Yesterday, Internal Editor and scientific savant Britt Fossum headed to Hamilton to listen to Columbia’s resident boss Jeffrey Sachs talk ethics and universities.
Yesterday evening was the first talk in a new series hosted by the Masters Program in Bioethics at Columbia titled “What is a Moral University in the 21st Century?” The speaker was none other than Jeffrey Sachs: economist, professor, and opponent of the university-as-business model that is all too prevalent. According to him, moral discourse is just not as normal as it should be. Many problems brought up during the daily functioning of Columbia should be regarded as moral issues as well as economic or social issues: fossil fuel divestment, sexual misconduct, plagiarism and academic property rights, admissions, and issues of free speech.
Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia and was an economics professor at Harvard and so focused his argument on moral issues in these two fields—the need for fossil fuel divestment and the legitimacy of professors taking on private consulting jobs with Wall Street. He spoke against the dominant position of the day which he defines as a libertarian one with the University governed only by the board of trustees and state and market law. Morality needs to be pushed past this “web of contractual obligations.”
There are four types of moral problem facing a modern university according to Sachs: those of daily life and interpersonal relationships, of academic research, how teachers should impart moral knowledge to students, and the role of the University in a global context. Sachs elaborated further on this last (most complicated) issue by giving examples: this is the realm of morality that should govern Columbia’s decisions on use of the endowment, development in Manhattanville, accepting donations, and allowing outside employers for professors and departments.