Jón Ólafsson: The Radical University – Ambiguous University
The paper discusses recent works by two prominent US scholars, Martha C. Nussbaum and Mark C. Taylor, who both express serious concern about the state and future of academia. Their analysis, however, seems at first to come from opposite angles. While Nussbaum criticizes social and political pressure that university education focus more clearly on practical tasks, preparing students for careers where technical skills are rated much higher than classical education, Taylor attacks academics for allowing the university to stagnate, gradually. Taylor fears that the emphasis on research output, without proper consideration of its usefulness both within the university and in general may lead to disdain for academia and academics. What Nussbaum sees as a threat to the traditional research university, Taylor thus sees as a challenge. These two different points of view reflect two different approaches to academia. They are both important and necessary although opposed. The university is a place for specialized training and it must produce specialists with powerful technical skills. It is also, however, a melting pot of social, political and cultural discussion where the constant presence of professional conflict, competition and differing political outlooks is crucial. The university looses most from attempts to narrowing down its mission. In a democratic society it must be seen as a society within society, a collection of groups and individuals who cannot sharpen, clarify or define missions and goals as if the university were a company producing or marketing goods and services. In order to protect the university as a place of radicalism – innovation, criticism and creativity it must be seen as an ambiguous phenomenon, not easily definable, not easily regulated by external means.
Keywords: University, Academia, Humanities, Critical thinking, Radicalism.