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Yesterday and today: The task of the university

Author(s): J.J. Venter

Journal: Koers : Bulletin for Christian Scholarship
ISSN 0023-270X

Volume: 40;
Issue: 4-6;
Start page: 402;
Date: 1975;
Original page

The university has become a battlefield of the mentally violent as to the question of the part the university should play in modern industrialised society, in the communication between rich and poor, in the spiritual confusion that followed the lapse of Christianity. The old idea that the university is and should be the place where intelligent people withdraw for the purpose of autonomous, unengaged, religiously and politically unprejudiced, impartial theoretical thinking, is struggling for its life against the growing belief that the powers of theoretical thinking are no more than instruments for, and should not be used otherwise than, the purpose of changing society to one which is more just, more human, than the prevailing (capitalistic) structure. Rejecting the intimidative ways sometimes followed by both sides in defending their case, I do have sympathy with both sides: I still find enough reason(s) to believe that the university is somehow something different from a church or a political party or a pressure group, while knowing that the university never has been or could be, and firmly believing that it should not be, utterly aloof from human life in its fullness; and therefore I am prepared to advocate that the university ought to cultivate its relation to surrounding society, but in a way adapted to its own peculiarities, for the university may not outlive (as university) its being instrumentalized. The battlefield mentality ought to be exchanged by one of thoroughgoing philosophical reflexion by all people interested in the university’s affairs. Knowing that they fulfill their fallible work within the cadres of a meaningful history in which also the university came to be, they should ponder, in the light of the continuity and discontinuity of history, about the task of the university of yesterday, of today and of tomorrow, in a non-exclusive disjunction.
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