The Role of a University

Yale University inaugurated A. Barlett Giamatti on October 14 as its nineteenth president. The following are excerpts from his inaugural address delivered to Yale alumni and representatives of other colleges and universities.

Earlier this fall I had occasion to note a mood of closure and withdrawal that seems to be growing around us. I sense more than the contraction and spasm of isolation that would inevitably follow a period as expansive as the sixties and an experience as searing as the war in Vietnam. This mood of disaffiliation has these roots and others as well and it casts a longer shadow. We are coming to the end of the twentieth century, and the knowledge we bear weighs heavy. Part of our knowledge is the realization that systems, technological and ideological, in which we had such faith, have their limits, and that we may have reached those limits and are being left with only the fragments of our hopes. We are closing not only a century but also a millennium, and the accumulated force of that realization heightens a certain apolcalyptic impulse, a febrile fatigue. As if to accommodate this spirit and contain it, the country seems to want to settle only for a credible competence in its education, its government, its means of pleasure, its craftsmanship. It should never want less, but it ought to aspire to more, and universities and colleges must have the will and the energy to focus themselves, and the nation, on renewal despite the entropy that a sense of closure creates. Because the next years in our enterprise of education will be difficult, because nothing one can see will make them easy, our faith in ourselves and our courage to do what we believe in must be all the stronger. Let me be specific.

General economic conditions, specifically a corrosive inflation, will place educational institutions, with their concentrations of people, increasingly on the defensive. These institutions will be harder pressed than ever to retain their levels of financial aid, to keep tuitions from escalating at anything less than the national rate of inflation, to compensate those who work in them at levels commensurate with their skills. And these assaults of a fiscal nature will only be abetted by inevitable demographic curves. Within a dozen years there will be just about a million fewer eighteen years old in America than there were three years ago. The competition for potential college applicants will increase dramatically, and no institution will be immune. For even those universities whose colleges will still attract a greater pool of applicants than there will be places in a class will feel this shrinkage because their doctoral candidates will find, as so many are now finding, that there is no market for their skills. Indeed, of all the immediate challenges facing the major research universities--to sustain research libraries, to support academic science in the context of a university population that will shrink, to plan the direction of medical education, to finance graduate students and to embrace part-time or older students in new patterns--of all these challenges, the most difficult and internally consequential will be the need to attract into the academic profession the ablest and most dedicated young men and women. Nothing we do in college and universities or that the country wants done is possible without the next generation of teachers and scholars. I will return to this concern.

Resist Uncle Sam

In the years ahead of us, precisely because the pressures on private institutions, whether large or small, old or new, will increase, it will be essential to affirm the particular character of private institutions and to remember that because times are financially strained, the government is not always the place to turn for help. Such rescue, even if it were to occur, would result in more regulation. Of course we depend on federal funds for a wide variety of crucial research and financial aid; of course there are legitimate requirements of accountability for the taxpayers' dollars that follow federal funds; of course there are legitimate regulatory functions of the federal government. But the capacity of a private institution to choose for itself what its course will be, in keeping with the law of the land, is essential to its nature and purpose, and we must be constantly wary of governmental intrusion and of not asking for or accepting more. We must retain our freedom of expression and of purpose.


Private educational institutions, however, must not only resist external interference. They must also realize something else, perhaps for some as difficult. They must realize they are an integral part of the private sector. And other portions of the private sector must also come to this realization. As I have had occasion to say, the ancient ballet of mutual antagonism--at times evidently so deeply satisfying--between private enterprise, on the one hand, and private education, on the other, is not to anyone's interest. That ballet of antagonism must give way to a capacity for responsible collaboration. There is a metaphor that informs the private business sector as it informs the private educational sector, and that is the metaphor of the free marketplace. Whether the competition of the free marketplace is of commodities or of ideas, it is a common metaphor and a precious asset.

Obviously I am not asking to resist governmental intrusion in order to encourage or accept intrusion of any other kind from any other quarter. What I am saying is that precisely to retain our capacity to choose, and to survive as we wish to survive as a private institution, Yale, and places like Yale, must recognize their natural alliances with other private institutions. Such alliances must spring from a perception that all portions of the private sector--voluntary, corporate, and educational--have a common goal, in a pluralistic society, of providing alternatives to public structures and solutions.


Everyone in this hall can recall certain voices, the voices of teachers who changed the way we live our lives. I am concerned, at last, with the next generation of voices. I wish them to be as strong and confident and effective in what they do as those who came before. And they will be, if we recall our nature and our purpose and engage each other to fashion our future together.