Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Is the University Centered on The Learner or the Professor?


The aca­d­e­m­ic ethos of uni­ver­si­ties has changed very lit­tle since the Mid­dle Ages until the present. How­ev­er, there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence between the ori­gin of uni­ver­si­ties as social insti­tu­tions and con­tem­po­rary uni­ver­si­ties. At first, their struc­ture was more infor­mal and, con­trary to what one might think, more flex­i­ble. It was stu­dents who sought out pro­fes­sors on the basis of their epis­te­mo­log­i­cal and deon­to­log­i­cal author­i­ty. The uni­ver­si­ty struc­ture was built upon the studi­um gen­erale or par­tic­u­lare, which was gov­erned or run by a rec­tor-stu­dent who, as in the case of Bologna, was from the Coun­cil of Schol­ars or con­gre­ga­tion of stu­dents. That is, teach­ing was based on the indi­vid­ual who learns. There­fore, uni­ver­si­ty insti­tu­tions were basi­cal­ly cen­tered on that per­son, that is, the stu­dent.

Sub­se­quent mod­i­fi­ca­tions were part of a move towards the fac­ul­tas or ensem­ble of per­sons who had the ‘fac­ul­ty’ of teach­ing and the ‘fac­ul­ty’ of admin­is­trat­ing teach­ing on the basis of their epis­te­mo­log­i­cal author­i­ty. One of the most rel­e­vant aspects of the peri­od is the uni­ver­si­ty as a uni­ver­sal, Euro­cen­tric insti­tu­tion, with a com­mon lan­guage, Latin, and with a coher­ent cul­ture – which was not nec­es­sar­i­ly the best – based on Aris­totelian prin­ci­ples influ­enced by Chris­tian­i­ty and aimed at orga­niz­ing coex­is­tence in soci­ety, more in accor­dance with the sys­tem of prin­ci­ples than with the prac­tice. This Medieval cul­ture pre­scribed behav­ioral norms through the author­i­ty of the Church, but also by means of uni­ver­si­ties. Let us not for­get Stephen Lang­ton, the Eng­lish priest and coun­cil­lor of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Paris who root­ed out tyran­ny at the Uni­ver­si­ty in the ear­ly thir­teenth cen­tu­ry, was lat­er rad­i­cal­ly opposed to King John of Eng­land and was to be one of the authors of the bill of rights, the Magna Car­ta.

From the four­teenth cen­tu­ry onwards, the evo­lu­tion of the sov­er­eign state and the con­se­quences of the West­ern Schism weak­ened the transna­tion­al per­cep­tion of uni­ver­si­ties and led to more nation­al­ist mod­els, such as those of the uni­ver­si­ties of Vien­na, Hei­del­berg and Prague. That cen­tu­ry marked a new peri­od for uni­ver­si­ties. Their struc­ture was mod­i­fied and they began to depend more heav­i­ly on the state. In edu­ca­tion­al terms, there was a move away from med­i­ta­tion on the theme of nature to a util­i­tar­i­an edu­ca­tion. The tran­si­tion was, how­ev­er, pro­tract­ed and com­plex. For exam­ple, surgery and com­mon law remained out­side the scope of uni­ver­si­ties for many years, and phys­i­cal, chem­i­cal and min­er­al research, which was large­ly respon­si­ble for indus­tri­al devel­op­ment, took place out­side uni­ver­si­ties, in the sci­ence col­leges that exist­ed at the time.

Uni­ver­si­ties in the Mid­dle Ages lat­er gave rise to mod­els that were increas­ing­ly rigid, which had three focal points: the Eng­lish mod­el or res­i­den­tial uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem, such as that of Oxford, the French mod­el of the “grandees écoles” (the so-called Napoleon­ic sys­tem) and the Ger­man mod­el of research, which orig­i­nat­ed at Hum­boldt Uni­ver­si­ty. Mixed mod­els appeared some­time lat­er, includ­ing the Chica­go mod­el, which fol­lowed the Eng­lish sys­tem but with an empha­sis on the lib­er­al arts. Uni­ver­si­ties as we know them today are sim­i­lar, in a greater or less­er mea­sure, to one of these mod­els or a com­bi­na­tion of sev­er­al of them. Among all of them, the fac­ul­tas or fac­ul­ty have been the cen­ter of the uni­ver­si­ty struc­ture and have been the quin­tes­sen­tial col­le­giate author­i­ty.

The schools, depart­ments, insti­tutes and sec­tions are basi­cal­ly orga­nized around the pro­fes­sors and the teach­ing con­tent that they design, often on an indi­vid­ual basis and in iso­la­tion. That is, uni­ver­si­ties are today cen­tered on the indi­vid­ual who teach­es and this is mak­ing way for anoth­er mod­el tak­en from the pri­vate cor­po­rate sys­tem in which edu­ca­tion is cen­tered on the indi­vid­ual who admin­is­ters. Both mod­els are in some mea­sure author­i­tar­i­an, in detri­ment of the indi­vid­ual who learns, whether this indi­vid­ual is a stu­dent, pro­fes­sor or admin­is­tra­tor. The back­drop to many uni­ver­si­ty crises has been pre­cise­ly these dichotomies: the cri­sis of the rela­tion­ship between the indi­vid­ual who teach­es and the indi­vid­ual who learns, between the mem­ber of the ‘aca­d­e­m­ic ethos’ and the mem­ber of the ‘social ethos’ and also between the indi­vid­ual who teach­es and the one who admin­is­ters.

Between uni­ver­si­ties and soci­ety, would it not be nec­es­sary to replace the aca­d­e­m­ic ethos with an ethos of learn­ing and not by an admin­is­tra­tive ethos? If any­one in soci­ety requires con­tin­u­ous learn­ing, it is the uni­ver­si­ty com­mu­ni­ty, and par­tic­u­lar­ly pro­fes­sors, giv­en the fact their teach­ing depends on their con­stant­ly learn­ing and renew­ing their knowl­edge. This is the objec­tive jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for devel­op­ing an ethos of learn­ing. But uni­ver­si­ties, as we shall see in future posts, have been mov­ing in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion.

Miguel Angel Escotet, Ph.D., is a Psy­chol­o­gist, Philoso­pher, Researcher, and the Dean of the Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion of the  Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Brownsville. ©2011 Miguel Angel Escotet. All rights reserved. Revised excerpt from M.A. Escotet (2009) Uni­ver­si­ty Gov­er­nance. In High­er Edu­ca­tion at Time of Trans­for­ma­tion. New York: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 126–132. Per­mis­sion to reprint with appro­pri­ate cit­ing.

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Categories: Education & Lifelong Learning

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Search in our archives

Follow us and Engage via…

RSS Feed

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)