The ‘End’ of the University

This morning I’m writing from The Ohio State University where I will be participating in an online symposium on the theme of “The ‘End’ of the University.” We will be interacting with Dr. Santa J Ono, President of the University of Cincinnati who will be doing two presentations.

end-ono1

Why the dire sounding title you may ask? One reason is that this is a season of great change in the world of higher education. Online courses, some available for free, cost pressures, shrinking research funding, rapidly advancing institutions in many other countries, an emphasis of technology fields over the more traditional humanities are some of the reasons some are speaking so bleakly about this world. In many fields, far more graduate students are working toward Ph.Ds than the job markets can accommodate. Many times 300 candidates will apply for a single position. Many Ph.Ds are consigned to cobbling together a collection of adjunct positions or one year contracts and in many cases their annual earnings qualify them for some form of federal assistance.

But the title also plays on the word ‘end’, which can also speak of the purpose, the telos of university education. Why higher education? Is it just about getting the credentials for a good job? Is it just to provide post-adolescents a four year party experience before they enter the “real” world of work? Or is it to “educate” someone in the sense of introducing a person to the ideas that have got us to this place?

One of the reasons we put this together was to explore the contribution that people of faith can make to shaping the character of the university. What does the love of God have to do with the love of learning and fostering a spirit of inquiry? How does our understanding of the nature of human beings influence our thinking about how they learn and grow and change, ad even what is most important to learn? What are the principles that govern our uses of technology–is it simply that we will do what we can do? And this work thing–are we educating people just so they can build the economy of our state, which seems to treat them as cogs in a machine? Or is their something about the nature of human beings that is addressed through the opportunity for meaningful work?

These are just some of the kinds of questions that we might be exploring. Not my usual way of spending a Saturday morning but hopefully one that will advance an important conversation!

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