JMC fellow Elizabeth Corey examines the university’s competing purposes in her article published in The Chronicle. She maintains that in a cultural climate concerned with achieving tangible outcomes, the university ought to retrieve equilibrium in serving both its practical and disinterested purposes.
The University Has No Purpose
No one can agree on the purpose of university education. Two divergent understandings hold the field. First is the ascendant “practical-political” view, which generally aims at one of two goods: social justice or career preparation. Second, and much less common, is the “disinterested” university, where contemporary political and social problems are set aside for an interval in favor of learning as its own end. The insistence of personal interest subsides as students submit to traditions that have long preceded them.
These two competing visions do not coexist happily. The practical-political university is intensely concerned with future outcomes; the disinterested university is focused on the process of learning in and for itself, right now. The problem at the moment is that one finds few defenders of disinterest; the practical-political view is almost wholly ascendant. As the political philosopher Ken Minogue commented, “The most alarming feature of our times is that the very concept of ‘disinterestedness’ has almost disappeared from the language. Our world wants a bang from every buck.”
Dr. Elizabeth Corey, a JMC fellow, joined the faculty of the Baylor University’s Honors Program in 2007 and became Program Director in 2015. She earned a B.A. in classics from Oberlin College, an M.A. in art history from Louisiana State University (LSU), and an M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from LSU. At Baylor, she has taught courses in Great Texts and Political Science as well as in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. Her book, Michael Oakeshott on Religion, Aesthetics, and Politics, was published by the University of Missouri Press in 2006. She served as President of the Michael Oakeshott Association, and in 2009 hosted the Association’s meetings at Baylor. She continues to pursues a variety of interdisciplinary research interests, from the educational and political thought of Oakeshott and Eric Voegelin to the art and politics of eleventh-century Italy.
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