ERIC Number: ED179159
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1979-May-18
Reference Count: N/A
Reflections on Boycotts: An Open Letter to the Harvard Community.
Bok, Derek C.
The question of what the university should do when it purchases goods and services from firms that are said to have acted improperly is considered by the president of Harvard University. It has been proposed that Harvard join national boycotts to force companies to stop engaging in specific practices that are thought to be improper. Several objections can be made against refusing to buy from firms on social or ethical grounds. It would be difficult to develop consistent standards to determine when a company's behavior was sufficiently objectionable to merit this treatment. A university would also assume a heavy administrative burden if it decided to cease making purchases on moral grounds. Universities might endanger their independence and academic autonomy if they claim the right to use economic leverage to influence business policies. The risk of abuse in deciding what is morally right is so great that it seems wiser for private organizations to leave to public agencies the task of imposing standards of corporate behavior. There is, however, good reason for the university to encourage individual choice by offering an alternative source of supply when particular products raise serious ethical concerns. There are many ways that universities act collectively and make decisions in ways that observe a moral obligation not to inflict unjustifiable harm on others. Reasons for caution against the university making collective stands on external issues are discussed. (SW)
Descriptors: Academic Freedom, College Administration, College Role, Conflict, Educational Finance, Endowment Funds, Higher Education, Institutional Autonomy, Investment, Moral Values, Political Influences, Presidents, Private Colleges, Producer Services, Public Relations, Purchasing, School Business Relationship, School Funds, Social Attitudes, Standards, Supplies
Harvard University, Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, MA 02138
Publication Type: Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: Harvard Univ., Cambridge. Office of the President.