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In Last Address at Harvard’s Helm, Bok Rips Higher Education

June 7, 1991

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ Derek C. Bok used his last commencement address as Harvard University president Thursday to complain that American universities - including his - are falling short of their responsibilities.

″A Harvard education must serve a larger social purpose to justify our existence and inspire our students,″ said Bok, 61, who is ending 20 years as head of the nation’s oldest university.

″Unless universities take their social responsibilities seriously, they will never inspire their students with a purpose large enough to fill their lives with meaning,″ he said. ″Harvard has a special obligation to give generously of its ability and imagination to the society that sustains it.″

In a break with tradition, Bok was one of two featured speakers at the elaborate commencement ceremony, in which alumni serve as ushers wearing top hats and tails and the audience is asked to stand while the university hymn is sung in Latin.

The other, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, chided arms negotiators for dragging their feet at talks over limiting chemical and strategic nuclear weapons.

″Any progress on (disarmament) means direct investment and the development of the economies both of my country and the economies of all countries,″ Shevardnadze said through a translator.

″We cannot leave unfinished that edifice of a new world which we have jointly worked to create,″ he said.

Bok, who helped confer 5,754 graduate and undergraduate degrees at the daylong, 340th commencement, said universities have two obvious responsibilities: education and research.

But, he said, ″the truth is that neither of these tasks has yet received the attention it deserves on campuses across the nation.″

Bok said students are no longer taught the obligations of citizenship. And he said important academic disciplines like teaching are neglected and research at universities lags far behind the problems of poverty, crime and school reform.

″The technical virtuosity of our doctors may be the envy of the world, yet over 30 million Americans lack any kind of medical insurance,″ Bok said. ″We may turn out the world’s best-trained lawyers, but our courts are choked with litigation and our poor and middle class can often not afford an attorney.″

Students were ushered into the sun-splashed Harvard Yard, festooned with crimson banners, by Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. Weld was graduated from Harvard in 1966 and later went to law school there.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman and Soviet emigre and novelist Andrei Sinyavsky were among the recipients of honorary degrees.

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