Pusey Tells Seniors To Redirect Energy And Try to Reform
Students who are angry about social problems should not simply lash out at social institutions especially the universities--President Pusey said yesterday.
Instead of trying to "flout authority and smash institutions," Pusey said that students should "set about calmly and rationally committed to make. . .something good" of the social system.
Pusey made his plea for "constructive reform" in his Baccalaureate Address to the class of 1969. About 130 seniors--25 of them wearing red armbands over the black gowns--came to Memorial Church for the Baccalaureate services.
Early in his speech, Pusey said that the old ivory-tower model of a university detached from society was out of date. Modern students are involved in social problems, he said, and they demand involvement from their universities.
Pusey then spent the rest of his speech arguing that the "commendable" desire to root out social evil should not lead students into mindless attacks on authority and power.
Describing the toppling of the ivory-tower concept, Pusey alluded to a 1957 Commencement speech by art historian Erwin Panofsky. Panofsky had said that the university should be a "quiet, detached place devoted primarily to study and contemplation," where scholars could see things that those closer to the action could not.
"How quaint and old-fashioned his view has become," Pusey said. He then claimed that this swing away from the ivory tower had created split opinions on what the university's new role should be.
"Most of us continue to take for granted that a university is intended to serve learning, but many now want the university also to become directly involved and engaged with the world outside," Pusey said. "Some few--careless about learning if not contemptuous of it--have gone further and would turn the university into a political instrument."
"The current cry--in itself commendable--is for action, that something be done to set ancient ills and injustices right--right now."
Because of the new call for involvement, Pusey said that the old isolated scholars stance "is scorned as flimsy pretext for self-indulgence. It is demanded rather that he get down on the ground and join without equivocation in the march on poverty, racial injustice, and other social ills which mar our age."
Admitting that it was too early to judge the merit of the new mood, Pusey offered the seniors "a few brief remarks" on their role as social reformers.
He first described one attitude towards change, the stand taken by those who "simply hate society as it is presently constituted. . .For them the world is a hostile, hateful world full of injustice and shameful deficiency."
To explain the social injustices, these students turn to conspiracy theories about "malicious connivings and exploitations on the part of those in positions of power and authority."
From that analysis, students come to the conclusion that their only redress is to "flout authority and smash institutions." Pusey said that view was "all-too-simple," and developed a long alternative.
Pusey argued that a war against authority per se was misguided, saying that:
* flouting one form of authority often invites a different and more repressive form;
* institutions and authority do not always inhibit people, but are rather "instruments for human advance. . .the very gurantors of continued high civilization and of human freedom";
* since some kind of authority--good or bad--will always exist, reformers should focus their efforts on making the institutions as good as possible.
Feeding these problems, Pusey said, was a style of thinking that blames all social imperfections on intentional conspiracies. Too many people overlook "life's accidental quality, its tragedy and its comedy," he said.
"Imperfectibility will mark your lives as it has the lives of those who have gone before you. Every day in every way we are not getting better."
But even though students will not be able to wish the problems away miraculously, Pusey said, their "commendable impatience with evil and unusual indignation about wrongdoing" may be a source for "creative strength and for society great and good."
Pusey concluded by saying he was sorry that students thought the university "was an appropriate first object for revolutionary zeal." Instead of seeing the university as "the wicked servant of a wicked world," he said that "it would seem to me that the institution before all institutions which university men would choose not to attack in anger and in hate with intent to maim or cripple or destroy . . . would be the university itself.