University Idea the University Is Essay

  • Length: 10 pages
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  • Subject: Teaching
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #95210860

Excerpt from Essay :

And it is to this end that the university is so distinct in the way that it provides a community which is most hospitable to intellectual and emotional growth.

Difficulty of Harmonization:

Downey (2000) points to a modern vagary of our persistent state of global recession in making the case that it is difficult to find harmony between the stated goals of his trinity. Indeed, though this reflects a certain ideal for university functionality, it contrasts the reality in many contexts. Writing on Canada's higher education system, which has been largely subsidized by government funding on an historical basis, Downey (2000) indicates that that more privately run university system in America is becoming a model to public officials. This, Downey (2000) demonstrates, is to the detriment of the university's capacity to reflect the modalities of his trinity in harmony. As he remarks, the Canadian government is finding itself increasingly hobbled by the enormity of its public works. The result is that higher education institutions are beginning to suffer from the pinch. According to Downey (2000), "with this dramatic reduction in government support will likely come a partial deregulation of tuition fees. These two actions together will place a great deal of stress upon the corporation in meeting its obligations to the state, on the one hand, and to students, faculty, and staff, on the other." (p. 308)

Downey (2000) indicates that as a consequence, all parties affiliated with the university will experience a diminishing return for their investment. Downey (2000) warns that in the face of reduced government support, shortages in resource will result in faculty downsizing, reductions in wages and benefits, smaller ranges of available study courses and a lowering of the standards of community services. In other words, absent the public support which has always been instrumental to the Canadian university system, it will become increasingly difficult to balance the imperatives of corporation, collegium and community.

Quite to this point, the mere need for survival seems to tilt the balance toward the corporate modality. Here, the imperative simply to remain economically viable tends to overshadow the importance of academic freedom or the character of the campus. And yet, as we will explore further, this produces something of a defensive posture amongst the other dimensions of the university. This, in turn, produces certain patterns of behavior which impede upon the corporate functionality of the university. As Downey (2000) states on this point, "there never has been a time perhaps when all of these elements have been fully present and perfectly balanced, but present dangers of imbalance are greater than they have been in a long time." (309-310)

Three critical tensions:

Essentially, the discussion above contributes to the major tensions which make the ideal university so difficult to attain. In particular, there is a relative discomfit between the imperatives of the university as a corporation and the university as a collegium. To an extent, the pressure to remain viable in recession, under the thumb of public funding crises or in times of unusually low enrollment tend to cause an entrenchment of corporate values. For administrators, officers, board members and chair-holders, remaining either profitable or merely operational will stand with far greater imposition than the interests of academic freedom. This suggests that the core tension between the corporate and collegiate modalities is manifested in the sometimes differing interests of academic freedom and financial viability. That said, Downey's (2000) model is intended to balance these priorities rather than to choose between them. Therefore, he makes the argument that "it is by no means foreordained that bicameralism will wane as corporatism waxes; it will depend in large part on what imaginative power the concept of collegium holds academics." (p. 308)

To this extent, Downey (2000) argues that the tension in question can be resolved through the intuition and flexibility of the professoriate. This alludes to another critical tension preventing the proper balance between modalities. Downey (2000) makes mention of the relative empowerment of the collegium by arguing that the strength of its union has had a limiting impact on the functionality of the university's administrative appendages. That is, because teaching unions have so effectively limited the authority of the university's corporate apparatus, they have assumed something of a dominance in certain areas of policy and practice. Downey (2000) argues that this has been done under the auspices of academic freedom, but that it has limited the ability of universities to effectively govern themselves. Downey (2000) characterizes this by noting that "at the same time that faculty unionization limited the discretionary powers of boards of governors, it removed from academic senates several important jurisdictions over the terms and conditions of employment of faculty, promotion and tenure criteria and procedures being only the most obvious example." (p. 308)

Downey (2000) indicates that this scenario has blunted the capacity or the university to act according to its intended hierarchy. As a party to his trinity theory, Downey (2000) makes the argument that a degree of hierarchy is required in order to provide the proper oversight to core operational elements of the institution. The manner in which these interests -- which are intended to be supplemental to one another -- are postured in opposition to one another instead is reflective of the third critical tension. Downey (2000) describes a tension between that which is intended by the community of a university and that which is actually being manifested under the current conditions. The divergence of interests between the corporate and collegiate dimensions of the university are indicative of a far more troubling state of affairs at our fiscally shaken schools. Namely, with higher tuition rates and lesser services threatening students, corporate belt-tightening threatening faculty and professors, and union empowerment threatening the structural integrity of the university as a practice organization, economic recession has ruptured the harmonious community which is intended to be the university experience.

Downey (2000) expresses concern that the competing interests of so many groups is diametrically opposed to the intended collaborative experience that the community implies. Here, the article reveals a concentration on community as something more philosophically formulated, in addition to the practical implications of the campus life and its norms. Downey (2000) indicates that indeed, we may recognize "the physical, social, and cultural infrastructures which provide the basis for the university as community. But these are not its essence. There is another meaning of community. It is the spirit of concern and caring, of regard and respect, of cooperation and sharing which is the communal bonding agent. This is the essence which harmonizes divergent interests and creates cohesion. It is this spirit which is being severely tested in our universities at the moment." (p. 309)


This seems an appropriate point upon which to resolve our discussion. For Downey (2000), the centerpiece of the discussion seems to be a need for universities to achieve greater balance in all things. This is delineated as a balance between the dimensions or modalities of corporation, collegium and community. And indeed, Downey (2000) goes to compelling lengths to demonstrate the manner in which these should be interdependent and cooperative within the scope of a university.

But the article goes further to suggest that there is an inherent balance which is required of the university as a concept and as an idea which must inform its practice, policy and philosophy. The article contends that "there will always be some tension between the university's role as critic of society and its role as society's servant." (p. 310) However, at the crux of Downey's (2000) discussion seems to be the view that this is not a catastrophic dilemma. Indeed, the educational process centering on the quest for truth, it seems an appropriate scholarly pursuit to engage these questions about the role of the university. Even without reconciliation of these competing interests, there can…

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