What Is The Purpose of a University?

Posted on December 11, 2011 by

From Wendell Berry’s book, Home Economics:

“I assume that there is a degree of specialization that is unavoidable because concentration involves a narrowing of attention; we can only do one thing at a time. I assume further that there is a degree of specialization that is desirable because good work depends upon sustained practice. If we want the best work to be done in teaching or writing or stone masonry or farming, then we must arrange for that work to be done by proven master workers, people who are prepared for the work by long and excellent practice.” (p. 76)

“But to assume that there is a degree of specialization that is proper is at the same time to assume that there is a degree that is improper. The impropriety begins, I think, when the various kinds of workers come to be divided and cease to speak to one another. In this division they become the makers of parts of things…

Part of the problem in universities now (or part of the cause of problem) is the loss of concern for the thing being made, back of that, I think, the loss of agreement on what the thing is that is being made.”(p.77)

“The thing being made in a university is humanity. Given the current influence of universities, this is merely inevitable. But what universities, at least the public-supported ones, are mandated to make or to help to make is human beings in the fullest sense of those words — not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture. If the proper work of the university is only to equip people to fulfill private ambitions, then how do we justify public support? If it is only to prepare citizens to fulfill public responsibilities, then how do we justify the teaching of arts and sciences? The common denominator has to be larger than either career preparation or preparation for citizenship. Underlying the idea of a university — the bringing together, the combining into one, of all the disciplines — is the idea that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good — that is, a fully developed — human being. This, as I understand it, is the definition of the name university.”(p.77)

Wendell Berry’s words are excellent expressions of the problem with the current state of what is known as “higher education”.

Posted in: Education