“University to Come!”
(Toronto, September 2, 2013)
At the beginning of the new academic year and in pursuing our academic careers, it’s probably worth asking ourselves the same questions Jacques Derrida posed in his 1980 lecture at Columbia University (for the centenary of the founding of its Graduate School): “If we could say we (but have I not already said it?), we might perhaps ask ourselves: where are we? And who are we in the university where apparently we are? What do we represent? Whom do we represent? Are we responsible? For what and to whom?”
While the term university as an institution has tended to have limited connotations, Derrida argues that as an idea, it has a boundless, unrestricted and unconditional implication. Thus, he questions the common connotation of university as an exclusively institutional term.
Today, the age of globalization, formed around the idea of economism, necessitates a new type of university. Its best exemplar may be the University of Phoenix, founded in 1976. It is a business-related university compelled by law to make the most financial gain for its financiers. The idea forming the foundation of this university is that the most significant purpose of higher education is to teach functional skills and knowledge to its ‘customers’—the word it prefers to ‘students’.
Taking the current situation of university, exaggeratedly exemplified in the University of Phoenix into consideration, I believe that university as an Idea, and as a place to search for the truth is in danger. Wilhelm von Humboldt, a Prussian philosopher and the founder of the University of Berlin, once contended that two things are essential for good research and teaching: “solitude and freedom.” It is hard to assume that commercial universities of our age can carry the mission of the university as it was and as it must be. It therefore seems essential for us to attempt to deconstruct the whole bundle of questions on the subject of the idea of university, concerning encountering the Humanities and in relation to teaching, from the plane of techniques and methods to a level which is profoundly concerned with the ethical, and with the destination of life, history and humanity.
Since we believe that there exists something essentially significant and cherished about university, which cannot be reduced to merely the logic of utility, It is therefore completely vital for us to call for a move forward from the university as it is to as it must be that is “university to come!”