by Harry G. Carlson
Some Thoughts on Higher Education
It has been well said that “if you wished to destroy modern civilization, the most effective way to do it would be to abolish universities. They stand at the center. They create knowledge and train minds…. Their discoveries and their thoughts penetrate almost every activity of life – and on their health and vigor the well-being of the whole modern world depends.” (Richard Livingston, Past Vice-Chancellor of Oxford)During her brief 95 years of history, the University of Colorado has been a great asset to the people of our state, and consequently, has earned a superior reputation among universities. In order to go forward, I believe, first, that we must continually keep in mind that the University of Colorado is a partnership in which all of our people have a vital stake. The accountable leaders of this association are current students, faculty, administration, regents, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, Governor’s office, State Legislature and alumni.
Second, I believe we should be true to ourselves, to our University, and to our State, by building on the sound foundations that have earned the University of Colorado her fine reputation. This means that we should continue to emphasize first-rate teaching and significant research and to maintain a realistic balance in supporting science, the arts and the humanities.
“Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind,” said Emerson about 85 years ago. Surely, this is an obvious truth today which makes thoughtful people everywhere believe that our modern universities’ most important task is to arrange their priorities in terms of human values.”
Third, we should continue to use our extra-curricular activities as true supplements to our basic university goals. Student government, housing organizations, music programs, forensics, publications, religious groups, dramatics, intramural and intercollegiate sports, our various social units, and many others, give students practical experiences in assuming important responsibilities. We should extend ourselves to give more students opportunities to participate in these constructive activities.
By basic goals, I refer to those ideals to which we should all be dedicated regardless of individual specialties. These are – respect for truth – moral integrity – consideration for the individual - the pursuit of each person’s potential excellence – and insistence upon freedom matched with personal responsibility to live in accordance with the laws of our society.
Freedom? At a time when Athens had ruined itself by carrying to excess the principles of liberty and equality, Isocrates (436-338 BC) suggested “that they had been training the citizens in such fashion, that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and license to do what they pleased as happiness.”
This quote has a familiar ring when matched with the unreasonable attitudes of our modern hard core extremists. William Butler Yeats, Nobel Peace Prize winner, in referring to the situation in Ireland in 1924, said it. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold – the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” I am moderately optimistic that our center will become more alert and assertive and consequently will hold.
In addition to the thoughts stated above, we must give special attention to three areas:
We should dedicate ourselves to select the best of our past and present in order to plan a decent future. Our universities must assume a major role in helping to control the rapid changes which are certain to occur. It is significant to know that Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” is one of the most widely read books by our present day university students.
The U. S. Supreme Court and the First Amendment
We must direct our efforts toward preserving freedom of speech and assembly matched with personal responsibility; toward due process of law for all; toward responsible support of constituted authority; and toward unremitting respect for truth.
During the past six years we have become conscious of the vitally important First Amendment. On December 13, 1968, the University of Colorado regents, by a 4-3 vote, approved a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) application for affiliation status. No regent had any sympathy for this unreasonable group. It was a matter of First Amendment interpretation.
During its June 1972 meetings, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that Central Connecticut State University denied students their rights of free speech and association in refusing to allow the establishment of an SDS chapter on campus. Our regents have taken action five times concerning SDS.
It appears now that, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the C. C. S. C. case, we have been in line with its thinking on four of five occasions. All citizens should ponder the wisdom of Justice Lewis Powell’s June 1972 statement that “the wide latitude accorded by the Constitution to the freedoms of expression and association is not without its costs in terms of risk to the maintenance of civility and an ordered society. Indeed this latitude has often resulted, on campus and elsewhere, in the infringement of the rights of others. Though we deplore this tendency of some to abuse the very constitutional privileges they invoke, and although the infringement of the rights of others certainly should not be tolerated, we reaffirm this court’s dedication to the principles of the Bill of Rights upon which our vigorous and free society is founded.”
Unless a person contends as an independent, party affiliation is necessary in order to be elected as a University of Colorado regent. However, most people agree that on being elected, the responsibilities of this extremely important office should be strictly non-political. Like judicial court members, incumbent regents should think independently and act accordingly.
In conclusion, I am convinced that the University of Colorado has presently reached her highest status in competence in teaching, research and in total service to the people of Colorado. This has been accomplished during an extremely complex period of our modern life.
In order to hold our present position, and hopefully to advance, it will be necessary for accountable leaders of our higher education partnership to continue their established lines of communication and cooperation. My experiences with these leaders has been that they are, with very few exceptions, individuals of unquestionable integrity who will understand that the “health and vigor” of pour universities will continue to be decisive in determining a better national and world condition.