ON a recent warm spring evening here, Don Kennedy tripped the light fantastic on the campus quad with an attractive coed who was sporting a ``Divest NOW!'' sign. A local newspaper carried a photo of the academic administrator and his undergraduate dance partner the next day, bearing the caption: ``Where else but Stanford does the college president dance with anti-apartheid demonstrators?''
Where else, indeed! Particularly a college president who is bucking the tide of students and proclaiming that divestment is ``extremely unlikely'' to bring democratic majority rule to South Africa.
Donald Kennedy -- renowned biologist, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration in the Carter administration, champion of university scientific research, and an outspoken advocate of the intertwining of education and public service -- is no defender of policies of racial separatism and discrimination. But neither does he believe that individual American universities can alter apartheid by refusing to do business with South Africa.
Instead, Dr. Kennedy would support federal legislation that provided for trade sanctions against the government of South Africa which were designed to keep from throwing nonwhites out of work. He says these sanctions would be waived when there was indication of significant progress in such areas as ending the removal of people to tribal reserves, provision for the free movement of labor, and elimination of policies that make distinctions between South African nationality for blacks and whites.
This reporter recently discussed student activism, the role of today's college presidents, and general directions in American education with Stanford's president of five years. The setting was a relaxed one -- Donald Kennedy's inner quad office on a quiet Saturday morning. Outside were the remaining traces of an all-night anti-apartheid vigil -- trashed signs, a few exhausted students curled up in sleeping bags, and one lone troubadour strumming folk songs about peace from another decade on his guitar.
Don Kennedy spoke warmly of the anti-apartheid demonstrators and other students who had recently protested against hunger in have-not nations. If he did not support their methods, he still admired their social commitment, he said. He had even written academic recommendations for some students with whose views and tactics he differed.
Kennedy explained that he is concerned about an overall climate in the United States today that ``places high value on education'' but is more preoccupied with ``economic strength'' than ``social values.''
Kennedy pointed out that the post-Sputnik era of the late 1950s sparked widespread public interest in scientific and technical education. ``But this did not sustain itself for long enough, because it was based on practical, external events rather than on deeply held convictions about the purposes of education or the social value of education,'' he said.
He is optimistic, however. He sees new signs of a broad commitment to all levels of education in the US -- not just college studies. He points to growing communication and cooperative efforts among the scientific and ``liberal arts'' communities to foster interdisciplinary knowledge and promote ethical values. And he says that, contrary to many reports, today's students are devoted to social action -- through community activity and without the campus violence of the 1960s.
``One of the welcome signs, which I hope will prove to be permanent,'' Kennedy says, ``is the interest of colleges and universities in forming new alliances with local schools in taking a role in the direction of educational policy and trying to speak for the value of education at all levels.''
Further, Stanford's president points out that ``college and university leaders are seeing themselves more as spokespersons for, and as responsible to, the entire venture of education, and not just higher education.''
Kennedy says he was discouraged at the beginning of the decade when he saw that young people's distrust of government was ``turning them off'' to careers in the public sector, including teaching. But he says this is changing. Stanford students, for example, are giving their time in greater numbers to education studies to help the poor, public management programs, and a legal aid project that serves minorities and disadvantaged people in nearby East Palo Alto. ``And we've about tripled our rate of volunteers for Asia and the Peace Corps,'' he says.
``Inequality has much to do with much of the [student] concern,'' Kennedy explains. ``And redressing the wrongs of discrimination, of poverty, of economic exploitation, is very central to these concerns,'' he adds.
Many of Don Kennedy's colleagues say he has outstanding ``political'' qualities. Some are even promoting him as a potential US Senate candidate. But the Stanford president casually brushes aside talk that he will run for office.
He does see for himself, however, a key role in shaping public policy from his administrative perch in Palo Alto.
He strongly challenges the Reagan administration for proposed cuts in federal financial aid to students. He says present policy would place an unfair burden on states and would particularly affect poor and minority families.
Kennedy has also become something of a national spokesman for those who seek government support to revitalize dilapidated university research facilities and outdated equipment. He allows that in general, public funds to underwrite academic research programs over the past six or seven years have been adequate. But he says this funding has disproportionately helped defense-related projects.
The real slippage has been in money for the construction of facilities in the sciences, he explains. ``And the result is that, with respect to major equipment as well as buildings, the university sciences in this country now are in a much worse position than they were 20 years ago.''
Kennedy adds that industrial sponsors have often come forward to form consortia with universities and to provide needed facilities, such as Stanford's new computer science and electrical engineering center. ``But I don't think the capital starvation problem across the country can all be solved from private sources,'' he says. ``The government has to recognize that it has an obligation not just to the program costs but to the infrastructure costs as well,'' he adds.
Donald Kennedy says there is an important dimension of education -- that of the teaching of ethics and moral philosophy -- which is sometimes overlooked.
``Should formal training [in ethics] be injected into the curriculum? Yes.
``Should [universities] engage in active innovation in course development in these areas? Yes, again.
``Should they try to infuse that kind of consideration into the teaching of the professions and the special other disciplines? Yes.''
But Kennedy qualifies his thoughts on ethics. Universities -- unless they are affiliated with a religion -- ``should not accept one particular authorized version of correct behavior and try to put everybody through that hoop. That's not our role,'' he explains.