HONOURED BY U.S. UNIVERSITY NUI CHANCELLOR CALLS ON GRADUATES TO CONSIDER PUBLIC SERVICE
The Chancellor of the National University of Ireland Dr Maurice Manning was today conferred with the honorary degree Doctor in Humane Letters by the University of Toledo, Ohio. Following the conferring, Dr Manning was called on to present the commencement address to the graduating students.
In a wide-ranging address, Dr Manning said that ‘universities should and must have a key role in transforming and energising the wider society’.
Continuing on the theme of politics and public life, Dr Manning expressed the view that the negative view of politicians which was prevalent today, while valid in some cases, was not always justified. ‘In my more than thirty years experience in politics, a majority of those I have met and worked with and against have been public spirited, committed to doing their best for their communities and their voters. Most have been ordinary, decent people who lived modestly and rarely died rich.’
He went on to say that ‘not all were ordinary. Some were truly extraordinary in their ability to see the bigger picture, in their far-sightedness, their readiness to tell hard truths to people who did not want to know, their toughness in facing down sectional interests, but most of all their sense of personal integrity. Not too many maybe, but enough to sustain my faith and belief in the centrality of politics in the life of any free society, because politics, good politics, honest politics, effective politics, is, along with the rule of law, at the heart of any free and democratic society. And without good politicians we won’t get good politics.’
Quoting from among others, Edmund Burke and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Dr Manning called on the students graduating to be idealistic and ‘think hard about the concept of public service.’ Drawing from the writings of Tom Kettle, who died in 1916 in the battle of the Somme, Dr Manning quoted the following:
“Politics is not, as it seems in clouded moments, a mere gabble and squabble of selfish interests; it is the State in action. And the State is the name by which we call the great human conspiracy against hunger and cold, against loneliness and ignorance, the State is the foster-mother of the Arts, of love and comradeship, of all that redeem from despair that strange adventure which we call human life.”
Referring to his role as Chairman of the Irish Human Rights Commission and of the European Group of National Human Rights Institutions, Dr Manning said that ‘too often today the recognition, definition and enforcement of human rights is what stands between civilisation and barbarity’. He said that ‘there is nothing complicated or confusing about human rights. They are simply universally agreed basic standards which aim to ensure that every person is treated with dignity and respect and that both national and international law and practice reflect this’.
Dr Manning mentioned in particular the crucial role of universities in meeting the human rights challenge. Quoting the UN World Programme on Human Rights Education: Higher education institutions, through their core functions (research, teaching and service to the community), not only have the social responsibility to educate ethical citizens committed to the construction of peace, the defence of human rights and the values of democracy, but also to generate global knowledge to meet current human rights challenges, such as eradication of poverty and discrimination, post-conflict rebuilding, sustainable development and multicultural understanding he said that ‘It is a huge challenge but it is one which no university can shirk’.