"A university is not a service station. Neither is it a political society, nor a meeting place for political societies. With all its limitations and failures, and they are invariably many, it is the best and most benign side of our society insofar as that society aims to cherish the human mind."— Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter (1916–1970), “Columbia University Commencement Address in the 214th Academic Year,” delivered on June 4, 1968, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in American Higher Education Transformed, 1940–2005: Documenting the National Discourse, edited by Wilson Smith and Thomas Bender (2008)
Today, my alma mater, Columbia University, holds its commencement exercises. I wish the graduates—indeed, every graduate of every institution of higher learning—luck this month.
In the meantime, the rest of us would do well to ponder these words of Richard Hofstadter. That spring, the university he loved so well had been rocked to the core by unrest. His address was an attempt to remind all sides about the essentials of education that aimed to be truly "higher." What he said hasn’t lost relevance, all these years later.