Bok Says Moral Commitments Threaten University's Purpose

President Bok released a statement yesterday attributing Harvard's reluctance to take a stand on moral issues to his belief that such stands may imperil the University's finances and its ability to contribute to society as a place of free thought, inquiry and open discussion.

The paper is one of a series to be released "discussing the ethical standards that Harvard should apply in considering the proposals" of such groups as the Southern Africa Solidarity Committee (SASC) and those that support the boycotts of Nestles and J.P. Stevens and the renaming of the Engelhard Library.

The principal issue before the University "is whether we should go further and use the University as a means of expressing moral disapproval or as a weapon in our fight against injustice even if we threaten to injure the academic functions of the institution," Bok's statement reads.

Bok states that the "institutional goal" of universities is not "to reform society in specific ways." Rather, he states, "their special mission is the discovery and transmission of knowledge," which by itself serves a major social function.



Bok states a university must ensure intellectual freedom within its community, immunity from the pressures of outside groups, and financial stability, if it is to fulfill its purpose of transmitting and discovering knowledge successfully.

According to Bok, when a university takes a stand on a moral or political issue, it endangers the three conditions which guarantee it can fulfill its "special mission."

Guy D. Molyneux '81, a member of the SASC, said yesterday he believes that if Harvard sold its South Africa-related investments, it would not imperil its immunity from outside influence, its environment of free and open discussion, or its finances.

When an institution purchases stocks in a corporation it is obligated to pass judgement on the policies of that corporation, Molyneux said.

When a stockholder fails to take a stand on the moral or ethical implications of its investments, it is "supporting the status quo--which in the case of Harvard's investments in South Africa is apartheid," Molyneux said.

Roger W. Wallach '79, a promoter of a boycott of J.P. Stevens goods, said yesterday that because of its policy of not passing moral judgements, Harvard made "no attempt to analyze what it gained from impartiality or what it would lose by supporting a boycott" of J.P. Steven's goods.


Ross D. Boylan '81, also a promoter of a J.P. Stevens boycott, said yesterday that Bok's belief that universities should avoid taking moral or political stands is "an excuse for inaction." Harvard in effect makes a moral statement in refusing to comment on a moral, ethical or political question, Boylan said, adding, "Harvard can't remain above it all as Bok claims."