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Yale’s Jackson Institute and “Public Service”

Last week, Yale announced that it has received “a $50 million gift from John W. ’67 and Susan G. Jackson to establish the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.”  This is a big deal in the field of education in international affairs: it signals that Yale, in its own words, is going to challenge the MA programs at Harvard and Johns Hopkins and attempt to “build . . . the premier program of its type.” As Mr. Jackson tells it, the purpose of the Institute is to “inspire students to pursue careers in diplomacy and public service.”

But what does “public service” mean? ‘Service’ appeared again in the message that announced the Jackson gift, in a reminder that Saturday was Yale’s “Global Day of Community Service.” As I’ve pointed out, sometimes “community service” is all about partisan politics. But academia’s confusion over “service” is often subtle. The reminder, for instance, stated that “Yale has a long, proud tradition of community service, dating back to its founding in 1701 as a ‘Collegiate School’ to prepare students ‘for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.'”

Yes, that’s right: “For God, For Country, and for Yale” is a community service motto. Serving in the clergy, or working for the government, is part of the same “tradition of community service” as picking up trash.  Now, I have no gripe with many of the “Community Service” activities on Yale’s site, but Yale’s broader argument is doubly fallacious: government is both more serious than “community service” and less all-encompassing than civil society, of which I suppose “community service” is a small part.

The two announcements reminded me of the lawsuit by the Robertson Family against Princeton University, over the control of the funds for the Woodrow Wilson School. That School was funded by the Family to encourage students to pursue a career in the diplomatic service. Over time, it came to emphasize careers on Wall Street, so the Robertsons sued to get their money back. There are many lessons to be drawn from this story, but James Piereson gets a central one right: it is dangerous to “[award] endowment gifts to . . . universities in order to achieve some well defined purpose,” because the gift always outlasts the purpose.

The Jacksons have done exactly what Piereson advises against. I wish them, and the International Relations program that will benefit from their generosity (and for which I worked for four years), all the good will in the world. But nothing Yale writes instills much confidence in me that it will, over the coming decades, treat their gift as the Jacksons state they want it to be treated, because they do not
appear to mean the same thing by “service” as Yale does. So this is not just an argument about terms.  It has implications for how the university educates its students and respects the intent of its donors.



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