23 March 2009

Monday Quote Frenzy: What's Wrong With This Picture?

James Bryce was a British historian and (Liberal) politician. In 1888, he published The American Commonwealth, a study of all of America's institutions - political, social, religious, etc. It included a chapter on American universities and colleges. After completing his stint as British Ambassador to the United States, he returned to his study and updated it, publishing the new version in 1917. In closing the section in which he revisits the universities, he gives the following assessment:
Foreign critics often say, and some domestic critics have echoed the censure, that what is chiefly admired in America is Bigness, things being measured by their size or by what they cost. This quantitative estimate finds little place in the Universities. With very few exceptions, the teaching staff are not thinking of size, nor of money, except so far as it helps to extend the usefulness of their institution. All the better men, and not merely the ablest men, but the good average men, feel that it is the mission of a University to seek and find and set forth the real values. It has been well said by one of the most acute and large-minded of all recent visitors to the United States [Professor Dr. Lamprecht of Leipzig in his Amerikana] that nowhere in the world do University teachers feel more strongly that the first object of their devotion is Truth. They are of all classes in the country that which is least dazzled by wealth, least governed by material considerations. No wealth-seeker would, indeed, choose such a profession. To one who looks back over the last twenty years, the Universities seem to have grown not only in their resources and the number of their students, but also in dignity and influence. They hold a higher place in the eyes of the Nation. They have almost entirely escaped any deleterious contact either with politics or with those capitalistic groups whose power is felt in so many other directions. Through the always widening circle of their alumni they are more closely in touch than ever before with all classes in the community. The European observer can express now with even more conviction than he could twenty years ago the opinion that they constitute one of the most powerful and most pervasive forces working for good in the country.

20 March 2009

Wilfred Cantwell Smith on the Modern University

In universities, those who were in pursuit of truth have to a significant extent been followed by those in pursuit of research grants, or of promotions. Truth itself, as the proclaimed goal of a university, has largely been reduced from something that we serve to something that serves us; from something to which we aspire to something that we construct. The academic enterprise then becomes the knowledge industry: the instrument by which a society turns out knowledge as it turns out motor cars, for consumption and for our own profit or pleasure or aggrandizement. Socrates’s ‘knowledge is virtue’ has been widely replaced by Bacon’s ‘knowledge is power’. Rationalism in the sense of a disciplined subservient dedication of oneself to the rule of transcendent Reason, has been largely replaced by a new rationalism that is concerned rather and only with the appropriateness of instrumental means to unscrutinized ends. Classically, Europe had held that to seek what is not morally good is as irrational as to think what is not intellectually true.
‘Shall Next Century be Secular or Religious?’, published in Cosmos, Life, Religion: Beyond Humanism, Tenri, Japan: Tenri University Press, 1988, pp. 125-151; reprinted in Modern Culture from a Comparative Perspective, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997, p. 72.