December 30, 2004
Commencement Blues follow-up

A reader and parent of a former student e-mailed to take me to task about my Commencement Blues post. I won't give you the text of the reader's e-mail, but my reply is pasted below.

I am sorry that my comments disturbed you. I do not know Mr. Kridler personally and I’m sure he does good work as do many in the non-profit sector. I donate a fair amount of money to non-profits and I work for one myself as does my wife. It is one thing however to highlight the importance this sector and quite another to denigrate the for-profit sector, which is what he did. And I have always thought it wrong to deliver an overtly partisan political speech at a commencement. It is not the time or place. I have heard a number of satisfactory commencement addresses from so-called “do-gooders” that didn’t cross this line. For instance, Abigail Wexner gave a nice address a few years ago. I can tell you that I was not the only one among the faculty who thought Mr. Kridler crossed the line.

My intent with the blog post was not to deny the good work that non-profits do but rather to correct a common misconception about what profit and self interest are all about. It is all too common among people working in the non-profit sector to believe the for-profit sector is the actual cause of hunger and homelessness when in fact it is the profit motive that keeps just about all of us fed and housed. To be sure like all human institutions, the for-profit system is not perfect and it is important that we have civil society to fill in the gaps. You and others like you are a credit to our society in this regard. But to blame profit and self-interest for society’s problems is plainly incorrect.

Finally, your son is a fine student and was a pleasure to have in class. I hope to see him again in class. You may rest assured that I do not use the classroom as a forum to make political points or find converts. This is inappropriate in the classroom just as I think it is inappropriate at a commencement.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:03 PM  ·  TrackBack (43)

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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