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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


HEYNS, Michael. Freedom and Idea: Antiphon for the university. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-1, pp.961-979. ISSN 2224-7912.

The economisation of universities includes processes like the commodification and commercialisation of knowledge as well as the corporatisation of the institutional structure and authority hierarchy of universities. The reasons given for this economisation are that it will make universities major participants in the economic growth of nations or simply enable them to survive financially. The question however, is whether this economisation will indeed serve the economic health of higher education. South Africa, with its 2015 student revolt against tuition fees that are too high, looks like a case in point where economisation had the opposite effect. Moreover, economisation is instrumental in eradicating the definitive distinction between universities and economic institutions, as well as eroding the age-old idea of academic freedom. On a deeper level of evaluation, the economic aspect of universities seems to have become the battle ground for modern ideas about human freedom and compelling forces. Hence the question of this paper: Where is the battle for the soul of the university between the forces of economisation and freedom taking us, and where should we be taken? A first step towards an answer is to get a clearer perspective on the modern idea-polarity between economisation (as a compelling force) and freedom (including academic freedom). Modern ideas about the economy assume free human agency but also a coercive power in the form of a compelling invisible hand. This invisible hand forms an order on which supposedly self-creating human beings should try to impose their agency. Inherent to this (post)modernist "projection theory" is a tension in which the self-creation of human agents is threatened by the coercive force of the economy. The latest (so-called postmodern) version of modernism reacts to this by (again) affirming that all positions and normativity are mere human projection. Postmodernists have a more pessimistic approach than the Enlightenment modernists, who believed in human self-emancipation through reason. Rationalism gave rise to modern ideas about education. However, in the 1960s, this faith was challenged and a shift towards an intense criticism of the ideas of emancipation through reason took place. This shift towards irrationalism, however, did not imply the redundancy of education. The postmodern view is that the younger generation needs to be equipped with especially information technology as well as managerialist skills to compete in the jungle of the market. The undercurrent of assuming a compelling order, lingers. This tension is also visible when the current university is compared to its predecessors. Historicists presuppose that there is no universal and timeless essence for universities (although socio-economic conditions, and change itself, become a kind of constant essence for postmodern historicists). Those who deal in a non-reducing and normative way with the historicity of the university are more cautious: They do not necessarily want rigid and reductionist essentialism for universities, but do not want to succumb to rampant historicism either. The university should at least portray a moment of identity by simultaneously preserving and transforming the idea of a university. The enduring idea of a university that differentiated in the course of history portrays at least three functional dimensions: The first of these, the agogic moment, sees the university as an institution for transferring knowledge to a new generation. The second dimension emphasises the expansion ofthat knowledge. The third aspect is the pragmatic or instrumentalist side, which emphasises the practical relevance of, and context for knowledge. If non-reduction is taken seriously, none of these dimensions will be arbitrarily deified, but it will rather be attempted to weave them into a normative idea of a university. We should therefore not be blackmailed by the dualist model which currently venerates the economic side of the university above freedom ("freedom" being interpreted in a self-creationist and autonomist sense). A non-reducing and normative freedom for the university will rather try to uncover the moments of direction and type into a cohering structure called the idea of a university. This normativity for universities will involve seeing universities as institutions of unity between lecturers and students, where expression is given to the attempt to pass knowledge to a next generation, and thus to also uncover knowledge appropriate for this agogic task. A totalitarian economisation implies enslavement by an instrumentalist element in the idea of a university. According to this kind of rationality "maximum efficiency" is - ironically - a compelling measure of freedom. Accordingly, market forces want to ensure that only the best universities survive, with "best" being defined as those that are cost-effective. The argument for freedom based on a normative type-ness for the university and a definitive decision to move towards the latter will have to be rediscovered in the public discourse on the university. In this discourse, freedom must be a destination, although not a supreme goal. It needs to be a goal next to, or in antiphony (turn-singing) with others, such as "peace", "truth", "justice" and "structure". Thus, the freedom of the university will manifest only if there is antiphony between the salient conditions captured in the idea of a university.

Palabras clave : Idea of a university; Economisation; Freedom; Non-reduction; Normative; Direction; Type-ness.

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