History Of Universities Research Paper

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Since they first appeared in the twelfth century, universities have been the main if not exclusive setting for the development of the social sciences. No two universities are or have ever been absolutely alike, but all possess common features. A division of intellectual labor is foremost. The curriculum, composed of building blocks of knowledge called ‘disciplines,’ is organized into multiple teaching, training, or research structures called variously (depending upon time, place, and national language) ‘faculties’ (the oldest), ‘institutes,’ ‘laboratories,’ ‘departments,’ ‘schools,’ ‘boards of studies,’ ‘colleges’ (which can be freestanding), or, more recently, ‘programs’ and ‘organized research units,’ or ‘centers.’

1. The Problem Of Knowledge

Neither the absence of a universal measure of ‘discipline’ nor the variety of knowledge delivery systems alters the elementary cognitive principle that unclassified information is relatively useless. Knowledge and understanding are acquired through classification and specialization. According to the philosopher and logician Alfred North Whitehead, specialism is the ‘natural’ path to meaning. Specialism underlies all civilizations. Increasing specialism is a salient feature of modern life, an indispensable requirement for scientific investigation, intellectual discovery, and problem solving.

2. Institutionalizing Knowledge

Disciplinary specialization affects the primary internal structure of universities and their systems of teaching, examining, funding, staffing, and even the arrangement of buildings and spaces. Specialties seek what some scholars call ‘autonomy,’ consisting of control over their own destinies. Accordingly, specialties desire institutional guarantees of disciplinary self-regulation. But the opposite is equally true. The institutional forms themselves influence the content, development, and application of academic specialties. In turn, the missions of educational institutions such as universities are affected by outside pressures generated by governments, the judiciary, churches, the professions, public opinion, the media, and, increasingly, the commercial demands of industrial or high technology economies. The ‘modern’ or ‘nation-state’ has been an important element in the formation of all contemporary disciplines but particularly in the sciences and social sciences. The story of the interrelationships between the social sciences, their host institutions, and all other disciplines, as well as society and government, is consequently complex, unstable, and unpredictable. The rate of knowledge change and production is however more rapid in some historical periods than in others. The resulting disjunctions between the generation and absorption of knowledge can produce social consequences.

2.1 The Organization Of Knowledge In The Medieval University

In the universities of the Middle Ages, disciplines were incorporated into large divisions known as ‘faculties.’ Some faculties, as at Paris, were virtually quasi-independent corporations within a single university, but others were less settled in their administration. ‘Nations,’ groupings of students from European regions, homes away from homes, were often subadministrative and teaching units too, with separate identities, as were colleges. The ‘inferior’ (or arts) faculty,’ with its broad divisions into language and mathematical studies, was preparatory to the second, the ‘superior’ or ‘higher faculties’ in which the three great professional training programs were located— medicine, law (canon or civil), and theology.

Within the inferior faculty were the disciplines that contributed to the foundations of a general education. The seven liberal arts, inherited from Rome, were divided into two other general classifications. One was the language-based trivium—logic, grammar, and rhetoric. The second was the mathematically based quadrivium—music, astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic.

The basic organization of knowledge into binary arts and faculty teaching divisions was rendered more complicated by the teaching of the ‘three philosophies’—natural, moral, and metaphysical—also derived from ancient classical sources. The analytical methods, as well as the substance of the philosophies, informed and interpenetrated all faculties and disciplines in a process of knowledge generation and debate that produced gradual and continuous revisions in the curriculum.

2.2 The Relationship Of Disciplines To One Another

Therefore disciplinary taxonomy does not by itself adequately explain the uses or content of disciplines. The study of literature, for example texts such as Virgil’s Aeneid, was included within grammar and thereby subordinated to the teaching of syntax.

Architecture could be found within the quadrivium, allied to the mathematical sciences. Rhetoric was a particularly elusive discipline. In some universities (or periods) it was subservient to grammar or logic and often limited to letter writing and religious preaching, but in other circumstances it was an important ingredient in the training of lawyers and public servants. The character of political science (based initially on Aristotle’s Politics, translated into Latin in the mid-thirteenth century) changed significantly when it was later associated with law and employed in the task of building bureaucratic governments to replace medieval feudalities. Religious questions regarding the existence of the soul were not confined to the faculty of theology but were debated within logic, using such assigned texts as Cicero’s or Aristotle’s Topics.

Science, in the modern sense of the study of nature, and medicine were part of metaphysics. Methods and subjects commingled. In a scribal-based (and before the invention of printing, also oral) academic culture dominated by the writings of a relatively few classical authorities, with their Arabic and scholastic glossators and commentators, disciplinary crossover was readily achieved. The need to focus attention on a limited number of issues, notably those relating to the spread and administrative growth of the universal Church of Rome or the fiscal and legal problems of princely and imperial courts, contributed to a unity of academic purpose.

Yet the differences and principles of knowledge production between the medieval and modern university should not be exaggerated. The general rules about knowledge acquisition are similar. Disciplines absorb conceptions and methods from one another— content overlap—and the direction of investigation is influenced by the uses to which knowledge is put. The capacity of a discipline to describe its own trajectory is constrained (positively or negatively) by the faculty or disciplines (or professional associations) to which it might defer.

Today’s universities have characteristics similar to earlier universities. The placement of contemporary disciplines like sociology, political science, ethical philosophy, or even cultural anthropology within a school of law determines the approaches and problems that receive primary attention. The study of economics, when situated within business schools, inclines more towards problem solving than towards the laws or principles underlying economic behavior viewed as a science. Historical inquiry, when located within departments of economics, political science or policy studies, music, or education, becomes the study of the evolution of those fields, or is oriented toward questions of interest to the supporting departments.

Anthropologists whose appointments lie within medical schools and hospitals address issues arising from the treatment and care of patients, as do ethical philosophers, psychologists, or social workers in the same environment. Architecture is affected differentially when associated with engineering, schools of urban planning, colleges of the environment, schools of design, or when viewed as a member of the liberal arts. The study of music in research universities favors composition or musicology or the history of music more than performance. Examples of disciplinary plasticity and allegiance are endless.

3. Continuities And Discontinuities In Knowledge Acquisition

The medieval university was not ideologically designed for intellectual discovery but for the dissemination of received knowledge. Nevertheless, significant knowledge growth and development transpired, if often unrecognized by practitioners or credited by polemicists. Change was advanced by the normal process of argument, by the discovery of new texts, by the reinterpretation of older sources, by the evaluation of existing systems of logic and proof, by theological controversies such as the Great Schism of the fourteenth century, and by issues concerning ecclesiastical reform eventually culminating in the Protestant heresies.

An essential difference between the medieval or later universities with respect to knowledge production is arguably the much higher degree of self-conscious disciplinary promotion within the latter as driven by professional and external imperatives. A second difference is the larger amount of ambiguity and relativism tolerated by modern cultures.

3.1 Scholasticism And Humanism

The period termed the ‘Renaissance’ (now usually called the ‘early modern’ period) or ‘rebirth’ of classical learning, beginning with fifteenth-century Italy and spreading northwards in Europe in the centuries following, has long occupied a central place in discussions concerning the differentiation of disciplines and the arrival of ‘modern’ conceptions of learning. Historians conventionally divide the learned into two groups: the medieval schoolmen and the early modern humanists. The issues dividing them were broadly three in number. First was the type and variety of classical sources later available when the Greek Byzantine empire collapsed in Asia Minor. Authors and texts unknown or known only by hearsay were brought into Western Europe. Sources could now be compared, stimulating an interest in variorum texts and the detection of forgeries. Historical criticism, whose place was hitherto minimal, developed as a cardinal feature of early modern scholarship and was applied relentlessly to canonical texts and the dogmatic foundations of Western Christianity. A second issue concerned the role of observation and experiment in the conduct of scientific work. The humanists and practitioners of the ‘new learning’ charged that inductive reasoning was neglected in favor of deductive systems of logic derived from Aristotle and Arab scholars. A third issue was the purpose of the university itself. Detractors alleged that the medieval university was isolated from practical affairs, its members preoccupied with abstract knowledge and shopworn or irrelevant ideas. A corollary point involved personal style. Humanists stressed public speaking, appearance, and the ita acti a, being interested in careers at the courts of state-building aristocracies in an age of conspicuous political symbols and ceremonies. They contrasted the philosopher-statesman style with the torpid and pedantic manner of university teachers.

Stereotypes, however plausible, are notoriously dangerous, especially when shaped by polemical intent. Not all humanists were outside the university system. Many remained within, attempting, with success, to alter scholastic habits. Some scientists—Galileo is the urfigure—borrowed heavily from scholastic methods of interrogating nature and were not as dependent on experiment and observation as they or encomiasts claimed. And some humanists, in their zeal to attract the patronage of rulers, became hired propagandists, sacrificing their integrity as scholars to hypocrisy and superficial elegance. Furthermore, whatever directions humanistic scholarship took, it is now evident that the world of new learning was first framed within the intellectual structures and methods created by the medieval universities.

3.2 Alternatives To Universities

Nevertheless, in the centuries that followed, criticisms of the university as hidebound and tied to an antiquated system of teaching were convincing enough to result in the introduction of different institutional forms and new sources of funding in which innovation, particularly of an applied nature, received a more immediate reception. In fifteenth-century England the teaching of the common law was given a home in institutions designated ‘inns of court,’ leaving Oxford and Cambridge universities with the teaching of canon law, Roman law, and jurisprudence. In the centuries following, academies, botanical gardens, royal libraries, observatories, museums, military schools, and new colleges were established outside university systems. In France in the course of the eighteenth century the state’s need for experts resulted in the creation of specialized engineering schools, starting with the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees in 1747. The Jacobins of the

French Revolution adopted this form for their own instrumental purposes. Their Ecole Polytechnique of the 1790s was followed in the next century by other grandes ecoles, institutions of high quality whose mission was to train specialists for appointments in government, industry, engineering occupations, or education. At the same time the French university system was dismantled by Napoleon as irrelevant to the tasks of a revolutionary and secular society. That system was only gradually rebuilt but never attained the prestige of the leading schools. Only recently has it acquired a few of the research functions typical of universities in other countries, high-level research in France being normally assigned to a different system. The French grandes ecoles are unique institutions in their patterns of student selection, purpose, and prestige. They are also unique because their prestige is not based on a research mission as in other countries (although now several research functions have been added). Few educational institutions anywhere have equivalent elite connections to government, bureaucracy, industry, and the leading professions. However, other countries have attempted to emulate some aspects of the French engineering model, most notably in the establishment of upper-level polytechnical establishments in European capitals such as London, Berlin, Vienna, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, and in major US cities such as Cambridge, Massachusetts. Many of these have been evolving towards a university form. Relevant social science departments, foreign language teaching and, in some cases, humanities courses were added, especially in the twentieth century.

In Germany and Austria other specialized universities were created: WirtschaftsUniversitaten, for example—institutions where disciplines could be grouped and united with a focus on economic problems. In the UK regional universities and university colleges were established that combined applied with liberal arts studies but with special attention to the economic or social problems of their regions.

Medical schools and hospitals, freestanding or associated with universities, became umbrella or ‘incubator’ institutions for an astonishing range of clinical and scientific specialties. Also in the nineteenth century, geodetic surveys and sponsored explorations supported certain kinds of limited intellectual activity. Although professional education as contained in the ‘superior faculties’ was the featured curriculum of the medieval university, and especially law in the later centuries, the admission of other forms of vocational or occupational training was never guaranteed. Law, medicine, and theology were acceptable because they suited the needs of urban societies in which religion and secular life interpenetrated. Vocational latecomers had to fight for entry. Rivals for income and teaching appointments, for students, space, and a role in governance, they represented the interests of outsiders. Hence it was that newer professionalizing occupations of the later centuries, especially the nineteenth, such as engineering, commercial studies, schoolteaching, public administration, and social work, were associated with separate schools where they might develop an applied mission according to their own rules and methods. Several occupations—notably architecture, accounting, and some legal and medical activities— were controlled by practitioners recruiting through guild apprenticeship methods. But guild and academic forms of education are not necessarily incompatible. The academic profession itself is the supreme example of guild-directed education. Early twenty-first-century universities tend to be comprehensive. Subjects or emphases once deemed unacceptable to universities built on the German research model or influenced by it are now more likely to be welcome. The general terms of inclusion have been mentioned. New recruits to the university community are normally expected to conform to its prevailing styles of intellectual achievement. However, the rapidly increasing fragmentation of the knowledge base everywhere evident suggests that the universities of the future will be less able than predecessors to impose uniform standards of work or a common scholarly ethos on their numerous departments, laboratories, and programs of instruction.

4. The Transformation Of The University

Applied and experimental science owed more to medieval systems of logic and natural philosophy than critics granted, yet there was indeed a ‘scientific revolution’ of the seventeenth century that transformed the medieval worldview, produced a materialist conception of the cosmos, departures in physiology, and eventually the treatment of disease, and revised theological speculation concerning human understanding and potential. Mathematical measurement developed as a formidable scientific tool; for despite the medieval quadrivium with its mathematical base, the acceptance of Aristotle’s physics by the schoolmen had produced a science that was heavily qualitative and metaphysical in character. Scientific instruments such as the microscope and the telescope, and later the Leyden jar, greatly enhanced the scope of intellectual achievement. Sophisticated machines have continued to be indispensable for science (and certain fields of social science), and never more than in the early twenty-first century.

4.1 The ‘Knowledge Revolution’ Of The Nineteenth Century

Historical criticism, the development of the laboratory, and new systems of biological classification underlay the eventual adoption of a research ethic that completely reoriented the pantheon of disciplines inherited from the past.

Teaching and professional training were the two educational missions of the medieval university. Now there was a third, to be called ‘research.’ The ideas that knowledge could be created, that discovery was an aim of all scholarship, and that the new was preferable to the old were revolutionary assumptions that profoundly affected all educational institutions, and especially universities. The research spirit, while commencing in the scientific revolution and noticeable here and there in later Enlightenment Scottish, German, Dutch, or Swedish universities, did not dominate university culture itself until the nineteenth century. Historically, it is most closely associated with the German university model.

The general acceptance of an academic culture oriented towards original inquiry gave enormous impetus to the establishment of new or subdisciplinary fields. Pressures for the autonomous representation of those fields within universities increased. But two lasting versions of a research ethic emerged: one advocating discovery as an end in itself, the other advocating the use of research results to solve social, economic, or political problems, or to serve the needs of a democratic, consumer society. Proponents of the first feared that applied research funded mainly from commercial sources or results-minded governments would transfer direct and certainly indirect control over discipline formation and knowledge production to agencies outside the universities.

‘Pure’ research would suffer. Advocates of the second noted the disappearance of any useful distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ knowledge in the age of high technology. In any case, contemporary society, they maintain, requires applied knowledge as a condition of survival and prosperity. Arguments remain intense; and the available evidence suggests that both sides have a case.

4.2 The Effect Of The Social Sciences On Universities

As observed, the ‘social sciences’ were embedded in the scholastic arts curriculum. The bureaucratizing states of the early modern period found a place for some forms of applied social science, notably Kameralwissenschaft, within the law faculties. The humanists, however, strengthened belles lettres within the faculty of arts (later, in the German university, to be called the faculty of philosophy). Accordingly, the maturation of the academic social sciences was a slow, two-stage affair. First came new methodologies for the study of social change and process developed by thinkers both inside and outside universities. Second was the emancipation of social science from domination by arts and professional curricula. Later Enlightenment Scottish university historians and philosophers developed ‘conjectural history,’ incorporating some of the insights of political economy and early theories of evolutionary change. Nineteenth-century French intellectuals such as the St. Simonians and Auguste Comte developed some of these beginnings into an overarching scheme of human development based on the ‘march of mind,’ the progress from primitive religion through metaphysics to ‘positive science.’ While the separation of subjects such as sociology or anthropology or economics, or psychology from such parent fields as law, history, religion, and philosophy was a nineteenth-century development, the flowering of social science as a full-fledged set of university disciplines belonged to the twentieth century. The timing was not accidental. A focus on the comparative, normative (and deviant) behavior of groups, communities, and classes; on the functioning of institutions such as schools, bureaucracies, professions, religious organizations, trade unions, industrial firms, and family structures; and on the nature of belief and value systems of societies reflected the dominant features and problems of modern society with its mobile, plural populations and global reach.

Besides concentrating on issues and problems not conventionally incorporated into the inherited model of a university, the social science disciplines claimed the prestige gained by the physical sciences. As in the natural order, the human or social order could also be explained by scientific laws. And although in time some of the rigor and promise of words such as ‘scientific laws’ would be mitigated and exchanged for softer terms such as ‘patterns’ or ‘regularities,’ the claim to scientific objectivity served as a major legitimizing strategy. It was also the basis for an instrumental approach to the resolution of social problems and the means by which the social sciences secured access to external funding sources.

The number of social science disciplines and the different strategies pursued by social scientists to become citizens of the republics of letters and science in varying national contexts is a highly complex story. Yet some insight into the issues may be gained from a cursory look at the history of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), founded in 1895 by socialists and left-wing liberals on the model of the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris (the LSE was later incorporated into the federal structure of the University of London).

Two issues confronted the founders. The first was the independence of the LSE, solved initially by the creation of a wholly new establishment where the disciplines could function on their own terms. This conforms to the pattern indicated earlier, where alternative institutions provide the means of disciplinary entry into the knowledge universe. The second issue concerned the LSE’s primary mission, and here the founders disagreed on basic aims and methods. Should the institution’s mission be applied or scholarly? Should attention be focused mainly on metropolitan regions such as London or spread more widely? Were ideological commitments to social amelioration compatible with standards of objective research? These differences of purpose have never been completely resolved within the LSE’s academic divisions.

Indeed, the differences cannot be resolved since they are inherent in the history of the social science subdisciplines. The structural flexibility of the modern research university has provided a practical solution. The applied social sciences have found homes in the professional schools, a number of which—social work, urban studies, education, public policy, and perhaps now journalism and media studies—are in fact based on the social sciences. But law, medicine, public health, and architecture all have room for social science subjects and methods. Elsewhere in the university the ‘autonomous’ social sciences are separated into distinct disciplines according to the history of each. They are either located in departments within ‘colleges of letters and science’ (the typical US case), traditional arts faculties or new faculties of social science (in some European universities). They are also to be found in crossover and multidisciplinary programs and research units.

Ideas, concepts, and problem-solving methods developed by the social sciences are now commonplace elements of any university curriculum. Historical research is greatly influenced by psychology, anthropology, economics, sociology, statistics, and political science; but history, as a ‘universal recipient,’ has often if not invariably demonstrated intellectual flexibility. Yet literary studies have also become social scientific as, inter alia, critics incorporate interpretations derived from the sociology of class relationships, the psychology of the individual, and the anthropologist’s interest in symbol and ritual.

In concert with the technical and physical sciences (and the revolutionary biological sciences), the social sciences have played a prominent role in tying the university to social or national objectives, strengthening its place in the formulation of policies affecting the distribution of wealth, educational opportunities, the provision for social services, and other polemical issues that are the concern of modern, mass democratic societies. The entanglements with powerful and influential outside interests are not to everyone’s liking, as they compromise the university’s decision-making independence. However, the university has never been a wholly autonomous institution, not even within free and liberal societies. Such relative independence as it enjoys is the result of negotiation or ‘social contracts’ that each generation of university leaders, teachers, and researchers is destined to conduct.

5. Controls Over Disciplinary Formation

The organization of the disciplines varies in different national and university settings, affecting the kinds of disciplinary emphases receiving attention.

5.1 The Chairholder System

The medieval faculties were the ultimate internal determinants of the curriculum, with alternative institutions such as colleges providing some opportunities for independent innovations. Centuries later, with the evolution of the professorial or ‘chair’ system of academic leadership, best known in its German form, individual chairholders administered ‘institutes’ and laboratories and set the standard for teaching and research, especially at advanced levels. Although the institute structure was embedded in the traditional faculty structure, changes had occurred that made chairholders and deans the effective authorities, and they respected one another’s independence.

This system, which became standard in continental Europe, Latin America, Israel, Japan, and wherever the German model of a university took hold before 1939, led the way in world scholarship and science. But an essential drawback was that younger academics with newer specialties could not easily find room within a structure dominated by seniors. Their career alternatives were to await chair vacancies at home or elsewhere, or to persuade institutions (and the government ministers who largely controlled financing, especially after the later nineteenth century) to establish new or different chairs in developing subdisciplines. Before unification in 1870, ‘Germany’ was a collection of independent Lander competing against one another for professorial talent. Thus intraGerman rivalry itself was a variable in the formation of new fields of inquiry, along with the adoption of radical critical methods (the ‘Higher Criticism’), and philosophical conceptions concerning intellectual objectives (Bildung) and research (‘Humboldtianism’).

5.2 Alternatives To Faculties And Institutes

Many of the features of the organization of knowledge that had evolved in Europe also existed in the USA, whose higher-education system, first established in the colonial period, reflected English and Scottish influences, then French and finally German ones. The chairholder system was much in evidence throughout the USA as well, but by the end of the nineteenth century it was losing its authority as the arbiter of the curriculum. It was gradually supplanted by the ‘department,’ the dominant US form of curricular organization. A century later its main features were being adopted in most university systems elsewhere. The essence of a department is that it is based on a discipline rather than a collection of disciplines (as in a faculty structure), is run by committees, and normally features a rotating head. Chairholders or their equivalents, while senior and influential, share authority with other teaching titles. The relatively ‘democratic’ decision-making apparatus of the department is broadly in keeping with medieval legacies of guild self-government.

Another US innovation, a credit-unit system of instruction that combines teaching and examining in a single person, was a departure from UK and continental European external examining practices, and underscored the intellectual freedom of individual instructors and researchers. In this context, subdisciplines were able to flourish. While it is still possible for an entire department to be built or rebuilt along narrow and exclusionary disciplinary lines, such solutions are generally short-lived given the independence of individual members and the variety of available funding sources.

One other US innovation of the twentieth-century deserves mention: the advent of the graduate school. The continental European chair-holder system was suited to advanced instruction and the award of advanced degrees because it relied on a selective system of elite schooling—the lycee in France, the gymnasium in Germany and Scandinavia, their counterparts elsewhere—and gave the professoriate discretion in choosing the best candidates for creative work. The US university, which for historical reasons was not well supported by an excellent system of secondary school instruction, recruited undergraduates of mixed preparation. The solution to the problem of how to offer research-level instruction was found in the establishment of a wholly separate administrative division freed from the necessity of providing remedial and general teaching. This innovation contributed greatly to the building up of strong research traditions within the social sciences and other disciplines. Versions of the US graduate school appeared in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s in response or reaction to governmental policies encouraging the development of mass forms of secondary and higher education.

Before and during the introduction of departmental and credit-unit systems of instruction, the US pattern of disciplinary formation was similar to the European one. Subjects that did not find an immediate reception within traditional colleges and universities, especially subjects stigmatized as ‘practical’ (which could include modern languages), sought a more hospitable environment in alternative institutions. These had been springing up ever since the American Revolution.

By the end of the nineteenth century liberal arts colleges, comprehensive universities (combining professional and liberal education), specialized institutes (such as the West Point Military Academy), prestigious polytechnics (such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a German-style ‘research university’ (the Johns Hopkins University), and state institutions with applied but also liberal education missions (the ‘federal land grant’ universities) were members of a differentiated system that had expanded in connection with national ambitions and market conditions.

Within the older US colleges and universities, internal reconfiguring took place alongside external differentiation. In the earlier nineteenth century, academic subjects such as the natural sciences or modern languages that were not necessarily applied but were regarded as inimical to prevailing teaching values were able to create alternate degree tracks, if not of equivalent prestige. Within the senior English universities of Oxford and Cambridge, subject-based ‘schools’ (Oxford) or ‘boards of studies’ (Cambridge) representing specialties effectively replaced the medieval faculties structure. As in the German case, professorial chairholders controlled the university system of lecturing. However, as Oxford and Cambridge were collegiate universities or federations of relatively autonomous societies, the professorial system did not constrain the whole system of instruction. The collegiate structure with its small classes and tutorial arrangements in fact liberated the professors from routine or introductory teaching.

5.3 Criticisms Of The Departmental Organization

The flexibility inherent in a departmental organization and its comparative openness to innovation reduce the temptation for subjects to migrate toward alternative institutional structures. Departments are therefore one of the factors that have brought the ‘university’ institutional form into the center of modern society as the principal source of knowledge generation and dissemination. Others—and they are outside the scope of this entry—are national imperatives, such as war and industrial competition, mass higher education requiring extensive private but especially public resources, professionalism, consumer economies, and the high division of labor so typical of contemporary society.

Yet it would be strange if the departmental organization did not have its critics. Discipline-based departments are said to be narrow in their own right, protective of privileges and unreceptive to cross-disciplinary fields of study. A similar criticism but with a different purpose arises from the defenders of US traditions of liberal education. Departments are attacked as the chief obstacles to the development of general education studies for undergraduates. In both instances the response has been the creation of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary departments, or cooperative programs of teaching, as well as special appointments in broad fields such as ‘Humanities’ or ‘Social Sciences.’ Such experiments are now typical of newer European universities.

But an opposite kind of blame has also been voiced, most notably by two famous US enfants terribles: the maverick Thorstein Veblen at the turn of the twentieth century and the more establishment 1930s critic Abraham Flexner. Both excoriated US departments for being far too open to innovation, to fads, and to market demand and far too eager to attract the financial support of philistine parvenus. Flexner in particular admired the German university tradition with its high intellectual standards and Kultur. For him, the elite characteristics of the European higher educational system—the alliance between government bureaucrats who decided educational budgets and chairholders who controlled institutes—meant that demands for the teaching of subjects unworthy of incorporation into the noble inheritance called a ‘university’ could be successfully resisted.

6. Universities Of The Twenty-first Century

In the twentieth century the views of critics like Flexner proved to be shortsighted. Totalitarian governments in Nazi Germany and the communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as their copies elsewhere, provided vivid lessons of how knowledge could be manipulated from above and turned from its natural channels of curiosity and negotiation to unimaginable and terrifying applications. The university systems of those countries had to be rebuilt after World War II, and the task remained unfinished as the twenty-first century commenced. While it is nearly an axiom of twenty-first-century higher-education policy in all democratic societies that universities must be flexible in providing access and instruction, disagreement exists on the institutional forms best suited to promote those ends. Technologies associated with the arrival of the ‘virtual’ or ‘cyberspace’ university and the possible competition of degree-granting ‘corporate universities’ have issued new and formidable challenges to all existing forms of higher education. Given numerous choices, it is safe to predict that the longstanding tensions between outside interests, institutional structures, and the formation of disciplines are certain to continue.


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