The Polysemic University

From Making Sociology Public, by Lambros Fatsis, pg 240:

Having already introduced Cardinal Newman’s ivory tower conception of the university, and Minister Humboldt’s equally idealistic depiction of it as a hub of culture and academic freedom, Barnett’s (2013) anthology of epithets, each of which furnishes 240 a different vision of and for the university, is indicative of definitional pluralism as it is bewildering; there is the university as a feasible utopia, the entrepreneurial university, the commodified, the civic or public goods university, the accessible university, the university as a debating society, the anarchic, the borderless, the collaborative, congested, corporate, corrupt, creative, dialogic, digital, ecological, liquid, multi-nodal, performative, socialist, soulless, technologico-Benthamite, as well as the theatrical, translucent, imaginative, imagining, first class, edgeless, capitalist and even the university as fool (sic).

Alongside this admittedly fanciful parade of adjectives, as offered by Barnett (2013), stand other visions of the university as ‘global’ (Miyoshi, 1998), ‘postmodern’, ‘virtual’ (Smith and Webster, 1997), ‘enterprising’ (Williams, 2003), ‘corporate’ (Jarvis, 2001), ‘McDonaldized’ (Parker and Jary, 1995) ‘meta-entrepreneurial’ (Fuller, 2009), public (Holmwood, 2011), ‘without conditions’ (Derrida, 2002), ‘post-historical’, ‘in ruins’, conceived as a ‘community of dissensus’ (Readings, 1996), or a ‘site of activism’ (Lynch 2010), ‘in crisis’ (Scott, 1984), ‘for sale’ (Brown and Carasso, 2013), in need of ‘rescuing’ (Furlong, 2013), defined as a public agora (Nowotny et al. 2001), a cooperative (Boden, Ciancanelli, and Wright 2011, 2012), and even a ‘science park’ embedded in the life of the city (Goddard and Valance, 2013). Following this multiplicity of interpretations of what the university is, can be, may be, should be, or no longer is, reflections on its uses (what is it for) are equally varied and perplexing, making Derrida’s (2002: 213-4) overly confident view of the university as ‘autonomous, unconditionally free in its institution, in its speech, in its writing, in its thinking’ difficult to sustain pragmatically.

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