President Bok deserves credit for his annual report, which focused on educating morality. Bok displayed a refreshing willingness to question how the College, Faculty and graduate schools have gone about teaching and acting ethically. However, Bok must take measures to reform the morals of Mass Hall to keep his program afloat.
Bok looked at the moral scandals surrounding Ivan Boesky, Oliver North and Jim Bakker, and told us there is "a national preoccupation" surrounding ethics--one that will soon bring universities "under scrutiny." He treated the reader to a three-page history of moral instruction in this country. He charted his own "viable program of moral education."
The key question plaguing Bok is tough: How does a university teach a student ethics without actually forcing certain moral values on him or her. He responds to it by pulling together many of his arguments from past speeches and interviews--the importance of applied ethics and moral reasoning classes, community service, ethical standards of the institution and the university's "environment."
Because of his respect for students' freedom in deciding their moral values, Bok turns away from the curriculum to "efforts beyond the classroom" to teach ethics. But like his opening analogy about the hollowness of Commencement Day platitudes, Bok's report is not an "accurate description of the facts" concerning the University's ethical standards. In a number of areas, Harvard policy has failed to act ethically "in dealing with moral issues facing the university."
*Divestment: Bok has not only refused to divest of Harvard holdings in companies doing business in South Africa, he has also attempted to stifle other opinions from being expressed on the issue. Last week he successfully prevented the Board of Overseers from taking a full vote on divestment. Does this procedural stalling set an example of ethical conduct for students to follow?
*Bok Letter: Two years ago, Board of Overseers Chairman Joan T. Bok '51 (no relation) wrote a letter to all alumni urging them not to vote for pro-divestment candidates to the Board. When asked about this election tactic, President Bok claimed that he did not have any involvement in the letter. Later, he admitted he wrote the letter and had the Overseers chairman sign her name to it.
*Governance: Harvard's governance structure concentrates all power in the hands of Bok and the seven-man Corporation. The Board of Overseers--the representative of the alumni--is relegated to filling visiting committees, while students have no say in policy whatsoever.
*Rules of Conduct: The judicial board reform last year notwithstanding, students still have no input into the decisions of the College's main disciplinary body--the Administrative Board. Students remain subject to the undemocratic deliberations of administrators and have little to no say in the formulation of disciplinary rules.
*Administrators' Ethics: Meanwhile, top University officials escape reprimand for ethically questionable activities--this year Kennedy School Dean Graham T. Allison '61 tried to sell University officerships for gifts to his school.
Bok's failure to practice what he preaches defeats the goals of his moral education program. It is difficult to see how an institution--through its actions--could inculcate Bok's treasured values of "honesty, nonviolence, promise keeping, respect for property and other legitimate interests," anyway. But a university and its officers can set an example of moral conduct for students to follow by acting forthrightly in addressing pressing ethical questions. Unfortunately, President Bok hasn't learned that lesson yet.
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