Love the Questions: University Education and Enlightenment
In Love the Questions, Ian Angus attempts to document the evolution of the university as a social institution, the problems presented by recent shifts in the structure and funding of the modern university, and possible solutions that will allow for modernization without the loss of the university’s most vital traditional roles. While stories of the decline of social institutions are far older than the university itself, Angus does an extraordinarily good job of demonstrating that there is a real loss involved in the corporatization of the university and the commodification of both university credentials and knowledge itself.
What is the purpose of a university education? Should it provide job training, enlightenment, or both? How does the withdrawal of public funding and the increasing dependence on private interests affect the university’s ability to provide unified knowledge to its students and a critical viewpoint to society at large? How does the loss of the university’s independence from the capitalist marketplace undermine the academic freedom and flexibility that previous generations of scholars and students could expect? What role is left for the university in the new networked society where the university library is no longer the vital, centralized repository of knowledge and information? What is lost when the new corporate model replaces scholarly professorships with low-wage teaching positions detached from the research and publication that once characterized academia? These are but a few of the vital questions Angus asks on our behalf.
In an age where the value and purposes of post-secondary education and just how much of it will be available and to whom are matters of ongoing controversy, Angus is by far not the first to raise these issues. However, the context and perspective he brings to the questions are interesting and refreshing, though a bit depressing at times. While reading this book, I found myself reflecting on my own college days and how much I value the experiences that current and future college students may never have. I wonder how alien these young students’ perspectives would be to my own as a young college student.
Like Angus, I question what becomes of those who receive job training at the exclusion of an opportunity to enlighten themselves, and what becomes of a society that doesn’t offer its young people the chance to really engage the broad knowledge of the ages rather than simply assimilating the current state of a narrow field. What happens when our horizons are limited to their market value? In the end, Angus does offer some hope that we can preserve some of the best of the past as we adapt to modern circumstances, but each possible solution will require a kind of commitment that may be impossible in today's cynical, commodified world. Let’s hope not.
Whatever relationship an individual reader may have to university education, Love the Questions has something to offer, even if that something doesn’t involve the final answers to the ultimate questions.