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Universities must stay 'moral' during downturn, prof says

Universities must not lose their "moral purpose" as they struggle during challenging economic times, Princeton professor Stanley Katz told a Marcuvitz Auditorium audience Tuesday in Sidney Frank Hall.

In weathering the downturn, universities "will solve the money problem," but the larger battle "is what we will give up in the process," he said.

Katz addressed the effect of the economic climate during a lecture about what justice has meant for universities historically.

Katz, a professor at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, attempted to elucidate the social mission of universities. Drawing on the ideas of other thinkers who have examined social justice in higher education, Katz defined two major notions of justice — procedural and substantive — and spoke to their importance in a university's administration.

Katz explained that a university "at the very least ... must be a just corporation." Non-discriminatory hiring practices, accessible campuses for the disabled, ethical research procedures and harrasment-free work environments are the "minimal threshold" of procedural justice that schools must practice, he said. Katz used the examples of the anti-sweatshop movement of the 1990s fostered by university students across the nation and university faculty layoffs in response to the recession to illustrate how universities must grapple with the question of justice in a procedural context.

"It's surprising to me that the justice question hasn't been raised with respect to layoffs (during this recession)," he added.

But procedural norms are "too narrow" because they fail to "distinguish universities from other social institutions," he said. He defined the substantive notion of justice as the higher standard to which universities should hold themselves and said universities should "help achieve ... social goals" in society.

"American higher education has gone too far in the direction of ... functionalism," Katz said. Universities have become "transnational corporations" that emphasize a type of excellence geared toward market capitalism and measured "only by the input-output ratio," he said.
While Katz urged a "reconceiving of the university," he recognized that even a just university cannot necessarily "meet society's needs or control social problems" entirely. Moreover, the structure of the tenure system prevents large-scale changes from being initiated by junior faculty, Katz added, emphasizing the role of senior tenured faculty in improving the university's social mission.

Katz concluded his lecture by highlighting the importance of teaching students, especially undergraduates, to consider social justice while still giving them latitude to decide for themselves what exactly that means for them.

"If we're going to get anywhere, we need a faculty movement ... at least to put it on the agenda," he said as he concluded. "I solicit the help of everybody in this room to do that."
A 40-minute question-and-answer session followed the 35-minute lecture. In response to a question from Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron about the importance of student-faculty relationships, Katz said the faculty should redefine goals and "reorient their own ambitions and values."

To answer a question about the importance of access to higher education, Katz explained the responsibility of private universities to make education as affordable as possible for students who meet the criteria for admission. Public universities must not only make education accessible, he said, but also foster success for as many students as possible.

Students in the audience had a mixed response to Katz's lecture. Lyndsey Barnes '11 said she "was really neutral" at the end of the lecture but that the question-and-answer period brought more depth to the presentation.

Winnie Fung GS, a master's candidate in urban education policy, said that while Katz provided a "good reminder of the purpose of faculty and how they should be guiding what undergraduates learn," she would have liked "to hear more about what he would suggest the public universities can do."

Julie Pittman '10 said the talk "was much more aimed at faculty and administration" as opposed to students, who were often "left out of (the) discussion."

The lecture was sponsored by the Swearer Center for Public Service and the Sheridan Center for Teaching.


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