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Page 8 text:
Three Questions (Extract from the Alumni Lecture given Saturday, June 18, 7977 by Harold T. ParkerJ As a result of the internal reforms of the 1960 ' s there emerged within Duke University in the 1970 ' s a brilliant undergraduate college — a brilliant, even a gifted student body, of varied interests and personalities; a curriculum so free of requirements that each student can design his own program in accord with his needs, desires, and dreams and can participate in seminars; at least eight types of living group options, including the option of living off campus; and a rich extra-curricular scene. And so, it seems, all is well. Nevertheless, I am uneasy about several aspects of the situation. First, I am uneasy about the brilliance of our students. What do we do with them? If I were a member of the Duke faculty or administration, it would be on my conscience until I had done my utmost to make sure we are doing our intelligent best by them. Are we? Second, I am disturbed that Duke University, like other major American universities, has become the associate and sometimes the accomplice of the existing order. This disturbs me because it happened also to the German universities before Hitler. Now let us grant that the United States is probably the freest, wealthiest large society in history. Historically, most people have lived in conditions of poverty, exploitation, and oppression that any self-respecting recipient of welfare in the United States would reject as intolerable. To most people the United States of today would be paradise. As Goethe remarked, " America, you have it better. " Also, let us grant that the Declaration of Independence in its implications is still the most radical public document in existence, more radical than the Communist Manifesto. Nevertheless, the United States is a consumerist, materialist, pleasure-oriented society. These attributes do not reflect the highest spiritual and ethical ideals. Moreover, big business, big government including the military, big labor, and in some regions big agriculture, operating in a mixed economy, are the driving forces in American life. This paradigm is generally accepted. Yet there are anomalies, such as the billions for welfare, which suggest that other paradigms might do better. But about these shortcomings of American culture our universities say little. Their multiple internship programs, excellent in their specialized intent and achievement, accept the existing system as a given. Historians, a century from now, looking back on us, may comment that American universities failed American society. So, thirdly, I am uneasy that Duke University, like other major universities, like the United States itself, may become, if it is not already, a mindless powerhouse, an aggregation of specialist operators, forgetful, heedless of the ultimate purpose and meaning of their activity, unknowing. That was not true of the faculty and students of old Trinity College before it became Duke University. They knew they were doing something important; building men of intellectual and moral character and elevating the culture of a region. What are we doing?
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