Bok Weighs In


Should a University be used as a weapon against injustice? President Bok posed this question in a statement that appeared on the doorsteps of undergraduates and the offices of Faculty and administrators last Friday.

Bok answered the question with a qualified no, saying Harvard imperils its academic independence in taking up arms for moral or political causes.

According to Bok, a university's "institutional goal" should not be "to reform society in specific ways." Rather, a university's special mission is the discovery and transmission of knowledge," which by itself serves a major social function.

And a university, Bok states, can only fulfill its "special mission" by ensuring intellectual freedom within its community, immunity from the pressure of outside groups, and financial stability.

Harvey C. Mansfield Jr. '53, professor of Government, said yesterday Bok's statement is "excellent" because it identifies a "higher morality that entails Harvard's higher mission"--the pursuit of knowledge.


Other Faculty criticized Bok's statement at Tuesday's meeting, and some said yesterday they agreed only in part with Bok.

James C. Thomson Jr., curator of the Nineman Foundation, agreed that universities should avoid taking moral stands--except in "special cases."

Harvard should recognize that South Africa is such a special case and divest of its South Africa related investments, Thomson said.

Martha Nussbaum, assistant professor of Philosophy, said yesterday she agreed with Bok that a "university should put first its integrity and freedom as a place of education, research and teaching."

But, Nussbaum said, one way Harvard upholds that integrity is by acting responsibly as a stockholder and by making "sound moral judgments" on ethical issues.

This dictates, in the case of South Africa, that Harvard pressure for corporate withdrawal in South Africa, she added.

Bok will soon release another open letter, this time addressing himself to specific issues students have raised.

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