"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Speeding ahead

You can understand the pressure. University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer, who is no one’s idea of an off-the-deep-end kind of guy, says that action is needed, and needed soon:

The UO is growing substantially, and is going to need more space soon. It has limited options: It is surrounded, pretty much, by developed Eugene; it is a big institution with few available growth options. A few are available, notably a state office property and a former car sales lot. Of them, he says, “This is property that only comes on the market once in a generation, maybe once in a century. If it’s gone, it’s really gone.”

How to raise the money to buy it? Well, there’s a 400-unit student apartment building on campus which could be sold off.

The catch, of course: What about the residents, hundreds of students, who probably would have a hall of a time finding affordable housing somewhere else near campus?

Students and the university Senate are opposed to the selloff, at least until that question is resolved. That’s the question too that have Eugene’s legislators lining up against Frohnmayer, and asking: Do you really have to move so fast? And especially: Before you’ve figured out what to do with all those people whose housing has been taken away?

Frohnmayer’s stance on this looks – looks – irreversible; he has indicated there is no choice but to go forward. But he’s on a collision course, and this could rapidly be turning into the biggest trouble he’s faced in his dozen or so years at the university.

In November 2004, Frohnmayer delivered an address in Portland on situational ethics. Toward the end of it, he had this to say:

A major component of ethical judgment is to recognize the flashing yellow lights that say “don’t enter the valley of the shadow.” The admonition to avoid the “occasions of sin” may be more important that we have realized. We can easily go too far – authority is seductive; we can reach a personal tipping point after which our hands are inescapably dirty. Some environments blind us to the human consequences of our actions– so we MUST be attuned to the consequences of our behavior and our own weaknesses, our own sins – whatever they may be. This ethical life is hard work – “knowing right from wrong” requires diligence, self-scrutiny and looking into a very well-lit and refractive mirror.

Wise words.

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