April 2013 President's Letter: What's A University For?

In The New York Times on April 5, David Brooks asks a fundamental question: “What is a university for?” (“The Practical University”, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/opinion/Brooks-The-Practical-University.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=0).  In answering, he distinguishes between “two sorts of knowledge, what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge and practical knowledge”.  Basically, “technical knowledge” is “the sort of knowledge you need to understand a task”, “like the recipes in a cookbook”, whereas “practical knowledge” is a kind of “practical moral wisdom”, absorbed rather than memorized, acquired and sustained through practice.  According to Brooks, the online revolution in education will have its main effect in the domain of “technical knowledge”, and the real “future of the universities is in practical knowledge”. 

This is certainly an interesting way of thinking about what universities do, but it stops short of addressing the initial question, “What is a university for?”  In a more Socratic vein, we need to go deeper and to ask what the purpose of a university is, what its goals ought to be, in order to answer that question.  One can imagine Socrates interrogating David Brooks along these lines, trying to get him to isolate what the real thing is that universities ought to be aiming at, what their goal, their telos, is.  Brooks would begin by offering his two kinds of knowledge as the answer, and Socrates would pick away at them for a while in his usual way, showing that they are surface features of what happens in universities, rather than the actual thing that universities are for.  By the end of their conversation, we would reach the familiar impasse—Socrates: “So then, we still do not know what the telos of the university really is”; Brooks: “It appears so, Socrates.”  Rather than enact that hypothetical dialog, however, let me refer you to a genuinely Socratic approach to the problem, as given by Richard Gombrich, in a lecture which to my mind offers the best one-word answer to this hard question.  

In 2000, towards the end of his tenure as the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University (1976—2004), Gombrich gave a lecture at Tokyo University entitled "British Higher Education Policy in the last Twenty Years: The Murder of a Profession" (http://indology.info/papers/gombrich/).  In the course of his argument he speaks of how “institutions work best if they have clear goals and are designed to achieve those goals”.  Socrates would put it a bit differently, asking, for example, “What is the goal of the art of medicine?  It is to cure the sick, is it not?  And of navigation?  To guide a ship safely?”  But this is in effect what Gombrich is saying of the institutions which embody the various “arts”, with his declaration that “hospitals are for care of the sick, orchestras for playing music, and they should be used for those goals”.  Analogously, then, says Gombrich, “universities are for truth”.  And he expands his definition of this goal: “to promote its pursuit (curiosity) and encourage its use under all circumstances”.

This will sound wildly utopian to many, and you don’t have to be a paid-up poststructuralist to acknowledge that there are different ways of defining truth.  But in history and in the contemporary world there are many examples to hand of what happens when a society has no sector dedicated to Gombrich’s kind of truth—to free and disinterested enquiry, and to communicating the fruits of that enquiry.  It is not a human activity we should take for granted, and it is always and everywhere under threat.  Modern universities are under all kinds of pressures to put other goals first, but it is not only faculty and students who are at risk if members of the universities abandon this species of curiosity and if we stop insisting that in our domain the criteria of truth trump other criteria. 

Certainly, the acquisition of technical and practical knowledge is compatible with Gombrich’s definition of what the telos of the university really is: in fact, the better universities are at keeping their eye on their real goal, the better they will succeed at making the acquisition of such knowledge possible.  But they need to keep their eye on that goal, on that Socratic telos, if they are to do anything worthwhile.

Denis Feeney
President

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(posted on behalf of Jakub Pigoń with details from Ukrainian Wikipedia entry)

Oleksandr Kyslyuk, a historian and classicist, was born in 1962. He graduated from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and was active as a language teacher (including ancient Greek) and, in particular, as a translator from Greek, Latin and other languages at the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary of the UOC-KP (1993-2005). Most recently, he was a senior lecturer at the Department of Theory and History of State and Law of the Institute of Political Science and Law of the National Pedagogical University MP Dragomanova, where he conducted classes in Latin and Roman law. Aristotle's Politics, Xenophon's Anabasis and a treatise by Thomas of Aquinas were among the works he rendered into Ukrainian. He died on March 5, 2022 in Bucha near Kyiv.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 03/29/2022 - 1:16pm by .
University of British Columbia - AMNE department

The Department of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies celebrates its new identity

Questioning and building upon what has come before

View full article. | Posted in General Announcements on Tue, 03/29/2022 - 10:14am by .
Roman Forum

This course in Italy will focus on creating antiracist curricula in the Latin classroom and will take place from July 18th - July 29th in Rome and the Bay of Naples. The course includes visits to many of the major sites in Rome and the Bay of Naples in afternoons or on full-day excursions. The Vergilian Society has scholarships available and the deadline to apply has been extended to April 11th. These scholarships often cover the entire tour apart from the flight.

This tour is intended as a collaborative experience where extensive resources will be shared, everyone's voice is welcome, and participants work as a group to envision a better model for the field at the PK-12 level.

More details can be found here: https://www.vergiliansociety.org/diversifying-the-latin.../

View full article. | Posted in Summer Programs on Thu, 03/24/2022 - 11:33am by Helen Cullyer.
Fortunatae Journal Cover in yellow

Fortunatae, Revista Canaria de Filología, Cultura y Humanidades Clásicas, is edited by the Classical Studies Section of the Classical, French, Arabic and Romance Philology Department at Universidad de La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain).

Since its origins in 1991, the Journal publishes original, new research papers, notes and reviews, written by National and International contributors. Its scope is ample, focusing on diverse literary manifestations, new perspectives, subjects and theories originated in the field of classical studies and its continuity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Past issues of Fortunatae edited up to date show a periodical and prestigious publishing line, not only by the quality and originality of some of its contributions, but also by the bibliographical repertoire followed in the field of research to which it pertains. Published twice-a-year since 2019, Fortunatae accepts papers, being June and December the publication dates respectively.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 03/24/2022 - 8:21am by Helen Cullyer.
A man in a light blue toga hugs a woman with black hair, seen only from the back, who buries her head in his shoulder and raises her left hand in lament.

I have always enjoyed Latin class because it felt like a puzzle, much like math. Find the verb, find the noun that matches with the right case, number, and gender, then piece it all together. I had never connected with the language beyond its algebraic nature until my teacher gave me the opportunity to take ownership over the material — with a self-directed research assignment to be presented at a colloquium. Completing this project during a period of remote learning, I felt inspired by the ability to have greater independence and take control of my own learning. On top of all that, we would be presenting our work to the entire school and the wider community at the end of the year.

But first, I needed to choose what I wanted to study.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 03/21/2022 - 10:31am by .
A hand-drawn map on yellowed parchment with drawings of buildings and an aqueduct. In the center, a togaed man sits on a throne with a spear in his right hand and a halo behind him, indicating his sainthood. Red text behind his head reads ANTIOCHIA.

Research ideas often develop out of chance encounters or unplanned circumstances. My dissertation project was born just like that: when the intersection between an author that I was falling in love with and a pressing question that emerged from a completely unrelated event started bugging my young researcher’s mind.

I completed my M.A. by producing a translation, with commentary, of the letters of Libanius of Antioch to Datianus. A Greek sophist under the Roman empire, Libanius held the chair of rhetoric in Antioch for the greater part of the second half of the 4th century CE. His immense production, often mined for its wealth of historical information, has been the object of a resurgence of interest in the past few decades. I started working on his epistolary corpus only a few years after the publication of a precious volume that collected the state of the art in Libanian scholarship. A teacher myself and forced to maintain long-distance relationships with friends and family in my home country, I felt in familiar territory making the acquaintance of this ancient teacher, who gracefully preserved copies of some 1500 letters he sent to friends, students’ parents, bureaucrats, politicians, governors, and emperors of his time. 

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/18/2022 - 10:24am by .

Seneca 2022 --- SPECIAL/FINAL CALL FOR PAPERS 

Deadline for proposals: March 30, 2022

The Centre for Classical Studies of the School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon is organizing an International Conference on Seneca to promote and encourage a critical reflection on the permanence of themes, values, perspectives and representations of Seneca’s works in Western literature and culture. 

The Conference will take place between 17-20 October 2022, and, through the interdisciplinary debate of the contribution given by the experiences of researchers from different fields of study, it aims to:

- determine how Seneca became one of the most prominent figures in Western culture;

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 03/17/2022 - 10:14am by .

(From the Classics Department at Emory University)

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Wed, 03/16/2022 - 3:10pm by .
Women Latinists, Summer Course

Join us for two weeks in Florence on this unique learning experience that brings language to life in the real spaces where women wrote Latin. Includes 6 hours daily content, site visits, immersive learning, text-based activities and optional cultural programming every evening.*

When: July 17 - 31, 2022. 

Where: Florence, Italy.

View full article. | Posted in Summer Programs on Wed, 03/16/2022 - 2:59pm by .

The Classical Association of the Atlantic States (CAAS) has extended its Call for Proposals for the 2022 Fall Annual Meeting submission deadline to Monday, March 28, 2022.

You can read more about the Annual Meeting here: https://caas-cw.org/2021/12/17/call-for-papers-caas-2022-fall-annual-meeting/ .

The full CFP can be downloaded here: CAAS 2022 CFP.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 03/15/2022 - 4:36pm by .

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