Social Contract for Scholars
Robert L. Barchi
me echo the Presidentâs welcome to the members of the Class of
2006 and those who have transferred to our other classes this year.
What a fantastic time to be joining our community of scholars; a
time both of intellectual discovery and of eager anticipation of
discoveries yet to be made. A time ideally suited to curious and
creative minds like yours.
once described the modern university as a place ăof life, of
liberty and of learning.ä This has never been more true, or more
essential, than in these complex and difficult times; times in which
many of the current conflicts among nations and peoples can be
traced to a lack of mutual understanding, lack of tolerance for the
ideas of others and lack of appreciation for the cultural diversity
that makes each of us unique. Universities provide a precious
environment in which all individuals are valued; all ideas
can be debated without fear, all views examined without
prejudice. But making this environment a reality requires active
participation from each and every one of us.
University is a living entity, not just a place. It is a dynamic
society built on mutual consideration and respect for knowledge. It
is truly a community of scholars. The Penn family is wonderfully
diverse and cosmopolitan, comprising students from every state in
the Union and from 65 countries. That inclusiveness is part of our
intellectual and moral strength. On this campus, people from widely
different backgrounds and heritage work, play, argue and learn
together: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and persons of no organized
religion; Marxists, democrats, socialists, and libertarians exchange
ideas and opinions on the common ground of a shared commitment to
this scholarly community.
philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that small communities and
great nations alike forge their cohesiveness through the mutual
consent of their members. As many of you will recall from your high
school government classes, Rousseau termed this mutual consent
ăthe social contract.ä As you join our community of scholars,
you too enter into a social contract.
community, you should demand respect for your independence, and for
your autonomy as you explore new intellectual and social pursuits.
As a community, we commit ourselves to support you in these
pursuits, and to provide you with resources and opportunities to
grow. We will urge you to stretch your talents and your character as
far as you possibly can.
From you, we
expect tolerance for new ideas and for one another. We expect you to
give as well as to take; to reach beyond your College Houses and
classes as an active contributor to the broader Penn community÷a
community that is committed to the ideals of intellectual freedom
and discovery, and to the transforming impact of new knowledge on
The next few
years will be among the most exciting of your lives. For the first
time you will have complete freedom to make choices about
when and how and even what to study. In order to take the
greatest advantage of the wealth of intellectual resources at Penn,
you must seek out the opportunities available, driven by your own
curiosity and energy. Faculty, graduate students, and resident
advisors can serve as mentors, counselors, and role models; but the
final choices about how you will become intellectually engaged are
ultimately yours alone÷the energy to pursue your dreams must come
When you chose
Penn, you chose a University with a deep commitment to teaching and
research; and, thanks to Ben Franklin, an institution with a
commitment to the translation of knowledge into practical
application. Here at Penn, we are also committed to addressing the
challenging ethical questions that this new knowledge provokes.
As faculty, we
apply high standards to our own academic enterprise, because we
recognize that academic freedom carries with it a responsibility for
rigorous and unflinching ethical behavior. You are now a part of our
academic family. During the next four years, you too will confront
choices about ethics and academic integrity. We expect, and indeed
demand, that you, too, will be judicious and wise in your choices.
But the ethical
conduct that should characterize your years at Penn is not something
to be left behind at graduation. It should become a steadfast
internal compass that helps you find the moral high ground
throughout your career and your life. Consult it often and have
confidence in the fidelity of its direction.
challenges that we face in our daily lives, and the crises that
strain the fabric of our global society, present us with problems
whose causes and origins are so twisted and tangled that they often
remind us of a Gordian knot. Yet in retrospect, the most brilliant
answers to these difficult problems can appear elegant in their
simplicity, whether it is the proof of a mathematical theorem or a
creative compromise to a volatile international dispute.
This clarity of
wisdom is not easily won; it must be built on a broad foundation of
knowledge and a thorough analysis of the problem at hand. Oliver
Wendell Holmes, a Supreme Court justice renowned for the clarity of
his decisions, once said, ăI would not give a fig for simplicity this
side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity
that lies on the other side of complexityä. You should
strive for this clarity of understanding, but at the same time
appreciate that the simplifying insight only comes to the prepared
mind and then only after hard work and deep thought. While there are
no shortcuts to wisdom, you will find here at Penn many who will
help you make your way through the complexity of ideas and assist
you in finding the elegant simplicity on the other side.
In your future,
the truly valuable contributions to our society will come from those
who seek this simplicity in wisdom, and who are willing and able to
engage in vigorous and open debate over tough questions that impact
the entire community. This level of engagement requires a thorough
appreciation of the why of living as well as the how of
life. In short, it requires a well-rounded, liberal education.
I hope that each
of you, no matter what your primary area of interest, will pursue
the breadth of education needed to put your own field of study into
a global perspective. Seek for yourselves an education that will not
only make you skilled entrepreneurs, economists, nurses or molecular
geneticists, but also engaged and vital members of your local and
As faculty, all
of us on this podium, and our colleagues throughout the university,
will take pride in assisting you in this learning experience. But
the people who will have the greatest impact on your experience here
will not be us; it will be your peers. As you sit together tonight
on the brink of so much exciting discovery, look around you at your
most important teachers÷for no one will help you learn more than
your roommates, your teammates and your classmates.
In the next seat
or the next row may be a future business partner, a coinventor, a
co-author, or even a spouse.
too÷although I donât think youâre likely to forget this
one÷that college should also be fun! The sports, the
parties, the new social experiences, and the cultural venues, are as
much a part of the learning environment as the classroom and the
lab. Immerse yourselves in the rich cultural diversity that you will
find in our Penn community. Take the time to get to know this
terrific city and its vast cultural resources as well as those found
right here on our own campus.
four years will merely set the stage for your professional lives,
these are times to be cherished for the friendships you will make,
for the victories you will share in the Palestra and on Franklin
Field, and for the awesome good times that you will have. Never in
your life will there be another time quite like this one. Work hard,
but donât forget to enjoy every single moment that you can!
Tonight, as you
formally join our Penn family, what I wish for you is this:
That in four
years you will say that you have learned and grown beyond your
That you felt a
true sense of community with your peers and with your faculty
intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge reached new
That you were
given the tools you needed to confront tomorrowâs complex
ethical and societal issues.
That you gave
back to your community every bit as much as you were given.
And that you
have had at least a glimpse of that elegant simplicity that lies
Welcome to the
Penn family. Be safe; care for each other; and have a great time.
Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 3, September 10, 2002