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“Be Moral, Be Orange”

Posted December 16th, 2013 by onealb

Submitted by Brian O’Neal


It must first be said that there are two distinct methods in determining the values of Oregon State University; the method of looking for the information that the University claims to itself, and the method of observation and experience.  These two can appear to be quite contrary at times.  I will first address what the University claims as values for itself, and then state what the values actually appear to be.  This is not to say that the University is going about its obligation poorly, it is merely to say that it is very difficult to implement core values throughout an entire University system.

The OSU strategic plan claims that the values of Oregon State University are to be a diverse, honest, accountable, respectful, and socially responsible environment.  Accountability seems to be referring to the University’s stewardship with the resources that they are being trusted with. This is in reference to the fiscal and physical resources that are given to the school for its use. Cultural diversity is seen by OSU as a means to greater excellence.  The goal of having diversity as a priority is intended to increase the quality of the school’s teaching, the scholarship of the students, and the services that the University is capable of providing.  The claimed value of Integrity is slightly more inclusive than merely integrity, extending also to freedom.  Respect is valued in terms of the way that we treat each other.  The final value set forth by the University as a whole is that of Social Responsibility.  This is to say that we, as a University, contribute to society’s intellectual, cultural, spiritual, and economic progress and well-being to the maximum possible extent.

The mission statement is a great place to look and see where an organization is attempting to go.  That of OSU indicates that, by means of teaching, research, and outreach and engagement, they promote economic, social, cultural and environmental progress throughout the world.  There are three signature areas that OSU focuses on in terms of economy competitiveness: Advancing the science of Earth’s ecosystems, improving human health and wellness, and promoting economic growth and social progress. It is also expressed within the goals that OSU desires to increase funding while strengthening their ability to utilize these resources.

These are a few of the claimed values and initiatives from the top, where the University is when addressed at its core. In order to compare ideals to reality, we must make observations on a more applied level. First to address is where the University stands physically.  In order to see how it is acting out its values toward world progress (intellectual, cultural, etc.) it might be enlightening to see how the University’s money seems to be spent, although this cannot be a complete reflection of the school, as benefactors have the final say as far as where they want there money spent (for example, just because Phil Knight has a strong emphasis on sports, does not necessarily mean that the top core of the University of Oregon has that as a primary value, although they may).  In the time that I have been a student at OSU I have seen various buildings going up as well as the intermural field.  The other buildings are mostly residential, with a couple educational buildings as (research, classrooms etc.). This would suggest a value on health, teaching, technology (Linus Pauling Building), diversity (the INTO building and cultural centers), and, generally, a desire to have a higher student capacity.  These seem to be in good alignment with the core values and mission.

Another source we can look at for clues of the University’s values, are how it portrays itself via the course website.  Throughout my years here, the suggested focus on the website, by observing the headlines posted, has been the accomplishments of OSU students and faculty.  Quite a few of the highlighted achievements are technology based, indicating this as a value.   Publicizing circumstances for underrepresented or minority groups (ethnic minorities, student parents, military, etc.) suggest the value of diversity.  I have also noticed headlines emphasizing social and cultural values, such as students studying abroad and outreach events for young children.

The final method for determining the values of Oregon State University is just the overall feeling after being a student here for four years.  The values of OSU are almost impossible to actually implement.  At the end of every syllabus you see the teachers warning against academic dishonesty.  The teachers rarely even cover this and whether they cover it or not, some students will cheat and some will not.  Respect cannot be regulated by a University to any significant extent.  Some people are respectful some are not, this is a reflection of one’s personal morals, not a particular school.  The other three can be better monitored and improved upon.  Diversity is difficult because even if there are students of different backgrounds, there is no regulating how they intermingle.  Accountability and Social Responsibility seem to be in good control based on the physical direction the University is headed.

From my own observations as a student, I would say that the values of Oregon State University are technology, physical and mental well-being, international diversity, having fun/getting a full “college experience”, and most of all, being economically competitive.

For the most part, I think that the values OSU already have are good.  My values as an individual would not necessarily be the best for a University.  My opinion on the values of OSU is the same for this country as a whole.  The emphasis is on being as busy as possible to maximize the time that you have, all the time.  This even extends to the time when you are not working.  If we are not working we should be actively socializing, or actively attending our personal needs (spiritual, physical, emotional), and then getting back on track towards our goals.  Even the valuable self-realization times have turned into a thing of efficiency.  When we are working, we must be working, when we are sleeping, we must be sleeping, when we are socializing, exercising, or just relaxing, we must be doing these things.  To my observation, the majority of people are going through this path of life to “success” having absolutely no idea why they are doing it.  Some excuses you receive at times can be “so I can better my life”, “so I can have a better paying job”, “I do not have anything else to do”, “stability” or things of the like.  There is this emphasis on being as efficient and hardworking as possible, “bettering the quality of life” and “bettering the world”, with the inevitable end.

Partially, I think this is because we live in a culture that is so seldom faced with death. We see our lives as things that we deserve, or that we work for. We say that the end justifies the means, not remembering the ultimate end.  We see our life out before us and we make plans for it (some people just go with the flow), taking for granted that they will all eventually happen if we work hard enough.

I am by no means indicating that going to college does not help with all of these priorities, nor that these priorities are inherently bad.  If we go to college we are better equipped to solve the big problems of the world.  It leads to a more satisfying life because we have the opportunity to have a career that we choose and enjoy.  There is liberation about it.  The wisdom comes, however, when you approach the grave of the most successful person, or that of the most influential, or the happiest.  Should the goal of life be any of these? I think most people of this society, at some age, at some point in their life, realize what really matters to them.  The devastation fact is that it is often the people who were top in college, and in their career, that find it out last, or never.

This should raise many questions about where our priorities are.  It begs the question as to whether or not the five values of the college are actually in conflict with each other.  It is possible that the value of accountable stewardship and social responsibility, are in conflict with integrity, respect, and diversity.  It could be the case that to strive on toward our goals of world betterment that we destroy the world internally as we are reaching out.

There are many solutions to this problem but none are easy, and indeed, fairly impossible.  It is so difficult because it is the practically successful that control the world, not the wise.  Personally, I think time off before going to college should be the norm.  When you finish high school, you have the basic requirements needed to perform a task.  The emphasis should not be for students to continue on and directly enter into more education, but rather to self-assessment.  This is a term I need to be careful with.  I am not talking about self-assessment in terms of finding out what you want to do with your life, but rather the assessing of what is a life.  The emphasis should be on what it means to be respectful, honest, and loving, and then stop. Not these, and then go and be successful with your life. These can easily be in conflict.  The values should give rise to doing something with your life, rather than doing something with your life giving rise to the values.

I will note a second time, however, that I am not suggesting that education is inherently a bad direction, I am merely stating that the emphasis is in the wrong order.  To teach a student Physics, Math, and Electricity, and then say, “go be an ethical engineer”, will create a person who is capable of performing tasks and the ability to act ethically as an engineer.  The trade came first, and then the values.  Tell as student “behave morally, and do something” will more likely create a person who is mindful of their values as a person, having this be what defines them, the “what” they do is less important than the “who”.

Like I said, the practical implementation of this is difficult if not impossible.  The difference would have to be a societal turnaround.  Teachers in high school and college will need teach differently than how they were taught.  High schools will need to somehow teach students NOT to emphasis education, as their education.  Essentially what I am suggesting is a theocracy, but I do not necessarily believe that theocracies will ever work.  There has been a separation of church and state and we live in the result. The emphasis comes not only from the educational system, but from families, which get their values from the educational systems and then give it back.

Sometimes I wonder how people do not ask bigger questions about themselves.  Not merely what they are, but who they are, and why they are.  The faster the pace of a society, the less likely these questions will ever be addressed.  To exacerbate this problem further, not only are people increasingly less comfortable talking about bigger issues at the fear of offending or persecution, but it is frowned upon.  “Do not impose your beliefs onto others”.  Where does this leave us? In a society where the beliefs are so diminished that most people have none at all.  This leaves a people that are practically fantastic, but spiritually lost.

In an excerpt from Kant’s “Foundations of the Metaphysics of the Morals”, Kant explains that there is only one categorical imperative, and that is that we should only act if we wish that action to become a universal law.  This is the only way in which this implementation of morals could occur.  If it were not a universal implementation that morality was taught above all practical knowledge, the ones being primarily taught the practical knowledge would dominate over those that emphasize morality.   John Stuart Mill in his essay on Utilitarianism, explains that the most correct path is the one that leads to optimum “happiness” for the most amount of people.  Although I do not believe this to be important, I completely believe that if the value of morality was to be emphasized above practical knowledge, the level of “happiness” would increase universally.  This would be a result of the way people treated each other, the sense of satisfaction that people would get from the care of others, as well as the satisfaction that comes from knowing why you are doing what you are doing, and that it is a result of who you are.

This would be difficult to label as a “virtue” in the way Aristotle describes in his second book in “Nicomachean Ethics”.  The good in his mind is the mean between two extremes.  In these terms it may be said that the extremes would be someone who is entirely moral but not at all practical, or the one who is all practical but completely immoral.  This is a stretch, but it could be said that this would then be considered a virtue, even though the extreme is also the label for the mean.  I agree that everyone should be practical to some degree, but not above their morality to any extent.

In our society today, we define ourselves primarily by our practical character and less by our moral character.  This is evident in our educational system, including Oregon State University.  I suggest the change of direction to emphasize the morality of our character by means of our home lives and our educational system.  This will be a very difficult change and will require a massive turnaround, but this does not mean that each individual should not make this decision for themselves to attempt this radical change, leading to an exponential proliferation.


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