In defence of the universal in the university
Speaker: Professor Ronald Barnett
Date: Thursday 3 April 2014
Time: 5.30pm for 6pm start
Venue: Dr William Barry Theatre, Ealing site
For much of its history, the very term 'university' has been associated with universality of some kind. Interestingly, that association has varied over time.
Originally, the (mediaeval) university was a 'universitas', a group of self-governing individuals who were more or less equal; and it was also (universally) open to scholars from wherever (across Europe) they might come.
Subsequently, the university was a universal institution of all disciplines and more recently the truths established in its knowledge activities were part of a universal sense of truth, and not the truth of a particular sect or clan or ideology. However, both epistemologically and socially, this intertwining of 'university' and 'universality' has been shot through.
Now, amid postmodernism and multiculturalism, the very idea of universal truth is viewed with suspicion. At the same time, each university is enjoined to become itself – to frame its own mission - in a competitive and diverse system of higher education. Universities are told to be responsive to the needs of each individual student and the particularities of their own localities. There seem to be no universal criteria that institutions have to fulfil in order to warrant the title of 'university'.
Against this background, I want to venture the heretical claim not just that universality and university can be put together without embarrassment but also that the universal in the university is actually growing. Spaces are opening for the growth of universalism in the university. Surprisingly, perhaps, the university is on the cusp of being more a site of universality than ever in its history.
Director of the Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning
University of West London
National Teaching Fellow (NTF) 2011
Recent article in VISTAS on worldly pedagogies http://www.uwl.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Departments/Research/Vistas/Web/PDF/VISTAS_2%282%29.pdf
My book Being an Academic
ISSOTL Conference 2013 Online materials at http://blogs.elon.edu/issotl13/
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