The Fate of Universities
In the distance, a series of bells ring. Students scurry away from their discussions. Maybe they were debating the merits of Augustinian predestination. Perhaps one young theologian was convincing another of Pelagius’ errors. Regardless, the talks cease as students prepare for a seminar from Albert Magnus, O.P., a Dominican friar, bishop, and teacher. On this day, Magnus is articulating the marriage of logic and theology, how one cannot exist without the other. The students are enthralled, listening to every word that flows from the clergyman’s mouth. His students are familiar with the trivium and quadrivium, learned in multiple divisions of the liberal arts. They are ready for rigorous study, and Albert Magnus is prepared to test that rigor.
Medieval universities fostered and nurtured a culture imbued with Catholic Christianity. Philosophy, theology, literature, and history, all those things that modernity considers superfluous, were the center of the original system of education. To be superfluous was to be instructed in those things which make us human.
How did the modern university become an aggrandized and bloated daycare center? More than anything, the meticulous study of higher things began to suffer after the Industrial Revolution. There was a pivot towards science and engineering as individual fields of study, rather than keeping them as subfields or trade skills. The current education system, not only in America but the world, has lost the ability to make people more human. It has lost the ability to help people see past the shadows on the wall, to force people out of the cave and towards the sun.
Since universities no longer deal in the irrelevant studies that help people understand themselves, but abstract notions of egalitarianism, they have dug their own graves. Educational institutions will stumble into irrelevance because they do not defend those that would climb out of the cave. Instead, they indulge passions and untethered appetites. Money is spent, not on quality faculty and classrooms, but on condo-like dorms and multi-million dollar lounging facilities. Rather than teach their students the importance of self-restraint, the university now continues to feed the beast.
If universities wish to survive the onslaught on their relevance, they need to make another pivot. Not towards subjection and postmodernism - only extinction lies there. Colleges must again become institutions where students are safe to explore topics that could not be indulged in the outside world. Students should be encouraged to study the humanities and the foundational aspects of logic. These institutions must once again prepare students for a rigorous academic life, allowing for the exploration of sometimes dangerous and unsettling ideas. Just remember, Vincit Omnia Veritas - truth conquers all.