“I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young student, are wide gates to Hell,” Martin Luther (1).
I can recall two or three occasions when a university committee on which I was sitting felt a need to align itself with the “Core Values” of the institution, and how on each of these occasions committee members were reduced to consulting their smart phones. You know how St. Paul praised the Greeks for being so very religious as to worship an “unknown god” (Acts 17: 23). This university is so very ethical as to uphold unknown values.
What those Google searches revealed was that the university has six “Core Values,” and that these values are,
Respect, Leadership, Integrity, Loyalty, Excellence and Selfless Service
At the risk of splitting hairs, these are virtues rather than values. What is more, they are all secondary virtues because their worth depends on their being governed and directed by the primary virtue of justice. Justice is the virtue of using the secondary virtues correctly, of putting them to good use and directing them to the achievement of proper ends. Without it, the secondary virtues are otiose.
A man who lacks the capacity for respect is, to be sure, a very defective man, but he is perhaps not so bad as the man who, owing to faulty judgment, respects contemptible things. Leadership is a virtue, provided one has the judgment to lead in the right direction. Integrity is good, but only in a good man. Indeed a bad man may be said to possess integrity if he is reliably and confessedly bad.
There are, in fact, only three values in this world, and they are, as everyone should know, truth, beauty and goodness. These values are made manifest to us in a great many ways, and they are known and loved by finite minds only through these particular manifestations, but truth, beauty and goodness are the true core values. If a person or institution has values, these are the values that it has, since there are no others.
In the words of William Ralph Inge
“The primary ground of Faith is a normal and ineradicable feeling . . . that behind the world of phenomenon there is a world of eternal values, attracting us towards itself. These values are manifested . . . through phenomena, through the section of the world which we know, [and they] have been classified as the ideas of Truth, Beauty and Goodness” (2).
Justice can orient the secondary virtues to these values, but without these values and the directing virtue of justice, the secondary virtues that this university calls “Core Values” are just stray bullets, runaway horses, or headless chickens running round the barnyard.
To teach the virtue of respect without teaching justice and the real core values is rather like handing a young man a gun without setting up a target. “Shoot well and straight, young man, but in any direction you please.”
To teach the virtue of leadership without teaching the true end of life is akin to setting him bareback on a bronco, and then slapping that bronco on the ass. “Hold tight and ride him, son, wherever he may take you!”
To teach the virtue of integrity without any clear image of the good man puts the student in the ludicrous position of the recently decapitated chicken taking a quick turn round the chopping block “Run while you can, you’ll soon be in the pot.”
* * * * *
I recently saw a billboard bearing the large words “We Are Ethical.” It was advertising a homebuilder, and of course implied that ethical conduct set this homebuilder apart from his shady competitors. That the company could make this claim suggests that the homebuilding industry is in a bad way—that a good many people already suppose that most homebuilders are crooks. It is as if a restaurant promoted itself with the assurance that its employees really do wash their hands, or a daycare center promoted itself with the assurance that there really are no convicted sex offenders on its staff, or an airline promoted itself with the assurance that it really does maintain its aircraft.
We are right to be alarmed when something that should be needless to say is said.
It should be needless to say that a university does justice to the values, and most especially the value of truth. No one can object if it registers this loyalty with a Latin tag on its crest
Totis Viribus Verum Tueri
But there is something wrong with higher education when a university believes that doing justice to the values sets it apart. Could there be a university that did not teach that justice demands respect for truth, beauty and goodness? Could there be a restaurant where the employees neglect to wash their hands?
To ask such questions is to answer them, and we are right to be alarmed when something that should be needless to say is said.
(1) Martin Luther, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate,” (1520).
(2) William Ralph Inge, Faith (1910)