President’s Column: An Ethical Compass for the University

Posted by  AAUP Oregon   in       Jan 19, 2016     1531 Views     Comments Off on President’s Column: An Ethical Compass for the University  

by José Padin, President

January is here and at the start of a new year we are given the happy occasion to commemorate the great American prophetic voice of the 20th century.

Ethical guidance and a sense of higher purpose are difficult to find in our universities, with the seemingly inescapable noise and demands of the (often well-meaning) money-changers overwhelming our work in our high temples of learning.

In the words and deeds of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we find a deep well of inspiration and guidance to rediscover, and calibrate, an ethical compass to guide the university. An ethical compass to carry on within and outside the university with individual and collective lives that resonate with  a higher purpose and order.

Two of the three dimensions of a complete life identified by Dr. King  (in a sermon titled “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”) give us a critical perspective on the work of our universities today. One dimension, “length,” refers to self discovery and self love. The second dimension, “breadth,” refers to discovering what lies behind the mystery of what Dr. King (in another sermon) calls the network of mutuality that defines our human condition and nature; to the cultivation of the knowledge and the wisdom to sustain this network of mutuality.

Our universities ought to be the places par excellence in our collective lives for the nurturing of these two essential dimensions for a complete life. Are they doing that? To some degree, but I am afraid our discourse of “metrics,” “rubrics,” and “benchmarks” is so devoid of ethical thinking to even be aware of the challenge presented by Dr. King’s ethical probing, let alone meet that challenge. Our impoverished ethical discourse is fatally blind to these matters,

Reflecting on the role “good people” play in sustaining social institutions that deny others a complete life, Dr. King noted:

“And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say ‘Wait on time.’”

Fellow educators–good people all–we are called to act, to confront the appalling silence and indifference that allows universities to run efficiently (trains are running on time) but neglect the first two foundations of a complete life.


The Oregon State Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP Oregon) is the state-level organization of the AAUP. The Conference’s mission is to advance the collective interests of affiliated AAUP Collective Bargaining and Advocacy chapters, the principles and practices of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the overall interests of higher education faculty in Oregon through the promotion of excellence in higher education as an investment in Oregon’s future.