The Vocation of the University: Its Past as a Guide to its Future
How should a university determine its current identity and the course of its future life? Not through an appeal to mission, since mission is too thin a concept to capture a university’s moral identity over time. That moral identity is to be found in a university’s vocation.
A university is a moral person: It makes plans, forms intentions, picks and chooses, and performs acts which are unique subjects of moral evaluation. The university also conceives of itself as a temporal entity and forms images of itself, both of what it is and what it ought to be. These facts make it possible for a university to have not just a mission, but a genuine vocation. Its vocation lends its life unity and in part constitutes its current identity. It is not, then, merely similarity of structure, procedure, and curriculum that unifies a university’s life.
Paradoxically, a university can formulate a normative image of its future self only if it has a historical consciousness. For any university to discern its vocation, it must not only look to its own past, but to the past that all universities share, to the emergence of universities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when our oldest universities sprang to life. Therefore, the humanities should play a crucial role in the planning of our universities’ futures, since an articulation of a vocation requires moral reasoning as well as a historical awareness of a university’s life, which must be expressed in a narrative.
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)