17 Nov 2018

The Mission of the University

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University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, founded 1008.

A Facebook friend shared this:

Several weeks ago, a FB friend steered me to an essay on the decline of the university. It was pedestrian, as these things go; you likely know the reasoning as well as I do by now. But there was a reader’s comment attached that has haunted me since.

The reader argued that the essayist was upset because he (the essayist) assumed that the mission of the university was fixed. He (the reader) has a point. Most of the earliest universities in Europe and America were founded to glorify God and train clergy; that was the dominant university mission for over 600 years and only began to shift during the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment refocused (again, most) universities on the pursuit and dissemination of truth. (Note, that “t” is in the lowercase; truth, in the lowercase, is merely a correspondence between what is thought and said and a reality that exists independently of what is thought and said.)

Perhaps what’s going on now is yet another shift in the mission of universities–a shift away from the pursuit and dissemination of truth and toward a kind of bourgeois, psycho-therapeutic performance of collective identities and grievances.

If that’s what’s going on, then we are surely going to witness a schism within the university, a schism in which mathematics and hard sciences go in one direction (i.e., continue the pursuit and dissemination of truth) and the social sciences and humanities go in another direction (described above).

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Seattle Sam

The same thing is going on in the military. For almost all of history, the military’s purpose was to protect the nation and kill the enemy. Now, it is being morphed into a deliverer of “humanitarian efforts” and an equal opportunity employer for whatever oddity is in fashion.

All of which means that it will be less able to fulfill its original purpose.

JK Brown

Universities train the “intellectuals” and the intellectuals thrive by providing the supporting propaganda for the legitimacy of the State. The social sciences and humanities have been evolving to further support the central state and oppose classical liberalism.

Universities are good for husbanding the incremental advancement but distinctly not suited for transformative change. The steam engine and the industrial revolution happened in spite of, not because of Oxbridge’s technophobic teachings.

In the US, we shouldn’t discount the late 19th century migration of universities to the medieval format as a guild to benefit the “scholars” away from the Scottish university format which emphasized teaching.

“The medieval university differed in many respects with our idea of a modern university. It was primarily a guild of teachers and scholars, formed for common protection and mutual aid. It was a republic of letters, whose members were exempt from all services private and public, all personal taxes and contributions, and from all civil procedure in courts of law. The teaching function was secondary, and often entirely overlooked. The Scottish university from the beginning, however, emphasized the teaching function, and created an atmosphere academic rather than civil or political.”



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