product influences the cost and quality of the manufacturing process, and we have started a joint masters program attempting to improve both product and process.
Why cannot the School of Architecture work with the Sociology and Civil Engineering Departments to design public housing that will improve the quality of life for many citizens? Why cannot Law, Engineering, and Life Sciences act to reduce pollution and expand recycling? Why cannot we all, with heavy input from the Humanities, attempt to deal with cities and crime in meaningful ways.
Lastly, if we do not do this, who will? The social and political history of the last 30 years has shown only that federal and state governments have attempted, and failed. to improve societies. Perhaps the failure came because the efforts focused on the competing interests of the participants rather than the "common good" of the society.
What has ethics to do with all of this? My answer is that ethics is central to any effort to focus a research university upon very pragmatic efforts to improve the society of which we are all a part: If earlier efforts failed because they neglected the "common good", then it would seem essential that some notions of that good must prevail.
Ethical principles are clearly the only means we have to judge the improvement of society. How else can we define a "good" society, and attempt to measure the different aspects of "improvement" unless we combine concepts of outcomes, duties, justice, liberty, and virtue? How else can we form some notion of a "cause worth servin/' if the cause itself is not worthy of dignity and respect?
Ethical principles are clearly the only means we have to ensure the cooperation of the cross-disciplinary teams of students, faculty, administrators, donors, and members of the public? One definition of a "good" society is that it is one in which all cooperate for the benefit of all, in which "other-interest" is on the same level as "self-interest", and in which trust, commitment, and effort predominate
Ethical principles are clearly the only means we have to determine the legitimacy of conducting experiments -- even those in which the participants ask to be included -- with other peoples lives. I would like to suggest that this lack of ethical consideration was the primary cause of the failure of earlier governmental efforts to improve our society.
Let me make very clear that by "ethical principles" I do not mean any specific political or economic system, and by "ethical consideration" I do not mean any particular social outlook. I mean only that we must consider "what is right", "what is just", "what is fair". What, if anything do we "owe" to other members of society? What, if anything, do we mean when we talk of integrity, excellence, and character?
The traditional ethical principles can help us to answer those questions. I
look upon these principles as together constituting a filtering device. They will not individually lead us to an irrevocable conclusion which all will necessarily support. They will, however, jointly lead us to an improved understanding which all can openly discuss. Let me describe nine of these principles very briefly:
Self interests (Protagoras). We should select the act or policy that most improves our own long-term self interests, for the rational long-term self interests of one person automatically include the self-interests of others within society
Personal virtues (Aristotle). We should select the act or policy that most meets our standards of personal excellence - openness, honesty, truthfulness -- for those virtues will reduce conflicts between contending groups within society.
Religious injunctions (St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas). We should select the act or policy that shows the greatest compassion or consideration for those acts will increase the sense of community, of "togetherness" within society.
Government requirements (Hobbes and Locke). We should select the act or policy that most meets the requirements of the law based upon social contract concepts for such a law represents the minimal moral standards of society.
Universal duties (Kant). We should select the act or policy that most meets the test of universality, and consequently treat each individual with dignity and respect, for a consistently respectful society is a good society.
Individual liberties (Rousseau and Jefferson). We should select the act or policy that maximizes the rights, both negative (against repression) and positive (for sustenance) of individuals, for rights and consequent duties define society.
Market forces (Smith). We should select the act or policy that most meets impersonal market demands for output products and input factors, while recognizing external costs, for this will achieve greatest economic effficiency for society.
Distributive justice (Rawls). We should select the act or policy that most meets the rule that inequalities in distribution are justifiable only if they work to the advantage of all, for this will result in the most just society.
Contributive liberty (Nozick). We should select the act or policy that most meets the rule that we should never interfere with the self-development of others, for liberty is more basic than justice and this will result in the most free society.
In conclusion, ethical principles of the type just noted should not just be part of the curriculum at a research university. They should be part of the university. They should be the means of focusing our abilities, resolving our differences, and inspiring our efforts. Ethicists for years have been asking such questions as, "What is the common good?" "What are our rights and duties?" 'WVhat is justice, and how is it that attained?" 'What is liberty, and how is that maintained?" 'What is integrity, and how is that produced?" "What, in short, is excellence in all its manifestations?" I think that those same questions should permeate, direct, and focus the
research university. Thank you.