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As orator at yesterday's Phi Beta Kappa exercises, Sen. Eugene McCarthy searched for the causes of unrest in the colleges, and found that many of them lie deep in 1969 America.
Though he cautioned that "I do not see the university as a kind of mirror image of society or as a test place for social change and improvement," McCarthy went on to say that three issues--the war in Vietnam, racial discrimination, and demands for participation in government--were having reverberations within the universities.
American universities have never been totally apart from the surrounding society, the Senator said, pointing out that most of the first colleges in the country were established for limited and defined purposes, either by state legislatures or by religious groups and private individuals. "The 'free university' was never in fact a reality," he said.
Taking the war in Vietnam as an example of outside issues impinging on the university, McCarthy commented, "This kind of outside force cannot in any way be excluded from the considerations of the colleges." Students concerned about these issues were trying to find "how to become an influence upon society," he said, adding that "no one should be surprised" if they chose on-campus targets such as ROTC and business recruiting to do so.
McCarthy refrained from either endorsing or condemning tactics taken by student demonstrators, though he noted that "most human problems are in any case problems of means, problems of the selection of proper means. . ."
He did say that universities had been slow to respond to the concerns of students--treating them instead as children. He traced his reaction to the origins of the American university sys- tem--originally an outgrowth of secondary schools--and to an inherent American attitude towards a student: "Because he's not earning his living, he sorely lacks judgement."
The Senator said he was optimistic about the eventual solution of the problems of war, racism, and participation in government, but he saw other, more serious problems facing the university.
"This century began with a great wave of optimism. . .that through the advance of science and technology and the deveslopment of new political forms we'd go on to a greater and happier time," he said. The optimism had declined, as it was discovered that science and democracy held potentials for evil as well as good, he commented, "Now, we've come almost to the point of developing a new set of inhuman or sub-human values."
There are, McCarthy said, three themes of modern thought--each leading to a kind of determinism--which have, in some cases, been accepted too readily and too extensively by universities. He stressed that he did not quarrel with the ideas per se, but rather with extensions of their conclusions not warranted by evidence. The three trends are:
* Evolutionary thought, particularly those varieties which felt that "the proper study of mankind is animals rather than man," and thus concluded that, since animals seemed to possess aggressive tendencies or a "territorial imperative" man would not be able to prevent himself from fighting wars.
* Psychoanalysis--"which also must be challenged as a kind of reductionism." McCarthy recalled that one Harvard student told him that demonstrators here were sometimes advised to seek psychiatric assistance. "The student did not particularly feel that he wanted to be analyzed, at least at that stage of the action," he commented.
* "A third, more subtle," trend "comes from the acceptance, almost uncritically, of certain ideas,"--such as the proper role of the armed forces in the United States.
As an example of this last trend, McCarthy cited former Presidential advisor Wat Rostow, who wrote his work on the stages of economic growth, and then "as advisor he tried to prove his book was right." McCarthy regarded Henry Kissinger--former professor of Government, now a Nixon aide--as more pragmatic than Rostow, but commented "This may, in the long run, be more damaging."
In conclusion, McCarthy compared the role of universities to that of Socrates--to seek the truth which, he said, probably lies somewhere in between the stands of the poet and the politician
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