Thoughts On The University
The age of the university is approaching its end. Its expiration is imminent, its decline forthcoming. Years from now, when it becomes a time upon which we turn and look back, a moment on whose present and obvious moribundity we quietly reflect, we’ll tremble with the recognition that we lived to see it die.
Like the aged parent by whom the devout child is naturally pre-deceased, we’ll bear witness to the decay of this once beloved and august institution, this wonderful alma mater—literally, this bountiful mother—by whose continued and nurturing fecundity, the mind of the West had been sustained. It was in her womb that the coarseness of our earliest thinking was so gently refined, behind the girth of whose maternal power, we sheltered and grew. We became what we are today—a subtle, philosophical, and deeply reflective people, a species to whom all ideas are tolerable, and all opposition, welcome—and we became this because of her.
This period of gestation, not nine months, but many centuries long (spanning, from start till finish, the Medieval period until a few hours ago) was absolutely vital; during it, we developed as a species as never we had before. We layered upon the fragile skeletons of our old inheritance a greatly thickened hide. The brain, that organ bursting with excitable synapses and prickly potential, was strengthened and tuned to immeasurable degrees. We became more than mute troglodytes, scraping our knuckles on the barren tundra of the earth, but the most sophisticated of walking apes of whom this verdant land had yet taken note. We were furnished with wit and word, while the others, to whom we were so manifestly superior, groaned in inarticulate despair. We were the subject of their envy and they, the object of our scorn.
This evolution, this phenomenon of man, was an achievement for which, in great part, we had our university mother to thank. The age of her beauty, was the age of our growth.
Postpartum, the progress continued still; further advanced the cadence of our maturation, a gait upon which, seemingly, no road block could ever infringe. We strode confidently into a future for whose uncertainty, we felt ourselves uniquely well-equipped. Always, she, the university, was the figure by whom we were led. She brought us by the hand, and exposed to us the world about which, previously, we’d known embarrassingly little. It was by her inducement that we were encouraged to jump into it and garner the momentum of its rush. She gave to us the strength to run on unfailing legs, the endurance to look beyond the blurred horizon of our eyes. We took from her our example, a lifetime of instruction, and—in her honor—we set off intrepidly into the depths of the unknown.
Now, with an inability to intercede on her behalf, and with the glum recognition that she desires nothing better than to step toward the edge, to leap into the fire, and completely to immolate herself in the flames of noxious ideologies and fetid untruths, we watch with sadness the coming of her own demise. It is matricide, yet she kills herself. We see, each day more clearly than the last, her unravelling and her decadence, and her masochistic devotion to the attainment of these ends. Unable to help, unable to steer her in the liberal, salutary directions in which she once steered us, we can do nothing but shutter and gasp. We know that she’ll soon breathe her last mouthful of academic air, a final taste of a sweet vapor, of a delicious wind, by which our lungs were enlivened and our souls restored.
The curtain, so long suspended above her and her age, is falling with a “crash”. We sense the weight of its fabric, as we gaze its plummeting motion from afar. It descends to the orchestral pit above which, for so long a time, it loftily flew. The age of the university is nearing, in distressingly short order, the date of its own self-imposed expiration, a final scene, a suicide-matricide on stage (not unlike that of the Theban Jocasta), toward which it’s been hastening over the course of the past few years. This act of self-violence, carried out in the dread names of radicalism, Marxism, historical revisionism, post-modernism, etc., has only accelerated in the course of the past few months.
Of course, the expiry of this age, the denouement of the university’s human story, is but an end to one chapter of a much larger book. There will be another age, an unturned chapter, a wider vista by which this departing one will be succeeded. The age of the university, despite its earlier virtue, will step away from it, acknowledging that, in its radiant presence, it had become obscure and dark. It had become sclerotic and unwise, narrow and mean, a veritable constraint on the boundless reach of man.
With its demise, the breadth of his potentiality might finally have its space. His freshly liberated mind will exercise, at long last, its natural right to think, to argue, and to arrive at conclusions with which its own character is aligned. It’ll reject all orthodoxies, edicts, and the harsh teachings of which it’d become so servile a recipient. Disentangled of these chains, it’ll climb to higher summits of knowledge, to peaks upon which its stunted muscles and idle sinews can better exert themselves and play.
To this new and coming age, a time during which, with refreshed vigor, the mind will be set to thrive, we’ll give the name the “age of the self-taught”. The age of the university will dissolve before the humility of its title and the simplicity of its aim. It’ll be a pedagogical revolution, with each student finding within himself the essence of his own teacher. Intimacy will replace hierarchy, conscience the university. It’ll be democratic and protestant in this and way, as opposed to the rigid Catholicity of the previous educational structure. There will be no papacy, only the flicker of personal inspiration and charm. It is not the age of the university as an institution, which has long since relinquished its claim to any merit, but of the self-exploring, liberal-thinking, fast-talking, promiscuously-listening, virtuous, and ambitious man. He’ll look not to received dogmas, but to truths with which personal contact can be made.
He’ll bring forth this age, an age of Autodidacticism, which will soon be in the ascendant. He’ll remember the better values for which the university once stood, and he’ll conserve them so far as he can. He’ll apply their lessons to the improvement of his own education, adorning his mind with the memory of their wealth, but he’ll trim away all the dross and the fat by which they were so heavily burdened and foully corrupted. He wants only that which is gold, that which is worth knowing and grasping.
Once the sole repository of all books, the university has long since relinquished that distinction. It was an aspect, exclusively held, for which it was so long esteemed. No longer is it the only bastion for the literate mind, a building to whose tall doors, the elite alone gained admission. The works over which it claimed proprietorship have become available to the masses. It hasn’t a monopoly on the written word. A local library, lending and exchanging with the other regional libraries with which it enjoys a cordial relationship, plays exactly the same role (at a far cheaper price). This, the public library, is the most under-utilized, overlooked institution to which our clever society has ever given birth. One can’t sufficiently sing its praise and extol its worth.
If materials needed for learning escape the expanse of its fertile walls, they’ll be found with promptitude online. The Internet, despite the easy accessibility of its bubbling filth, is a fount of endless knowledge by which, with a modicum of restraint and an overwhelming sense of purpose, every student could be improved. Anything might be learned with the click of a mouse and the perusal of a screen. Gutenberg’s eponymous site would make the old German printer blush. One need only find within himself the spark of a curious imagination, and all knowledge will be his.
As the age of the university comes to its close, we must find our universities elsewhere. No longer will they be found behind iron gates and ivory towers. Indeed, it is time—as Henry David Thoreau once said—that we had “uncommon schools”, a phrase by which I’m positively tickled. Of course, coming from him, it was a statement befitting an uncommon man. First, however, we must find our schools in ourselves. This, in today’s world, is the most uncommon place of all. That said, it’s the one of whose familiarity we’re most pressingly in need. With the death of the age of the university, we will be re-acquainted. We’re forevermore to be self-taught.