Lebenskünstler

Against University Uniformity And For The Provincial Institution – Localization – Place Based Education – Intra-diversity vs. Inter-diversity

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/04/2012

This may rub my progressive friends the wrong way, but there is much to think about here. There is a powerful critique of universality to be made, and this piece does so, showing how the notion is related to the abstraction of (economic) exchange. There is something Baudrillardian about that line of thinking, although I’m sure Wilson would not embrace the comparison. The localization of education at the university level is not something progressives/liberals talk enough about (if at all).

Universal Uniformity in the University – James Matthew Wilson

If contemporary diversity leads all departments, all schools, and the character of all graduates to look roughly alike, it would seem reasonable to propose an alternative account of diversity that takes the word more seriously and makes it conducive to a substantive good that cannot be measured with a calculator…what if an institution were to commit itself not to attracting students and faculty from every possible state and a smattering of foreign lands, but to building up a faculty composed whenever possible of persons from a specific region and committed to educating the youth of that region?  This used to be quite common, but in the impossible chase of the Ivies, even schools that stand no realistic chance of attracting a “world class” elite faculty nonetheless burn their local bridges in the attempt to do so.  This reduces the cultural capital otherwise available to universities through nurturing and retaining their native population, and makes it difficult for an institution to manifest the particularities that naturally arise in a settled culture.  Mobility and geographical cherry-picking homogenize more than civilize.

So, I ask, what if universities began hiring according to specific, exclusive, and perhaps even ungeneralizable criteria about what kind of knowledge is valuable?  Currently, most scholars are more loyal to their profession and the standards and interests of their field of expertise than they are to their institution.  They have to be, because the institution offers little of substance to which they might feel profound intellectual fidelity.  Rather than seeking to have the best-available scholar in every field, schools might specialize more, and coordinate that specialization across departments and disciplines, reaching a provisionally local but robust consensus on the attributes proper to the life of learning.

…building upon a less widely “imported” faculty, and a newly circumscribed curriculum that makes substantive choices about what constitutes the essential knowledge of the liberally educated person of a particular institution, we may entertain the prospect of universities’ provisionally abandoning the attempt to establish a global, banal, and diluted consensus regarding the attributes of a good graduate’s character.

…yet schools restrict this celebration of “difference” to admissions criteria and superficial demographic festoons on an otherwise homogenous institutional coat rack.

We would then realize real diversity between institutions, rather than a uniform diversity within them.  That this would result in inferior and superior character formation at different schools would be an obvious consequence, but I am not sure why we would shy away from ambitious experiments in character and virtue, in an age where nearly everyone is convinced—for often opposed reasons—that universities are failing their students both intellectually and morally.

[All bold emphases mine.]

 

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