the University for?
Series of speakers will address the role of higher
education in a changing world
By Robert Brickhouse
the main purpose of a college education to prepare students to
achieve economic success? Is "the life of the mind"
increasingly irrelevant? Have some professors so refined their
scholarly interests that they can't help solve pressing issues
facing American society? Do universities have a moral purpose?
casting column shadows on the Lawn's brick walkway gives one
pause for reflection.
of the country's foremost thinkers on higher education's role
today, not all of them likely to be in agreement with each other,
will address such questions at U.Va. this spring in an intensive,
three-part public conference titled "What's the University
For?" Speakers, from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives,
include Mark Edmundson, T.J. Jackson Lears, Gerald Graff, Russell
Jacoby, Ross Posnock, George Marsden, Julie A. Reuben and Richard
colloquium series, sponsored by the Institute
for Advanced Studies in Culture, will be held March 2, March
30 and April 13. The conference is intended to shed light on the
growing challenges facing higher education in a rapidly changing
culture often driven by consumerism, technology and a global socioeconomic
scramble. Each session will feature talks, panel discussions and
audience participation, followed by a reception.
At the beginning of a new millennium, academia is puzzled at and
troubled by its current situation, said Charles Mathewes, assistant
professor of religious studies and a conference organizer. The
American university "has reached a level of material success,
wealth and power that is unrivalled in its history. Yet its very
accomplishments feed larger cultural anxieties about the university's
place and purposes in society as a whole."
In an era that demands information, entertainment and career preparation,
"it is unclear just what an education is meant to do for
its recipient," added Jennifer Geddes, an institute fellow
and editor of its journal, The Hedgehog Review, which will publish
the proceedings of the conference. A key question for many is
what the content of a university education should be.
" The Culture of the University"
March 2, Rotunda Dome Room
Mark Edmundson, professor of English at U.Va., and Jackson Lears,
professor of history at Rutgers University, will look at how changes
in the broader culture have affected the culture of the university
and what it means that a university education has become more
integral to success in our society than ever before.
a contributing editor of Harper's magazine, has written widely
on education issues, including a controversial article in which
he described university culture as ever more devoted to consumption
has written several books on the changes that have taken place
in American culture and intellectual life over the last century,
including The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American
" The University and Public Intellectuals"
March 30, Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room
11 a.m.-6 p.m. (with break for lunch)
Gerald Graff, humanities scholar and dean at the University of
Illinois-Chicago; Russell Jacoby, professor of history at UCLA;
and Ross Posnock, professor of English at the University of Washington,
will examine the responsibilities of intellectuals and whether
modern university life has become so narrowly bureaucratized and
specialized that some scholars are hindered from playing a fuller
role in society.
author of Beyond the Culture Wars, has suggested that the way
to move beyond academic stalemates, such as debates over what
should be taught, is to "teach the conflicts" themselves
and make problems part of their own solutions. Jacoby, author
of The Last Intellectuals, will talk about possibilities for creating
a true intellectual community in today's university. Posnock,
the author of Color and Culture: Black Writers and the Making
of the Modern Intellectual, will examine what can be learned from
the model set by African-American writers and intellectuals in
making contributions on social issues.
" The Moral Purposes of the University"
April 13, Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room
This session will feature George Marsden, professor of history
at Notre Dame; Julie A. Reuben, professor of education at Harvard;
and Richard Rorty, professor emeritus of U.Va., now at Stanford,
who is one of the country's most influential philosophers.
They will lead discussions about the purposes of education and
whether the university has or needs a shared moral commitment
such as it originally had. Marsden, in such books as The Soul
of the American University, has urged universities to remember
their original religious, intellectual and moral missions to seek
truth through inquiry. Rorty argues against the attempt to return
to founding principles. He has laid a careful philosophical groundwork
for skepticism about any one ideal's claims over another. Reuben,
author of The Making of the Modern University, is an authority
on what has led to today's dilemmas.
Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, directed by sociology
and religious studies professor James Davison Hunter, was established
in 1995, originally called "The Post-Modernity Project."
Its purpose is to examine the profound normative changes taking
place in contemporary American society and to map their implications
for individual and social life.
information on the conference, call at 924-7705 or visit the institute's
web site, http://www.virginia.edu/iasc/