the professor as parrhesiastus

Berkman Center May 17, 12.30: The Post-Humboldtian University: Re-thinking the University’s Role in Society in the Network Age. Juan Carlos de Martin, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the NEXA Center for Internet & Society at Politecnico di Torino & Charles Nesson, Berkman Center for Internet & Society .

University is a complex concept. University is many things. It is a problematized entity bec there is a crisis of some sort. As a brief history of universities:

  • We started with opportunities but there are also challenges.
  • What was implicit, struggles to become explicit.
  • Question: what are universities for? Historical processes and interacting with cultural, technological process, political process.
  • Early university started in 11th c taking books out of monasteries to read and discuss them in public.
    • Guilds
    • Uniersitas magistrorum et scholarium
    • Students hire professors and pay them
    • A truly European space
    • Constant struggle with the powers (lay and religious) about autonomy, privileges etc.
  • Modern University: Humbold’s Principles 1810 wrote a treatise
    • Unity of research and teaching
    • Freedom of teaching
    • Academic self-governance

Another vision from anglo-saxons is John Henry Newman 1852: netural education – one generation to another. Creating an atmosphere of thought.

The pragmatic moment is the lecture: printed book and in public puts it on table and students who already read it try to understand and discuss it. This modern university is a model and remarkable with worldwide success. But it betrayed its origins. It was there to define a national culture and expand it and therefore became an institution of the state. It forms experts and forms a new elite. Knowledge is created outside universities. Math education is no more an elite but large percentage of population attends universities.

Recent model is to get money and accountability and control based on metrics – this became mainstream in Europe and elsewhere.

Each country began to compete economically so strong emphasis on competition, economic growth, short term returns, innovation, science and technology. Accountability became word of the day. This became more and more controlled. There are metrics and parameters are used to show whether a university is good or a single individual is good. They are not looking at how good students get but looking at numbers. They end up destroying what they are trying in principle to do.

Amazing opportunities in the age of the internet: what can be made different and what stays the same? What university in a networked age. There is a clear opportunity to expand reach of universities through online learning and long distance degrees come of age in Asia going to rural areas without having to move. Not everything should change, though. Would you build a library? A physical building? He argues no.

The university of the networked economy and society: challenges and opportunities. There is the online experience [being physically in one place] the inner circle remains there as the experience, but is enlarged by technology so there will be an extension of experience. Larger circle is what university contributes to the public domain,  and that is open access. What it puts out there without actual education.

Public engagement of single professors and universities is important at international level in order to do something effective. But that brings us to parrhesia. Parrheisa is to speak freely and to speak the truth. It was important for ancient greeks: The Pheonissae by Euripedes: what is it to be an exile? The exile cannot speak his mind. Like being a slave. To join in the folly of fools. The parrahesiaste is someone who chooses a specific relationship with him/herself. Parrhesia speaker uses libery and chooses to speak frankly instead of persuasion, truth rather than falsity or science [Fouccault].

Professor comes from to profess: ‘I profess law’ for example.  To profess: to frankly declare what one is, what one believes, to go beyond purely informative talk towards a public commitment. It is a public commitment.

  • The professor as parrhesiastus;
  • the professor as amateur
  • university is where matters of concern are made public. Must be done in person and online.
  • I can speak truth in blog and distance learning but while not great it is still important.

In summary:

Experience of this university in this century: conceptualizing with such difficult global problems to face. Using internet through online access and expanding the experience with open access is great.