Academia's ethical and moral challenge; Beyond the Ivory Tower: Social Responsibilities of the Modern University, by Derek Bok. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 318 pp. $15.95.
If you were president of a prestigious university and you got a telegram asking if you would appoint a professor to be chosen and funded by the Libyan government, what would you say? For author Derek Bok, president of Harvard University, the answer was easy.
Bok says he got just such an offer ''some years ago.'' And, he concludes, not just Ivy Leaguers, but ''no self-respecting university would respond affirmatively to such an inquiry.'' It was a simple matter of protecting the academic integrity of the university.
However, the questions facing today's universities are seldom that easy. For instance, where should a university draw the line in the links between the academic community and private industry? Industry does donate a good chunk of the the money used to keep university labs rolling.
What sort of impact does this have on the quality of research being done? Will professors get so involved in the quest for making discoveries ''pay'' through practical applications? Will they shift their energies away from pure academic research?
These are the kinds of sticky questions Bok addresses in ''Beyond the Ivory Tower.'' He considers a wide range of complex issues, such as what role the university should play in the moral development of students and the institution's responsibility to the local community.
The problem, according to Bok, is that universities today are caught between two competing demands: one, to fulfill a list of ethical and social responsibilities to society that is longer than your arm; the other, to stick to a code of institutional neutrality on controversial issues. This often creates a tough balancing act.
For instance, how should the university respond to the problems of racial discrimination? Bok considers the quota system sometimes used to increase minority enrollments. This approach causes problems, he says, because the university is also expected to uphold tight academic standards.
Bok doesn't pretend to know all the answers. If he did, Harvard wouldn't have any problems - which obviously isn't the case. But he does offer a clear, well-reasoned approach to the issues.
This book seems especially worthwhile for readers with close ties to a university community -- students, faculty, admimistrators, and involved alumni. Bok's writing style is, as you might expect, academic.