Pusey Praises Activism, Deplores 'Assertiveness'
President Pusey yesterday praised the current college generation for its active concern with social issues. At the same time, the President cautioned against "assertiveness, uninformed aggressiveness and self-will" in student protest actions.
"Against the background of the disturbances and demonstrations that rocked so many college communities this year, what I have wanted to say to you today is that if the fruits of college education are apathy, indifference, and self-justifying lack of concern, surely something has gone wrong," Pusey said in his Baccalaureate address before rows of black-robed seniors in Memorial Church.
"But something also is wrong if the alternative which presents itself is self-righteous, destructive action motivated by personal aggrandizement or hostility or even only by sullen discontent," he continued.
Pusey, who was graduated from Harvard in 1928, noted that "unqualified approbation of the activist role comes hard for one of my generation."
"A very considerable majority of us prided ourselves on standing aloof from causes and demonstrations," Pusey continued. "We left matters of these kinds for people we thought unimaginative and excessively earnest."
Lauds His Generation
Pusey said his generation--"despite what must surely even then have appeared to many an insufferable, supercilious attitude on our part"--was determined "to serve a deeper and worthier range of values than those which seemed to us to be held popularly in honor in our culture at that time."
Pusey said that Harvard's history is full of "intelligent protesters who acted from conviction." Among others, he cited Presidents Eliot and Conant, Henry David Thoreau, the Roosevelts and John F. Kennedy.
By contrast, Pusey said, "involvement seems now to be everything, and I am prepared to concede if this be your view that it represents advance."
"You do have a livelier understanding than we did that ethics are not merely personal, but also and inescapably corporate and social," said the President. "You have come to see that to be personally satisfying and life-giving, any ethics which are to command your assent have to be your ethics; they cannot be ethics devised and held by someone else for you or ethics acquired through words without personal involvement."
Pusey said that the middle group between timidity and aggressiveness could be found with "awareness, knowledge, and understanding, and concern. These are qualities which Harvard would like to have helped to strengthen in you.