The Idea of University

The Idea of University and the Future of Knowledge.
Views from the Humanities

September 19—20, 2013

Check the video archive of the conference here.

The relation between the university as the location of academic and scientific excellence and its civic environment, i.e. its social, cultural and political contexts, is rapidly changing.

What are these changes and how can we deal with them? What is the social responsibility of the university in the contemporary world?

On September 19 and 20 2013 the Centre for the Humanities organized a conference on the subject The Idea of University and the Future of Knowledge. Views from the Humanities.

This conference aimed to investigate the questions mentioned above. It also raised the question of what it means to be a learned and critical citizen of the world today and what the university’s role ought to be in forming the citizens of the future.

In a context of neo-liberal economics and general financial crisis, political and economic leaders have approached the question of the function of the university today through a new emphasis on vocational training, economic relevance and a downgrading of the value of the Humanities. The effects of these pressures on disciplinary formation and innovation are complex and penetrate well beyond the teaching curricula of universities to reshape the very idea of ‘research’ and its value to society.

In response, academics from all disciplines have rallied to defend the institution of the university as a bastion of academic freedom and critical thinking, as well as the producer of scientific excellence. The Humanities are at the centre of the current defence of the university, as they embody some of its core values. Whether this movement of resistance results in restating the traditional definition of humanistic values, or whether it results in a call to adapt the Humanities curriculum to the new pressures it faces today, is another key question this conference addressed.

The balance between tradition and innovation needs to be debated and struck again, both in the Humanities and in the university as a whole. To what an extent can the contemporary university  cultivate a high level of social awareness in responding to the demands by civil society, the labour market, global culture and the corporate world, while remaining loyal to its century-old mission of pursuing scientific excellence for its own sake? What is the role of the Humanities in facing this challenge?

The program also addressed the question of ‘what counts as knowledge’ in this new arena of ‘universitas’. How do the digital, the cognitive and sustainability play a role in the future ‘eco system’ of the university?

The conference aimed at assessing recent efforts to redefine the parameters for a new interaction between the university and its local and global civic context.