The Future University (Post IV)

Chapter notes (IV)

Standaert likes metaphors to talk about university.

Here are his three: the pyramid; the pillars; the web (p. 88):

Left: the Medieval University; Centre: the Current University; Right: the Future University

The pyramid represents the medieval-renaissance university organised hierarchically to reflect the classification of knowledge (ibid):

At the bottom were the artes serviles (agriculture, surgery, military sciences) which were not usually taught at university; next came the artes liberales consisting of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, dialectics) and the quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music, all different disciplines belonging to mathematics), which were the foundation for the artes superiores: (Aristotelian) physics, ethics, metaphysics and theology, respectively. Theology, as a speculative science concerning the coherence of things, was considered the “Queen” of the sciences …

This kind of university was based on the practice of the disputatio, a public debate in which students from across the university engaged.

The pillars represent the university of the enlightenment in which nation-states began to form and the Church separated from the State. Mathematics thus became the “Queen” of science (p.89):

In the structure of a modern university, theology, philosophy, language and literature, mathematics, physics are all separated from each other in distinct faculties and departments with their own study programme adapted to their own discipline

Knowledge became transmitted vertically and in silos becoming increasingly specialised and increasingly secular, and “universities were increasingly distinguished on the basis of their national character: empirical in Great Britain, rational in France, idealistic in Germany. Professors only taught in their own national language at their own university” (p. 90).

The webbed university is currently emerging from or morphing out of the pillars. It “entails fundamental structural changes from a vertical towards a more horizontal approach” (ibid). This has seen siloed disciplines becoming more interdisciplinary. For example, medicine no longer engages in the discrete study of body parts (anatomy) but is part of a broader ‘life sciences’ programme which is more dynamic and holistic in which the study of ‘anatomy’ is replaced with the study of ‘blood cell producing organs’. This dynamism extends to students studying abroad and to professors working across different universities and countries.Dew_on_spider_web_Luc_Viatour

The webbed university thus raises questions about ‘place’ and ‘space’, about its location. Standaert claims that this kind of university no longer has a place: rather, it occupies a networked space. This raises questions about the kind of network it wishes to be; about how it is going to organise its knowledge systems and where; about ethics, responsibilities, and accountability.

He suggests three further ways of conceiving the future of such a webbed, networked university (pp. 94-5):

  1. it could be ecological, quoting Ronald Barnett, the editor of this collection: “The networked university becomes the ecological university when it intends deliberately not merely too safeguard the public realm but actively too enhance it”;
  2. it could be a world-university, quoting Masschelein and Simons, in which “we are not mobilised, but slowed down and provoked to think”;
  3. it could be a public university, again quoting Masschelein and Simons, in which there is no teaching: “not teaching a lesson, but making things public, reading them before an audience, exposing them, making them present”.

Despite the differences in the approaches of these authors, they share the conviction that networked universities will be public spaces with attention to the world, to hesitation, to fragility, to the uncertain and unknown (p. 95)

Standaert envisions a networked university in which we do not only seek to explain “phenomena in terms of their causes and their effects” (which requires ‘counting’), but one in which we also seek to understand phenomena “in terms of the relations of the parts to the whole” (which requires ‘narrating’).

He thus sees the networked university as a potential site of great creativity where scientists can be novelists and novelists can be scientists. Standaert cites the work of Alan Lightman, who is both a physicist and novelist at MIT, to show how possible this vision is (p.97):

In doing science, even though words and equations are used with the intention of having precise meanings, it is almost impossible not reason by physical analogy, not to form mental pictures, not to imagine balls bouncing and pendulums swinging. Metaphor is part of the process of science

He sees a future in which students and researchers can meet in spaces where they can count as well as recount, creating transdiciplinary dialogues in mobile spaces that reflect landscapes of knowledge, not silos (pp. 98-100):

It is the space of what is uncertain, vulnerable, uncontrollable, or incomprehensible that is the mainspring of human action. It is the in-between-ness that makes people to encounter each other and that may constitute an essential part in the search towards a networked university

Post V will be on ‘The University as Fool” by Donncha Kavanagh ….



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