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Tsongas discuses June 5 message

By Linda D'Angelo

The 1989 commencement address on June 5 will focus on the "role of the United States in economic international affairs," according to the MIT's commencement speaker, former US Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-MA).

Tsongas, who was recently appointed chairman of the state Board of Regents of Higher Education, described his selection as commencement speaker as a "great honor."

The "time of relying on national resources" to maintain a high world economic status for the United States is over, according to Tsongas. If Americans continue to depend on natural resources alone, then their standard of living will decline, he predicted. To avoid this the United States must realize that the new economic competition involves "talent and brainpower," Tsongas said.

The solution is education, with "MIT as the prototype" for this necessary "link between economics and education," Tsongas said. The "ethic at MIT" is something that the country "needs to get in a substantive way," he explained.

Tsongas said he hopes to imbue public schools with this competitive spirit in his new position as chairman of the Board of Regents. Convinced that it is possible to "run a system of public education as well as a private one," Tsongas believed the key is that colleges or institutions do not "try to be all things to all people." To this end, the board is conducting an "on-going" study of the state's 29 colleges and universities.

The main goal of the board is to create a network with each college or institution filling a specific need. After assessing a school's strengths, the study will recommend the field in which the school should concentrate its efforts. These "mission statements" will be released in March, according to Tsongas.

Rather than compete with each other, the schools would complement each other and thus improve the level of public education in the state. By focusing on one goal, public institutions will be able to "compete with the privates," achieving the "commitment to excellence that MIT is known for," Tsongas said.

Tsongas said he understands this commitment because the Institute was "well-propagandized" to him as a child: his two uncles, MIT graduates, often debated such points with his father, a Harvard alumnus. There is an "assumption of excellence" at MIT, he explained, which is an "enormous strength."

Consistent with his model of a successful school, Tsongas criticized people who are "wishy-washy" because they are trying to satisfy everyone. "People are a lot better off having principles and sticking to them," he declared.

To Tsongas, "culture and the work ethic" are two things of lasting importance which are "not a function of natural resources, but a function of determination and strong will." Much like the link between economic status and education, the tie between commercial development and culture is "a fact underappreciated in the US," according to Tsongas.

As a strong voice in the campaign against unrestrained development of Cape Cod, Tsongas has tried to keep this tie intact. Describing it as a quality of life issue, he feared that rapid development will create an "Anyplace, USA" in Cape Cod.

The result will be a community with "no character left," he said. In such instances, the "culture breaks down" and the community becomes fragmented, according to Tsongas. For this reason he said he wants simply to ensure that "the Cape remains the Cape and not some amorphous suburb."

Tsongas also criticized Route 128, commonly referred to as "America's technology highway," because it is "not rooted" in any specific city or town. "One cannot divorce oneself from society," Tsongas contended because the type of "every-man-for-himself" ideology which results cannot provide the "quality of life that a caring society is all about," he said.

Thus, Tsongas felt that "the most important person in society is a successful CEO with a social conscience." He applauded MIT's "important move" toward a more well-rounded education, that stresses humanities as well as science. Since many MIT graduates start their own businesses, a "proper grounding in humanities is essential," Tsongas commented.