The Emergent University
Introduction: Is there Education Post-Enlightenment?
Until recently it has seemed quite obvious that the Enlightenment promise of reasoned understanding and skeptical, critical thought, was pursued and underwritten by the sciences. We could effectively rely on science to tell the truth and to examine the world positively, cleanly, and objectively. This worldview was buttressed by the idea of progress by which science and its applied arts would improve our lives, making them better and easier.
Ideas of freedom were also underwritten by the pursuit of the reasoning person, each individual who–in association with others–could establish and maintain a democratic government, a civil and civilized society: scientific, logical, rational, moral citizens.
We the people could form a social contract, come together in common cause, think out the world, establish and continue a free nation unbound by the claims of aristocrats and monarchs to hereditary privilege, able to resist the priests and patrons of the supernatural religions who remain only too pleased to tell us who and how we are. We would live in the truths of nature and not gather into our thinking the wooings of the supernatural to spell out our destiny. Reality was natural was our domain.
Rationality and reasoned thought were the aim of an educated person, fending off occasional residues of the extra-natural, superstition, and mysticism fed by fears of sickness and death, poverty and oppression. We the people, thinking out our destiny, could form a nation in which we could all partake, equally, democratically. Education was directed toward this notion of reasoned knowledge; the aim of an education led and inspired by the idea of the university; the study of the Liberal Arts. This has been the case for the past century or so.
Understandably the idea of the university incorporating this vision of science, was one which sought truth honestly and with integrity. Its practitioners pursued and professed the truth. Free exchange of ideas, publication, public criticism among the knowledgeable would help guarantee that all scientific inquiry was on the up and up: the freedom to state and to pursue the truth was part of the deal of a tenure which underwrote academic freedom.
In the past couple of decades, however, a number of apparent blemishes have appeared in this objective armor: some of it coming from within, much of it from outside science, and increasingly outside the world of universities; attacks on science from literature and religion, often in the name of politics.
Questions about the integrity of individuals, fields, and institutions have entered our thinking as we wonder about the roles and responsibility of a university in the context of a free society. The university seems no longer removed from society; contemplative life has become another aspect of the market economy. This has become especially the case as an aging (mostly white, mostly male) faculty has become quite expensive, and less than dedicated to teaching what they study. In this age of globalization, society is concerned that its children are not sufficiently prepared for a world in flux.
The public, our students and their parents, have moved away from a freely expressed admiration for the academic and research-directed life. The contemplative life seems privileged. The increasing critiques of the university concern its expenses, the deadwood which a tenure for life protects. We discuss tenure, but have little sense for the ideas of academic freedom which it was calculated to guarantee.
Within this critique of the university, the ideas which undergird a liberal education are at risk, and often embattled. Science is often seen to be at war with culture, with literature, with a sense that the ideas of science have been swallowed by a political-economic enterprise in which ideas have become commodities: the rise of market economy as defining our very being.
Much of the criticism of science is from those who have felt (were/are?) excluded from the practice of science: women, persons of color, who have developed a critique of science–as an enterprise. As a business practice, science is not very different from politics: excluding those who are not white males; based, it would seem, on ideas which have appeared objective, but are (the critique says) ways of controlling access.
This observation has, in its turn, created a number of polemics between the rational and intuitional (mind vs. body), and the question of whether science is any different from literature; i.e., all is a story, a narrative. In this argument, science is seen less as engaged in the pursuit of truth, more as a form of conversation or discourse. Science is less a positive pursuit than a set of claims; claims about an objectivity which is restricted to particular types or cultures of persons.
As science is portrayed as claims more than method, the authority of truth and science erodes. Science is depicted as no more than some charismatic story which should be placed in competition with other stories, narrative, literature. This is the form of attack upon science coming principally from literature, especially from critical theory which understands knowledge deriving not from nature, but from texts and history. Indeed, nature itself(!), has become our vision of nature.
But some of the science-as-truth story is being imploded from within: the history of science as revolutionary has burst the notion that science is directly and always progressive. Instead, scientific knowledge moves in odd ways, captivating uncritical thinkers during times of paradigmatic bandwagon effects, and breaking free into next moments of seemingly anarchic and mad jumps.
Critiques of science as a kind of culture opposing the humanities flow from the pen of C. P. Snow. The questioning of science as an overarching truth, its dependence on the math and geometries of all of time and place seem less and less sure as geometries and logics have proliferated. The bottom lines of the truth of Euclidean geometry succumbed to the complications of parallel lines meeting in the bars and afterwork joints where thinkers ponder what’s up.
The wonderments of Feyerabend about the methods of science reflect a current return to the wonders of Peirce and other Americanists who wonder how science thinks itself.
For several centuries, the issues of relativism deriving from cultural and other perspectival positionings about nature and the human condition, have been pushed away by the successes of technology; but now, less, ironically driven much by the very successes of technology which science has spawned–communications, transportation–the ideas of the entire world’s traditions now join our own. The garbage of technology weighs heavily as yokes about our thinking of ecology, population, and how to sustain the world–beginning after World War II with The Eclipse of Reason and continuing the lament that capitalism-as-markets only moves toward the self-interest of the fewer and fewer, exploding inevitably in some, but now global, totalitarian eclipse.
All of this is occurring with the rise of market economy and a commercialism which says that there is little if any difference between business and education. This is the case especially in a society whose notion of the very nature of work is changing quickly, moving toward service more than making any tangible products.
In this climate, there is a quickening tendency to blur any differences between market and the pursuit of knowledge, undercutting the integrity of science and any autonomy of the idea of a university. There are no sacred areas within the secular, as medicine and education fall under the purview of accountants and actuaries. Students and patients are now customers and consumers, as the pursuit of truth sounds more pretentious and precious, than disinterested and dedicated. Inquiry has turned from an intellectual pursuit to a euphemism for success in the various markets which vie for our attention.
But what about the ideas which have informed freedom and democracy in a time where the market rules, and truth is important only as it is worth what someone will pay?
Where are we headed as a society; what is the role of universities? What are the arenas for critical discussion in the climates of commercialism, politics, and correctness which seem to be diminishing the role of science in understanding and interpreting the world? Where does this leave the thinking individual whose humanistic hopes had been focused on an idea of truth located in science; located especially in the freedom of discussion within the modern university? What is the role, what is the point of the university in a world where training for work has overtaken the idea of a reasonable, liberally educated person?
I: Some History
While the university-as-idea retains in the broadest sense life’s study and curricula, the institution-as-practice has changed considerably, perhaps radically during the past three or four decades. Some of these changes have involved management and administrative practices responding to a vast increase in the size and interest in higher education, the enlargement of the research orientation beginning with Sputnik (1957) and expanding steadily until this moment.
Driven by the research enterprise of government, foundations, and commerce, the vast increase in students began with the coming of age of the baby boom in the late 1950’s. Accompanying this was the rapid democratization of higher education, and the conflation of post-secondary education with the credentialing needed to survive in today’s society.
The idea of the university and its modernist scientific outlook was made murky by the increasing importance of training and degrees for legitimacy within the world of work. The very notion-term university spread (and cheapened?) to the (former) state teachers’ colleges, to the newly invented community/junior colleges and to the vocational colleges now dubbed Vo-Ed.
The increasing population was drawn to these institutions less for their academic values, than for the social importance of the degree to obtain decent employment. It is no exaggeration to state that the B.A. has replaced the high school diploma as the legitimating credential of this generation. In pursuing this path, however, education has increasingly become training; the end of education less concerned with the pursuit of knowledge than the necessity of a credential to enter the work force at a decent income level.
In great part, the idea of the university was backgrounded to the practicalities of commercial practices. Indeed, most students today have little sense that the idea of the university has any locus or focus, beyond its conferring of status, and its enabling quality of entry into adult life. Literally, we are more a credentialing institution than an educational one.
This is to say that there has been little discussion during this era of the meaning or purpose of the university and its underwriting ideas such as integrity, the pursuit of truth, objectivity. In the widespread elision of terminology, academic has become, increasingly, equated with esoteric or out-of-touch; the ideal of the contemplative life with the notion of ivy tower, remote from reality.
During this era the university as most institutions in this society, became highly bureaucratized. Importantly, administrations began to develop their own life more than reflecting the ideas and values of the professoriate. A previously flexible pyramid of institutions took on more definite statuses, each institution measuring its place and self-worth within a small group of similar places; most of this determined by the wish for success of administrators to move to somewhat better rather than to lesser institutions as they became a very mobile profession. The notion of meaning, ideals, values, purpose, retreated radically, as administration increasingly gathered resources, power, and monies, rewarded and granted prestige to those who supported this notion of the university; i.e., as administration.
As well as administration, most fields also became bureaucratized, setting up centers and margins whose control was located in certain places and institutions. Certain ideas were in or out, often measured in terms of bandwagon popularity much as the quality of ideas. Access to place, as professor or administrator, became more clearly a matter of style and particular credentials, than the quality of minds or works; visibility to other institutions, foundations, governments, money givers, publishers. Administration paid increasing attention to those faculty who became research entrepreneurs and brought money into their institutions, separating faculties, departments, and colleges within any university into haves and have-nots.
Worst–in terms of the ideas and integrity of the university–the rise of cynicism as a literal-practical mode of administration became the training manual for new deans, provostial barons, and university presidents where the rule of ruling became off-balance and money-raising much more than leadership. The university subsequently has become defined more by success within its particular narrow constituencies rather than by any sense of purpose or integrity: intellectual, scientific, rational, critical thought…
Other changes have been more internal to the institution and to the disciplines. There have been a number of critical changes in the outlook and practices of science in the past generation which have altered or weakened the idea that science enables and underwrites truth and integrity.
Some of these have been implosions and criticisms from within the scientific enterprise, broadly conceived: science vs. humanities in some wars of un-understanding; revolutions rather than summation in knowledge; chaos theory shifting linear theory whenever scale becomes holistic; methodological narrownesses carried to universal claims of knowledge; some sense that the positivistic approach of science carries within it a depiction of reality which is, perhaps, overstated–we now develop models of, but do not precisely describe the world.
Others changes in our viewing of science are more external to science. Some flow from temptations of the market economy to commodify almost all of life and its products: science, thus truth, seems to be for sale. The concern of universities to retain and develop funding has loosened the hold of truth and integrity on research as money demands and rewards push them increasingly towards R & D rather than basic research: products over ideas. Parallel developments in the nature of university administration modeling itself on (older) corporate efficiency models lend themselves in this direction, even in the absence of bottom lines.
Science, increasingly, has become an enterprise more than a pursuit or a method of free inquiry; an incorporation of certain/narrow truths into widespread public domains; and an enterprise often applauded more than critically explored. That is to say that the enterprise of science has, by this time, lent itself and some senses of its truths, to forms of arrogance and hubris which seem to undermine its integrity, reinscribing the notion of (pursuit of) truth to be claims to truth. The idea of truth as having some standing independent of market has blurred. This raises all sorts of issues about the authority and agency of scientists, and what their aims (really) might be, as well as the claims of the university to issues of truth and integrity (and academic freedom).
In the wider culture, the power of television-as-infotainment has increasingly undermined the authority of knowledge, replacing it with celebrity, and the temptation of those with any hold on any form of power including knowledge, to seek public success. (And, no doubt, any university would enjoy the publicity of any of its professors appearing on television, especially on programs with other important persons.)
Additional cracks in the Enlightenment model of science as truth radiate as technology develops scientific ideas and moves them into various public domains. Where there exist canons for publication, validity, and verification in (most) academic settings, once science moves into other arenas, changes often occur.
Whenever science enters the judicial system or legal thinking, for example, it tends to be cast as adversarial in order to fit our legal procedures: from an idea of the pursuit of truth which is overarching and universal, the legal setting seems to cast science in the form of an ideology rather than a pursuit and/or method. All scientists–thus science–seem to be for sale. And many of the powerful in society think this is proper and praiseworthy: intellectual values, bah!
Witness debates about the dangers (or not) of smoking! Scientist-as-rational-intellectual has been replaced by scientoid-as-expert-witness in another out-take of Orwellian dystopia. Knowledge is placed in an adversarial context, and becomes as political and ideological as all other endeavors.
Once science is cast and seen as ideology, the scene is set for other self-declared ideologies to compete. In the fields of the human and social sciences, especially, the lines between truth and politics are often crossed or blended, bringing social history into conflict with the ideas of enduring truth. Biopolitics, especially, raises the spectres of racism which have taken ideas of human developmental history into nature, education, and the Realpolitik.
This heightens the critical suspicions of many non-scientists that science is an enterprise which is largely ideological. In turn, this creates a framework for opposition to the ideological, which then tends to collect the ideas underlying the pursuit of science into a singularity, an ideology to be fought or co-opted.
The general exclusion/absence of women and persons of color from science and engineering until these times has also raised suspicions that the idealisms of scientific thought are tinged with social exclusivism; creating lines between science and scientisms where the latter seem to defend privilege more than method, social more than intellectual integrity.
Beyond this are larger historical changes deriving, often ironically, from some of the successes of science. Science as applied technology has transformed our social world profoundly during this era. Though we have tended to accept and background the power of such changes, they remain historically huge: we remain alive longer and longer, the pill and reproductive technologies, but surely television, and transportation and their effects on our thinking and the presence of all the traditions of the world together in the same instant, and computers-robotics, the great transformation in the nature of work–and their power in affecting and transforming our thinking about space and place and our identity; the contrast and competition of Western (including scientific) ideas with other traditions already radically affecting the practice of medicine. It is breathtaking!
We have come far in some directions led by the power of technologies to transform both the world and how we think about the world; especially, how we think about ourselves. Importantly, the truth of technology resides particularly in its products rather than in any methods which produced it; importantly, because the locus of truth has shifted from methods and ideas undergirding science, to the idea of truth as product (he says to his self-reflecting vision on the surface of a CRT which seems to process words and ideas. It works!).
Within this transformation, science, thus scientists, are easily seen as hired guns rather than selfless idealists pursuing truth. Commercialized and commodified, science seems more like a good method for generating money and social success than for understanding the nature of nature; and very good for obtaining juicy consultantships (not available to the poor and downwardly-mobile humanists).
The vast scale of new technology in entering our thinking casts some doubt on the (social) wisdom of the technology itself: from the destructive power of the bomb, to residues and garbages of production, to the newly opening ethical issues generated by the possibilities of creating new species, the patenting of life; the list goes on. Living long has seemed more compelling than living well, but now it becomes very expensive. From research-is-good, many begin to ask: what good is more research?
In many senses the recent critiques within science seem minor compared with the virtual attacks on the entire scientific enterprise emanating from the cultural movement incorporated within the concept of postmodernism. Here science is cast as modern, past and passé; to be opposed within an ideology of those whose orientation to truth and ideas is much more established within texts than from experience. The very notion of truth shakes in this polemic whose idea of post- and after- the modern is perhaps progressive, but as likely is a return to earlier ideas which had more power pre-Enlightenment.
As this historical moment is experienced as more than less destructive in the contexts of technological detritus, as unfair or unjust to various individuals or groups, then science may be cast as enemy of humanity: humanity cast as culture. Its ideas are seen as deriving from the wish of particular sorts of persons/peoples to gain control: e.g., old white guys, Western capitalists, multi(trans)national corporations in various dialectics with those who feel excluded; first world, the North. In pre-post-modern fits of nostalgia, we seem perhaps to long for the old days when rationality only had to defend itself against the supernatural, drugs, and mere mysticisms.
As science qua ideology is seen to represent modernism, it is tempting to declare the end of modernism, the entering of a new phase of society and of knowledge which will be open to the less powerful. Science as method, integrity, and truth-pursuit, as well as its accompanying ideas of progress underlying any faith in democracy, fade as science seems to be under the control of particular, usually commercial interests.
In one of its most poignant ironies, the attempt to democratize the science, which has opened the possibility of truth replacing superstition, repoliticizes our being by declaring the folly of any truth claims of science.
This is to say that the attempt to sunder this historical moment from its antecedent period by declaring the postmodern, is also an attack on science. As some of its leading practitioners set themselves clearly in texts and history or in textual history, understandings of reality and methods of probing it diverge radically from those of science.
How? Once science is cast/seen in the context of ideology, the step to re-envision science as a kind of story or narrative becomes obvious and easy, especially in a time when revisionism has become high art. Remembering that literary and religious texts are historically derived from the originary texts of Western thought, we find ourselves arguing about presence, authority, experience, and existence before we can act as if we can obtain the remove, skepticism, or suspension of judgment which any claim of objectivity must satisfy.
Within this thinking, the idea–transformed to a claim–to objectivity becomes no more than a political ploy when science claims that it can query nature. Questions of human nature, of how we know, what is the psychology of our subjective being–all these questions overtake objectivity, thence overtake science as a possibility. Science becomes a story, much as any other narrative, needing critical analysis and interpretation rather than positive scientific inquiry to examine nature. Human nature, our nature, rises to the fore, informed, so far, principally by Cartesian and Kantian idea of reason and pure reason.
Within the Western tradition, if the idea of present experience is understood, say, as an extension of thought particularly of Plato and Aristotle, then it is difficult to claim that the ideas of science can stand on their own and convince those who see ideology and politics in the practices and claims of scientists.
As many Humanists are tempted to invoke the thinking of Protagoras (that human is the measure of all things), the ideas of objectivity or the ability to suspend history, politics et al, seems arrogant. Science is cast merely as another form of story, to be placed as it were in competition with all the other tales that humans have found fit to spin. Cultural and philosophical relativism invade and become squatters on the grounds of truth, moving truth in the form of any philosophical absolutism quite off-center. Many of the apparent defenders of truth fight for philosophical absolutism by returning us to the texts of Plato, further politicizing knowledge and confirming the worst fears of the anti-objectivists.
Others who had hoped that Enlightenment had freed us finally from Plato and Aristotle, find ourselves swearing a pox on all these reactions. Attempting to find some ground on which to watch our own watching without yielding either to simple-sounding positivistic claims of objectivity or to the attempts to renarrativize all of science, we begin to rethink the human condition and human nature. We (re)discover that truth seems to depend on some sense that what is, is what is, necessitating some sense of (almost?) absolutism; at the least asking us to rethink what we mean by reality, and questioning not only what we know and can be known, but how it is that we (can) know: questions of being and identity; questions of the nature of reality.
Does anything go? Does anything matter? Is there some way of approaching truth without limiting ourselves to fairly mechanical models which subsume humanity within models of being which seem to deny, at least to bypass, the nature of human experi-ence?
Questions which seemed, at least, to be in the realm of philosophical and situational relativism, have been recast–for this time–in the guise of cultural relativism. We have not yet, it seems, rethought or redefined issues of reality to include all the world’s peoples and perspectives.
Within the current (limited) relativisms, it seems easy to move from cultural relativism to notions that every one, each type or culture, has a legitimate perspective and handle on reality; and, for those who are of absolutist bent, that reality and truth are located on some slippery slope from a skeptical rationalism to a needy nihilism.
The issue of (political) ideology follows easily, as it is observed that science (and technology) attract certain sorts of persons, and repel others; benefit some to the apparent detriment of others; play into, lend themselves to, support the increasing oligarchy in America.
The line between determinism in biology and bio-politics is, for example, a narrative which has had a long and often bleak, often sexist and racist history; in a war between the northern haves and the southern (1st/3rd worlds) have-nots, science clearly benefits the lighter peoples of the world. Objective? Objectionable! Science at fault? Technology?
Gradually, the lines between truth and integrity and simple(?) claims to power and authority blur. When the truth is ensconced in narratives, political or other, it becomes difficult to discern any claims to truth over any other. The curriculum focuses increasingly on issues of agency and authority. Questions of inquiry and the search for truth become background, easily obscured by the presence of ideology blocking questions of truth. Integrity increasingly becomes transmogrified into text and narrative, and becomes the consistency and elegance of ideological statements: central to the postmodernist claims that science truly is just another story.
As if this moment were not sufficiently confusing, there re-arise the claims of (fundamentalist) religion, often at the expense of science. When ideology and narrative are seen to frame issues of truth, there is no particular reason to focus truth pursuits on the naturalist inquiries of science or the experiential conflations of experience and knowledge within narrative ideologies. Natural, extra-natural, super-natural, all the same, all stories with different strokes for varying worries.
Re-enter the supernatural whose textual elegance and authority have marked most of the history of Western thought! After all, most colleges and universities were religious in their very foundations until quite recently. Many thinkers are now thinking to return them to their religious roots. God is the truth is a claim which is difficult to combat when narrative and ideology swallow science.
The question of this moment: should(n’t) the university become the arena of competition for these competing narratives, rather than one in which truth is clear, and I-as-teacher can say with complete integrity that I am telling my students what is what?
(…all this is an era of libertarian capitalism gone wild in its attempts to translate all of being into goods, money, and success; thought into products; and the meanings of life into banalities)
II: The Idea of the University as a Bastion of Truth
In the context of the university in society, the question I want to raise concerns whether there is and needs to be some place, some institution which underwrites its claims to authority by underwriting concepts of truth, honesty, and integrity.
Is it (even) possible at this historical moment to conceive and develop a concept of a university which commits itself to the Liberal Arts (Enlightenment?) principles of truth and integrity: having to please its multivariate external constituencies as well as its faculties and students?
(Is it, isn’t it ironic that the very democratization of higher education which has created a wider population which has been educated beyond high school, has seemingly undermined the ideas of the university?)
The cynical realists answers, NO! No, it is beyond that time. The world is too complicated, too many constituencies fighting to justify their own place in the academy; wanting tenured jobs, the plums of infighting for the glory of being in the academy.
Anyway, anyone can be in the business of higher education. I pass each day on my walk to the University of Minnesota, a Walden University which is for mail-order degrees for the professional student. There are, in the world, many education places run by industries which train people often quite well (?) for…the world, work, success. A recent letter to a University of Minnesota publication–from the director of…–wants us to confess that the university is strictly a training and credentialing institution.
What does the university (re-read as the real or legitimate university) do and offer that any commercial outfit does not? What meaning the Liberal Arts or rationality in a world which crassly seeks credentials for sale in the commercial world?–i.e., there is no other world! (Is there a world…left?) A new world of universities: wholesale and retail! (Distance education via Internet or interactional television leave us as a virtual university: apply for a grant now!)
Alternatives: should all ideas place themselves in a competitive marketplace without any backing of intellectual or scholarly authority; whatever works? Scholarly, authority? Whatever works, whoever sells.
What claims does any university have, any longer. The University: a User’s Manual writes Rosovsky, the former Dean of Harvard. The university is defined by what Harvard is and does, and others emulate. Reason? Authority is its own reason. Harvard sets the tune and we all dance the cha-cha’s of its beats. But what is the tune? Critical reasoned thinking, or the knacks for fame and fortune: the best of both is the worst?
The curricular fix, the answer to our dilemma of authority, of reasoned thinking, is to make all the students read this and that, take this course: the trivium and quadrivium transmogrified into the trivial and four-thirds trivial. Thus will knowledge reveal itself and be had. Ah! The Great Books solution, Western Civ as the epitome of a world which has apparently changed beyond its reach. Do we argue about who owns the past as the harbinger of students’ futures? Or do the Humanities own ideas which are as timeless as the truths science would pursue?
A major problem is that the curriculum of the university and of life has become so vast, so deeply narrowly specialized that Humpty has gone Dumpty. The curricular fix is intoxicating like rubber cement, but contains no discernible matrix, no informing ideas which ground knowledge. From three foundational subjects to four, the University of Minnesota offers PhD degrees in 165 (count ’em!) fields. Hasn’t knowing become so vast that it easily disappears from viewing?
Do we speak together? Explore the differences of our differences? Humpty Dumpty is in the can. More we fight over the politics of knowledge, fighting over who owns knowing, and do not much attend to the ungrounding of the university itself: a moment of hubris just before the idea of the university becomes mere memory?
A personal digression? My (the Real Professor?) claims to knowing, authority…respect?! Can I/We find some grounds upon which to locate knowing beyond the narratives of history and politics? Is there some set of studies in which we can engage one another which are not merely explosive and implosive; more, over who owns turf, than about the nature of the turf of knowledge? Absolutely relative, we need some perspectives on where we are…going. A generalist, a Renaissance scholar, a synthesist, synergist in a world where knowing is deeply deep, and breadth goes down only half an inch. (Make that a centimeter plus.)
The idea of a university is on shaking grounds! Newman’s worst fears have become the commonplace of our times.
III: The Idea of a University: A Course of Study/Discussion
It seems clear that the notion of the university somehow as guardian of the quest for truth, honesty, integrity et al, is deeply undermined and out-of-balance in this moment of consumerism, credentialism, and corporatization. Its Enlightenment rationale is deeply undercut by the postmodernist attempts to rewrite the nature of knowledge as belonging to free inquiry. Indeed, Free inquiry becomes a self-mocking phrase.
Perhaps what we can do is to attempt to restate the importance of such issues as questions and studies in a broad rethinking of the meaning and values which underlie a Democratic society.
The justification for this approach lies most clearly in the education of our students in this unscripted time: the need to educate them to think out the world in their futures which seem very unclear and uncertain with respect both to particular skills for living, and the subject or disciplinary education which might enable them best to survive, even thrive.
The study of our study:
The remainder of this essay, then, is an outline of the studies and discussions on The Emergent University, which might take place soon.
1) Discussion of Where We Are: how we got here; redefinition, expansion of ideas of reality; human nature (Foundations Project). Necessity to redefine (inclusively) the ideas of reality to include all of human nature (all the world’s traditions–my move to begin from the life paradoxes–this, a time of paradox??) Ways of reading: interpretive (beginning with Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine), literal, as phenomenon, phenomenally, rhetorically; the relationships between author and readers–who writes these times? What do we do with authority, and gain our own? Texts, nature, us; reading, understanding, interpreting the past/present to our students with hope and toward future becoming? (Worry that talking will occupy us while the institution fades from viewing: The university, last seen in ’96, now endowed with seats of pants rather than knowledge…)
2) Technology has overtaken Being: how are Science and Technology reframing our understandings of the human condition? Temptations to view the world via the political-economic cynical realism, redefining and narrowing the very meanings of rationality and knowledge. A critical study of the boundaries and overlaps between knowledge and politic. and…
3) A Global Society: viewed as politics of city-state extrapolated to the globe, not capable of sustaining the world; vacua opening to the multinationals developing the world as the population rises to every occasion. Less grain in the near future does not clarify the picture.
4) Crisis in Meaning and Identity: Rise of cynicism, crisis in meaning, in culture,…nihilism. Vastness of curriculum (those 165 PhD disciplines at U. of Minn.)–lack of generalists, renaissance persons in a time of specialization, reductionisms. This question poses itself in a complicated historical moment, when the various theo-political traditions of the world come face-to-face with contrasting ideas and differing modes of constructing a decent life.
5) Americanization of the World: Although the idea of America is a powerful cultural icon, bureaucratization mediates experience and the rush of commercialization and corporatization of the world. Much of our thinking and much of knowledge has become effectively bureaucratized: we vie for success in the university within narrowing frameworks, and create an administrative framework which is relieved of representing the idea of a university; just now becoming commodified, and directly for sale. Education-as-credential: we will get you into…; knowledge replaced by connectivity and genealogy, fame and celebrity, visibility and the issue of administration by perception.
6) Ideas Flow-in from the Entire World: all the peoples and their ideas are right here. Most obvious is alternative medicine–wellness is cheaper than curing. The world of medicine taken over by accountants and actuaries, HMO’s. The changes not much noted within the arrogances of big money by which the specialists garnered the medical market, and have–suddenly, it seems–lost it. With it have gone whatever values of academic freedom and truth claims that they apparently had made. We need to rethink questions of curing and of teaching: and to reintegrate the pursuit of knowledge.
7) Toward a Philosophical Anthropology: what is human nature? The necessity to include the ideas and traditions of the world in exploring and understanding who we are, how we understand; how the traditions expand, contrast, contradict Western ideas. How these ideas fit into these issues of knowledge and truth quests; where mysticisms flourish and fundamentalisms find root. Question of the nature of our being, authority, human agency.
Linkage between democracy, freedom, and enlightenment–questions of justice and success–difficulties of science-as-enterprise developing hubris and closedness–boundary police (parallel critiques of/with Plantinga).
Where do we go? Study of Present age: deal seriously with the issues of these fragile and fragmenting times
Academic freedom & Tenure (Tenure and Academic Freedom): now under attack.
End of Education: therapeutic toward community rather than intellection: good life, well-lived. Simple(r) life: return to sustainable world?–a benevolent totalitarianism?
Rise of therapeutic culture: antagonisms between knowledge and emotions!?
© 1997 by the North American Committee for Humanism (NACH) All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof in any form, including electronic media, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.