Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Universities: Modern & Medieval

Image copyrighted by The origins of the idea of what a university is supposedly can be found in two European schools of thought. The Socratic-Platonic form believed that academies had the ideal of knowledge or truth as an aim. The Sophist form focused on the "know how," i.e., the utility of knowledge as the high road to success. Most modern universities subscribe to both schools of thought.

The first European universities that espoused public discussion of ideas and ideals were established in the medieval period in Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. These universities were free in the sense that open discussions were encouraged while the scholars remained protected from the rest of the society. Image copyrighted by "As self-governed organizations, the universities were granted freedom of research and teaching. In exchange, they spread knowledge which enhanced the reputation, wealth, and political importance of the community that sheltered them." The universities had as their highest goals the quest for truth and teaching.

However, the modern maxim of "publish or perish" has stifled the search for originality. The search for truth has been widely succeeded by the search for funding and money. "The more specialized the research becomes, the less its results become accessible to the public." And in all of this, teaching comes last, which is a tragedy for future scholars.

Image copyrighted by To solve some of the major problems faced by our universities, it behooves us to look back to the medieval universities and the ideas that allowed them to flourish. "The best remedy against the modern crisis is to regain the simplicity present at the heart of the original universities: of in and for the community while maintaining the global interests of society."

[All quotes are taken from Why the medieval idea of a community-oriented university is still modern.]