Discussing "Lives of Consequence"

Class of 1970 sparks debate

The Class of 1970 listserv (an e-mail exchange group) was buzzing this spring. Besides the usual topics, an intense discussion arose over the campaign theme Lives of Consequence.

In April, two ’70 classmates, Bill Eisen and Rob Duboff, posted an open letter to President Marx expressing their concerns that Amherst was “urging its students to pursue ‘Lives of Consequence,’ to the exclusion of other possibilities and goals for their lives.” In a letter of response, Marx explained that the phrase came from the college’s 2007 mission statement and is based on the idea that a principled life of consequence “is defined not by what we ourselves receive, but by what we give to others.” Both letters are on the college’s website.

As it turns out, the original coiner of the expression was one of the Class of 1970’s own: author, attorney and Amherst trustee Scott Turow. When the college began the process of writing its mission statement, Turow provided an early draft, which included the much-discussed phrase. After Reunion, in a message posted to the Class of 1970 listserv, Scott revealed himself as the author and explained the thinking behind the term.

“We wanted to capture a notion many in our class share—namely that something special, something without dollars-and-cents importance, happens at Amherst and some other small liberal arts schools like it. One of the hallmarks of that education is that we produce graduates who have a lifetime engagement with issues of values, and who are committed to measuring their lives not solely by their own narrow pleasures or attainments, but also by their lives’ consequence for other human beings. Since we aspire to produce graduates committed to deliberating on these questions, each person, by definition, must live according to values determined on his or her own. Thus I truly believe nothing judgmental was implied in the term.”

Learn more about the discussion of Lives of Consequence (and share your own thoughts) at www.amherst.edu/ alumni/connect/conversations/consequence. Go to www.amherst.edu/events/reunion/multimedia/2010/alumnimtg to watch President Marx answer questions from alumni and talk about Lives of Consequence.