2019-2020 Seminar: The University and Its Public Worlds: Arts, Languages, Environments

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Seminar leaders: Jorge Marcone and Henry S. Turner

What is a university, today, and what is the relationship between the university and its publics, especially in a moment of unprecedented globalization in university identity and university activity? This seminar begins with the premise that we no longer know exactly what a university is, that we are losing sight of what makes universities important to public life, and that the very idea of the “public” itself is changing in ways that threaten to make the traditional university irrelevant. Our aim will be to undertake a full-scale assessment of the university as a unique institution in contemporary global life through a comparative study among select North American, Latin American, European, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian examples. Rather than approaching the university as one institution among many that make up a public sphere, we propose to invert the topology of the phrase “public university,” adopting the view that the public is not to be found “outside” the university but rather inside it: in its members, its policies and procedures, in its many activities and the many sites it touches. For the public university turns out to be in many more places than we usually imagine, from classrooms to courtrooms, farms and field-stations, laboratories and libraries, prisons and publishing houses. Setting the public “inside” the university, in other words, allows us to reassess the unusual shape not only of the public but of the modern research university itself, to examine how it has changed over the last centuries, and what challenges it faces in the 21st. Among these challenges, we propose, is a view that seeks to oppose the “public” and the “university” to one another, or to dissever them so that the university appears irrelevant to public concerns. What implicit contracts have determined the university’s relationship to its national populations? How are these contracts changing and what new paths forward can we imagine? What effects do these changes have on who joins the university community in the first place, and on their divergent experiences, via their race, gender, ability, class position, language capacity, or legal status? For there are no “worlds” without diversity, difference, and the forces that alienate some subjects from those worlds. In short, we aim to identify the many values that determine the very idea of a university, including above all the values inherent in a public life founded on both diversity and equality.

The seminar, led by Jorge Marcone and Henry S. Turner, will meet approximately once every two weeks for three hours on Wednesday afternoons over the course of the 2019-20 academic year.  We will read and discuss scholarship related to our topic, and members will circulate and present work-in-progress.  In addition, distinguished guests will visit the seminar to discuss current projects and share insights and expertise.