The New York Times published this letter to the editor 12 years ago today. (HT to Sam Crane.)

To the Editor:

”Colleges Setting Moral Compasses” (Education Life, Aug. 4) highlights some efforts in higher education to fortify moral education. I offer one caution, however.

You refer to educators going ”from the mind to the soul.” The tradition of the liberal arts college has never accepted such a division of ”mind” from ”soul.” Initiatives like new ethics courses and additional emphasis on community service are welcome, but one should not assume that these are value-laden activities being added to a value-neutral intellectual endeavor.

One cannot underestimate the deep moral importance of the intellectual and character virtues instilled when we do our centuries-old job right. Strengthening intellectual virtues — such as the willingness to explore widely, the ability to test one’s ideas against those of others, the capacity to listen thoughtfully, the strength to adduce reasons for assertions — has a clear relationship to strengthening character virtues like honesty, humility, integrity and independence.

So, too, when one works to create an effective residential community among a diverse group of students, one also works to nurture such virtues as mutual understanding, civility and cooperation.

One need not look for some separate moral sphere from which to find activities to add ”soul” to our missions. Moral education is embedded in the definition of what we have always been committed to do.

Williamstown, Mass., Aug. 6, 1996

President, Williams College


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