Revisiting the Idea of the University. Introduction

In: Danish Yearbook of Philosophy
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Dedicating a special issue of the Danish Yearbook of Philosophy to discussing the idea of the university may seem a little odd, since neither the idea, nor the institutions targeted by this idea, should be limited by national borders. The term ‘Universitas,’ though originally designating a guild as a legal corporate body,1 has since the Middle Ages come to denote a universal academic association, devoid of national and political borders, physically as well as mentally. Especially in Denmark, however, the last few decades have demonstrated how fragile both the ideals and the realities of the university can be, and this very real horizon, i.e. the particular ideological situation in Denmark and its historical background, is the first of the subjects discussed in the present introduction (I.). Secondly, we will briefly relate the Danish context to the philosophical attention the university and higher education have received over the last decades internationally (ii.) Finally, we will of course introduce the articles selected for this theme, acknowledging the contribution from the international intellectual community that helps reveal the particularities of the narrow national setting in relation to the idea (iii.).

1 The Danish Setting

Today, Denmark must be recognized as a country providing very little legal and institutional protection of academic freedom. This may come as a surprise given Denmark’s traditional reputation for liberal democracy and social security, but following some spectacular cases,2 the international scientific community is beginning to award this lamentable fact the attention it deserves.3 Hence, in Denmark there is no tenure, and university employees have no special protection as civil or public servants; like everybody else in the labor market, faculty members, including full professors, must rely on the famous Danish flexicurity model that offers general social security in exchange for very little job security. Paradoxically, generalized social security may thus legitimize offering no special security to university academics. As philosophers it may not be our job to go too much into the empirical or political details of this apparent paradox of egalitarianism, i.e. the insecurity of the academic elite provided by generalized social security; but still, it is worth presenting some ideological aspects of the current conditions for the university in Denmark, including their possible historical origins, which may indicate the increased local relevance of and urgency for the philosophical discussion of the idea of the university.

First, it is argued that modern Danish philosophy has, to a remarkable degree, neglected philosophical discussion of the idea of the university, although two notable exceptions will be recognized: first, the 19th-century romantic idealist Henrik Steffens (1.1), and second, the 20th-century positivist Svend Ranulf (1.2). Although they argue differently, both the idealist and the positivist unconditionally hail truth, science, and academic freedom as integral for the idea of the university. Over the last decades, however, the picture has become increasingly blurred. Universities are thus expected to provide immediate technological, social, and political gains to society at large, and, most recently, business in particular. In the 1960s, the idea of the university, and especially its government, was high on the agenda, the culmination being the 1968 student revolt, where one result was the Danish university act of 1970 that entailed the inclusion of students and non-academic staff in governing councils at all levels of the university (1.3). From the 1980s, however, we see an ideological restoration and later a civil society campaign for putting the university in the service of economic growth and adjusting it to contemporary management ideals (1.4). One result was the Danish university act of 2003 that modeled the university as a business corporation, thus dismantling the rule by representative councils of staff and students (1.5). This of course spawned discussions and research regarding the university. However, in Denmark, the conceptual and principled discussion of the idea of the university among philosophers is still relatively limited (1.6).

1.1 The Idealist University

In a horizon inherited from 20th-century mainstream Danish philosophy, the immediate impression is that the idea of the university has not been granted much attention by the philosophical community.4 However, it is also a well-known fact that for a long time during the 18th and 19th centuries, German idealism provided the most important philosophical inspiration in Denmark,5 and it was precisely in this philosophical discourse that the idea of the university became an important issue. Apart from the now famous model of the new Berlin university sketched by Wilhelm von Humboldt around 1800, we also have important writings on this subject by Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Schleiermacher.6 In fact, upon closer scrutiny, the immediate impression may be revealed as an illusion; hence, in the Enlightenment era, the Danish university was both discussed and reformed more than once,7 and in 1808–09, the Danish-Norwegian philosopher Henrik Steffens even gave a series of seven lectures in German titled “Lectures on the Idea of the Universities.”8 Since the lectures, despite their obvious relevance, are largely unknown and difficult to access, it is worth giving an extensive summary of the argument.

The lectures on the idea of the university were given as the university in Halle was reopened after having been shut down in 1806 by Napoleonic troops, who had successfully countered the German aggression. With Halle being occupied by French troops, Steffens recognizes that the university enriches the “best spirits of the nation” (viu, 311), and that “the hope of the nation rests on the unfolding of coming spirits,” stressing, however, also that “an educated nation necessarily respects the particular education of others.” Armed conflicts do occur, but spiritual weapons should not be underestimated. As he says to the students, “The nobler your fight, the more you can expect a beautiful victory” (viu, 319). Steffens thus wants to provide an idea of the university worth fighting for, claiming it to be an essential and indispensable element in the vibrating whole of a living reality that comprises humanity, history, nation, state, and nature, uniting in each and every case, and without reduction, particularity and universality.

The lectures explicitly address a very exclusive and privileged minority of young men, for whom “the world is a wonderful riddle” and who would freely dedicate their “own soul” to its “solution” (viu, 312–13), i.e. men who would like to follow in the footsteps of Columbus, Copernicus, and Kepler. The “idea of the university” was that the university was to be the center of knowledge of a lifelong “school for wisdom.” Those gathered were possible “comrades of wisdom” who should look into themselves, if they detected any “calling” to solve such problems, i.e. if they themselves were attracted by the “virtue of the researcher” or the “inner truth.” As Steffens emphasizes, university research aims “at the inner nature of science, at the inner organization of all knowledge, that is, at the highest of all speculation.” It is only from this center of “the whole” that the “living parts” can be enlightened as integrated into the one and indivisible “speculative knowledge” (viu, 318).

Steffens recognizes that this idea of the university as teaching “speculative knowledge” may seem impossible, and that striving for its realization may be considered “harmful,” and that this may be the case, even if wisdom is recognized as “the highest human good.” Hence, the wisdom referred to here is not primarily the “ethical equilibrium of mind” that considers “virtue as the law of all actions,” but the “supreme” as the common center of knowledge, i.e. that with which the “greatest spirits” have always been occupied. Furthermore, science loathes “contingency” and adores the “law,” does not approve of “fabrication,” but rather “quiet reflection,” and the problem is that regarding the supreme, there is disagreement even among “the most elevated spirits,” creating “chaotic confusion” for students, where each teacher praises as supreme his own “opinion” (viu, 320–21). However, as Steffens argues, even if “agreement and consistency of the teacher was possible,” the “supremacy of science is not something handed down,” and what must be strived for is not “coherence with one’s teacher, but with oneself.” Steffens warns against the “speech that chains and seduces,” killing “the supreme freedom of the spirit while praising it.” The “supreme truth” can only be the result of “experiential knowledge” obtained by reflection and tested in relation to “many views” (viu, 322–23).

As Steffens emphasizes, the alleged impossibility of the ideal university is partly because the state cannot be inclined to support such an endeavor. What the state supports, it must be able to judge and overlook, and this conflicts with the individual freedom presupposed by science. “What the state organizes, it must control. A control of the spirit, however, would be the death of all sciences.” Moreover, while “supreme experiential knowledge” and “speculative science” may represent the future, the state must answer to the “phenomenal present” (viu, 323). Hence, what matters to the state is science in its realization, not in its infinite striving. Scholars cannot demand that the state ignores “life and its needs” for the sake of something “eternal.” Moreover, the state cannot support educational institutions that primarily create “visionaries and useless citizens.” The state must ensure that every citizen contributes to the society from which they benefit. Even teachers of religion contribute, namely by encouraging “ethical perfection” (viu, 324–25), without which the law would lose its force and the state would fall apart.

To defend his idea of the university, Steffens thus has to refute the allegation that the pursuit of useless speculation leads to introversion, confusion, and impotence, which makes people less inclined and less able to fulfill their duties as citizens. His bold claim is that studying at a university and becoming an “academic citizen” results in a self-awareness that constitutes the third stage of birth as a human being. What is ideally developed at the university is not “love of wisdom” or “philosophy.” It is the wisdom combining “truth and ethical life [Sittlichkeit]” that permeates “experiential knowledge and existence” in order to realize “a superior life,” unifying “inner and outer existence,” satisfying all wishes and sublating all “contradictions” (viu, 327–28). This ideal also applies to the state and is pursued by the “noblest spirits,” the “government” thus having the “duty” to comprehend the “deep meaning” of “what is common.” The state is wise when it not only satisfies basic needs, but also acknowledges and supports the “supreme.” Just like an individual human being by its actions recognizes what is “imperishable” in “ethical life,” “even at the expense of its life,” and with regard to knowledge only recognizes “eternal truth,” so should the state. If not, it is “barbaric” (viu, 328–29).

Just like true speculative knowledge forms a whole of which individual scientific disciplines, experiences, and realizations are parts, so does the state in relation to its citizens. To understand such relations between the whole and its parts, Steffens turns to nature. Nature as a whole consists of singular living beings, the body of each being a composite of internal parts organized to fit each other and the whole of the organism. This whole unites, and alternates between, death and life, “rigidness and fluidity,” overcoming limitations and harmonizing “what is most contradictory,” each time presenting itself in a “particular way” (viu, 330).

In the natural organism, every “organ” has its particular function that is performed without “outer force.” As such, each particular organism is permeated by, and demonstrates, the “perfection of the whole,” and this applies to each individual human being who, by unfolding itself, demonstrates “the whole in the most pure and splendid way” (viu, 333). Recognizing the nature of oneself as ideally part of the whole contributes to silencing “the wild army of raw desires,” allowing even the “base needs of life” to be permeated by “the clarity of knowledge” (viu, 334–35). This is the formation that the university provides, and this is why the state must support it. The highest “aspirations of science and art belong to the state” (viu, 336), just as the state stimulates and sustains wisdom through its organization.

Continuing the analogical argument, just as human beings should only be recognized as rulers of nature when being human, i.e. when the “soul permeates, and becomes united with, the body,” a state is only the “natural ruler” of other states when it is the home of the “highest and deepest of human efforts” and unites with the “supreme spirit.” Moreover, from a practical perspective, only by recognizing scholars and scientists does the state benefit from the fruits of science and scholarship. The needs of the state can only be considered to contradict “higher efforts,” when knowledge is denounced as “dead abstraction” and life reduced to “animal existence.” Expanding the analogy, history can be regarded as continuing natural life, both generating conflicts and contradictions that are subsequently sublated or reconciled. All social association presupposes banning the “raw elements of history,” assuming that what is annihilated and sublated in conflict can be united and retained at a higher level. This is what “societal association” is about, aiming at the “happiness of all” (viu, 331).

As Steffens emphasizes, ideally the state as a whole is present in every single citizen, making the citizens respect the state so strongly that they are willing to sacrifice not just the “raw elements of history,” but also sometimes even the life that is necessary to realize their own existence. Sacrificing one’s life, however, cannot be the “true meaning of citizenship.” What is “holy” is the “real, imperishable and truly inner life of the state” that unites what is particular with what is universal, i.e. the wisdom of the state, which is “the truth and the ethical life.” The state is the “fertile land” that nourishes each individual talent to unfold in “unrestricted freedom,” all of the elements and moments being united through “love,” so that each feels the “destiny” and the “true happiness” (viu, 332–33) of all and vice versa.

Steffens is of course aware of the necessities and realities of both nature and state, both being dynamic wholes that crush whatever small part comes in their way. Still, he reminds us that the freedom of human being is just as real as the necessity of nature, that nature only acquires meaning through human being, and that natural necessity becomes manifest through human freedom. The “laws of nature” are the products of “reason,” which – like “self-determination” – is the “inner holy property of every single human being.” Necessity is “only in and with freedom, and without it, it is nothing.” For Steffens, this means that the necessity of the state must not imply that freedom is only the property of the few. He discusses the constitutional principles in the most classical way, criticizing the “tyrant,” because the citizens in order to regain their “rights” will have to rebel, and the result will be “anarchy.” Freedom can only come “in and with the necessity,” (viu, 337–38) and this requires a republican state, i.e. a state where people only obey the laws that they themselves have decided. The “true state” is the “true republic” that distinguishes “citizens from servants” (viu, 345), and to be truly itself, the republican state must support an autonomous university hosting free spirits. For the right state, i.e. a state that respects the freedom of its citizens and upholds peace with its neighbors, there is no conflict between state and university.

A republic, however, cannot have a university if there is no previous education, and Steffens recognizes the importance of taking good care of children, stressing that the “freedom of nature” becomes the “freedom of spirit” and emphasizing therefore that “all upbringing is only cultivative, not determinative” (viu, 348). In ethical life, the child is taught to obey, but with regard to knowledge, the child is given elements that can be combined freely, i.e. “laws of thinking,” language, numbers, and figures. Some will find in themselves the inborn strive to “research into the nature of things,” and such “longing for superior knowledge” must be “cultivated.” Of course, this first happens as part of the teaching of classes, but when the desire for independent research manifests itself, the university becomes relevant as the “school for self-formation” (viu, 351–52). Here, free lectures are offered to students who are to follow their own direction and inclinations. For these students, only the truth counts, as opposed to earthly concerns and the “fear of the future.” Only such students are worthy of entering into the “society of the free” (viu, 353–54). For such independent minds, research will open many directions to follow, although the deeper one gets, the simpler is the result and the closer it is connected to the “universal organization of human knowledge” (viu, 355). Steffens, however, warns students that the coherence they pursue should not imply realizing the “perfection of the world.” The goal is “coherence with yourself” (viu, 357).

For Steffens, this “scientific self-formation” is what defines the “philosophical faculty” (viu, 358) being thus occupied with contradictions, e.g. between what is finite, conditioned, and particular, and what is infinite, unconditional, and universal. The ambition is to obtain an “intuition” that is unconditional due to the reconciliation of the said contradictions, and as Steffens states, it is crucial for the researcher to find out if such an intuition is impossible and can only be dreamed of, or it can be true. As he argues, the intuition is in fact found in the “immutable ethical life,” which confirms every single human being as an “infinite essence elevated above all circumstances” (viu, 359–60). In contrast to ethical life, and to what is merely useful and pleasant, beauty manifests itself in what is particular, being neither interior and infinite nor exterior and finite, but unifying “exterior and interior.” Ethical life and beauty both, but in different ways, reveal and affirm the “unity of the universal and the particular” (viu, 361).

In general, the “eternal being” presents itself “in two forms, as nature and history” (viu, 365). They are, however, in no way independent of each other, both striving to obtain the unity of the universal and the particular. History recognizes in the fragments and ruins left by earlier civilizations the possible unification of “science, arts and deed,” even though neither science nor history is able to provide an understanding of these remains. As truly romantic, Steffens also recognizes the “poetic past” of the “German nation” and compares the longings of the soul for the infinite with the “scientific strive” (viu, 362–63), stressing that even empirical science searches for the unity of the particular and the universal.

Steffens recognizes the growth in both the natural and the social sciences, in particular economics, arguing that they transgress the philosophical faculty and should have faculties of their own. Hence, a new “economic faculty” would be occupied with the exterior “health of the state in general,” just as the medical faculty is occupied with the health of every particular “citizen.” Continuing the systematic argument regarding the interior health of the state, i.e. for legal matters “in general” (viu, 365–67), there is the faculty of law, whereas the particularities of the spiritual life of citizens is an issue for the theological faculty.

To sum up, Steffens argues that freedom and necessity are no different from truth and ethical life. They are both ways of determining the inner nature of the state, although from different perspectives. Moreover, the goal for both the state and every human being is the unity of knowledge and existence that combines truth and ethical life and ultimately realizes wisdom, and to this goal, the university is indispensable; “the decline of the universities” thus implies “the decline of the nation.” Here, Steffens is very explicit, emphasizing the importance of the university particularly in “Germany,” where the idea may “presently” be “suppressed” but has not “disappeared” (viu, 347).

Halle being occupied by France in 1809, Steffens’ argument for the republican university must have been controversial. It was presented less than ten years after Napoleon’s coup d’état that eventually terminated the first French republic,9 and just after the reopening of the university which had been shut down by the war between despotic states. It was, however, also very much abreast of the times in the Kingdom of Prussia, where the modern autonomous Berlin University was opened in 1810, being organized by Humboldt according to ideas similar to those of Steffens.10

In 1802–04, Steffens had lectured in Copenhagen and hoped to obtain a professorship. Being in Halle when Napoleon’s army closed the university in 1806, Steffens was finally offered a chair in Denmark, but only on the condition that he would not lecture, his lectures being known to inflame the students. This condition, however, was unacceptable for Steffens, and he therefore remained in Germany. By the time he gave the lectures on the republican idea of the university, he was therefore settled outside Denmark and Danish philosophy,11 and Henrik had become Heinrich.

After all, the fundamental discussion of the idea of the university did not reach the philosophical agenda in Denmark, not even during the reign of German idealism, and in the following many decades, negligence in this regard was apparently upheld. Part of the explanation may have been a significant shift in philosophical orientation in 19th-century Danish philosophy, where French positivism and English empiricism gained ground.12 With such traditions being dominant, discussions of scholarly and academic ideals would rather relate to the universal ideas of science, knowledge, and truth than to the institutional idea of the university and its educational potentials.

The apparent lack of philosophical interest regarding the idea of the university in that epoch may also be due to the very limited size of the Danish scholarly community. For centuries, there was only one Danish university, namely the University of Copenhagen, founded in 1479. Sometimes, however, the University of Copenhagen is considered the second Danish university, the first being the Academy of Lund, now in Sweden, founded in 1425 and closed down in 1536. The second ‘second Danish university,’ the university in Kiel, only became Danish in 1773, and a third Danish university was then founded in Christiania, now Oslo, in 1813. This university, however, was lost less than one year later, due to the Norwegian independence from Denmark in 1814, and in 1864, the university of Kiel was lost again to Germany due to the successful reply to Danish expansionist aggression, leaving Denmark with only one university. In 1911, the third ‘second Danish university’ was then established in Iceland, but only a few years later, in 1918, Iceland became an independent state, and Denmark was once again left with just one university. It was only later in the 20th century that new universities were established on the soil that is now considered Danish, the first one being Aarhus University founded in Aarhus, Jutland, in 1928.13

1.2 The Positivist University

For centuries, a central element of the idea of the university was the unity of knowledge. From the 17th century until 1971, every Danish university student thus had to be examined in philosophy before continuing with specialized studies in the chosen discipline, a requirement that is still preserved at the university of Oslo and the other universities in Norway. At the new Danish university in Aarhus, the first full professor appointed was therefore a philosopher, Kort Kortsen. In fact, Kortsen inaugurated the university with a lecture on September 11, 1928 on the classical subject “What is philosophy?,” recognizing theory of knowledge as the primary philosophical discipline,14 albeit expressing also for the new university the hope that part of the spirit of Søren Kierkegaard would hover above “our enterprise.”15

For the university, philosophy was what united all of the different strands of knowledge, science, and scholarship. Still, Kortsen was the sole full professor dedicated to pursuing this important task. Hence, the philosophical professors at the two Danish universities were very few, and they were mainly occupied with introducing the students to classical philosophical issues within ethics, logic, and epistemology, just as they also had to examine them all. This being the case, it is no wonder that in their philosophical research, they probably did not have the energy and time, or maybe not the interest, to reflect conceptually on the idea of their particular workplace. Philosophy had more important issues to deal with.

One exception was Kortsen’s successor, the Aarhus philosopher Svend Ranulf, who in 1939 published a book in Danish on The Position of Science in Modern States,16 which was relatively short, but based on extensive readings within the field. Ranulf’s interest in the ideals of universities was clearly politically motivated, conceiving of democracy and scientific education as the best defense against dictatorship and propaganda appealing to emotion and passion (see VS, 114–15). His assumption was that the anti-democratic, totalitarian tendencies he witnessed after wwi was a sign of the decay of universities from the role as protectors and producers of knowledge they had sustained throughout the 19th century in Germany. To reclaim this role, the classical ideals of universities should be reconstituted, safeguarding the self-government of universities, professorial freedom of research, choice of syllabus and teaching methods, adequate research funding, and the faculty’s right to express their opinion on any matter of public interest, independently of political and economic concerns (see VS, 31). Again, we are dealing with an argument that is relatively unknown and inaccessible, but where the main points are relevant to summarize in the present context.

As a Danish full professor in philosophy, Ranulf was in charge of the mandatory philosophy course, and as he understood his assignment, it was to train university students in scientific methodology. The book on the state of science and universities around the world can thus be regarded as a preparatory study for his textbook Methodology in Social Science that was published in 1946 and also demonstrated his scholarly dedication.17 While the first book is a survey of the challenges of contemporary universities in the United States, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Denmark, the second book presents Ranulf’s own suggestions for how to educate future generations of university students according to true scientific standards.

In the first book, Ranulf thus describes the degeneration of universities at the beginning of the 20th century as twofold. In the usa and the Soviet Union, the scientific level of the university is primarily wrecked by externally imposed interests. In the usa, he claims, it is mainly commercial interests that limit the independence of the universities, whereas in the Soviet Union it is political-ideological interests that are the cause. Even though Ranulf is painfully aware of the threats of Nazi rule, in relation to Germany he stresses an internal problem that threatens the universities, namely the transformation of the very idea of knowledge.

For the American universities, a major problem is that they run courses of immediate utility for business and the economy of the university itself, e.g. the art of advertising, poultry farming, bookkeeping, stenography, experimental and comparative cooking, rules for eating and socializing, first aid, etc. For Ranulf it is crucial to distinguish the apprehension of such “practical skills based on scientific results” from the real “purpose of university study,” which is “scientific insight” (VS, 24). On top of this, in the USA popular sports play an unreasonably dominant role. As Ranulf argues, the concerns for practical utility cannot be reconciled with academic freedom and science (see VS, 23–25), and he describes how scientists at universities in the USA submit to utilitarian calculations and in practice have to bow and obey to keep their positions. However, he also recognizes successful efforts to defend the “castle of learning,” emphasizing the value of “academic freedom” defined as “free research, freedom to the unhindered choice of subjects, freedom to report in classes the results of oneself and others, freedom of opinion and expression” (VS, 31).

As Ranulf refers to his American colleagues’ specification of academic freedom, dismissal of a professor is a question to be decided only by the faculty, not by the board or the university president, i.e. the chairman of the board (see VS, 38). There may of course be errors from time to time, but letting others decide can only lower the scientific level (see VS, 103–04). This implies, however, that it is the duty of the faculty to criticize the malpractice of colleagues. This is the only way to uphold the trustworthiness and reputation of science (see VS, 33). In 1915, the American Association of University Professors specified this ideal even more. Professors are thus at liberty to profess any opinion for which they can “give good scientific reasons,” and the faculty, and the scientific community at large, must collectively ensure that this is in fact the case. With regard to the content of the research, the professors “must be independent of the university board or university president who has appointed” them. In general, the integrity of science and scholarship demands that the “faculty must be heard in all questions relating to appointing or dismissing professors” (VS, 44). Important for scientific integrity and academic freedom is also economic independence in relation to the students, ensuring that teachers are not tempted to please them for economic reasons (see VS, 86).

In the Soviet Union in 1939, the idea of a university as an independent unit of free researchers and teachers had vanished, being completely controlled by members of the communist party. Hence, professors at Soviet universities had to adopt the national interpretation of Marxist theory of science as the basis for their research and teaching, Ranulf explains. The employment of new professors was controlled by the government; old professors were discharged, if they departed from the ideological foundation of the leading party, and few scientists rose to international standards.

In Germany, the total subjugation of the universities to political control after the seizure of power by Nazism was, according to Ranulf, prepared by the decay of scientific ideals during the previous period, culminating in the Weimar Republic (see VS, 57). Already in the 19th century, Wilhelm Dilthey famously distinguished between explanations in the natural sciences and understanding in the humanities and social sciences,18 and as Ranulf argues, this had fueled polemics against objectivism, rationalism, intellectualism, and fine culture as such. Even the relevance of universities was questioned. The success in the UK and France of transferring research methods from natural science to sociology and the humanities had failed in Germany. Ranulf regrets that the term ‘positivism’ has received an invidious note in this country, that scientific specialization is looked down upon (see VS, 81), and that so much importance has been attributed to terms like Weltanschauung, which was what Nazism offered, i.e. a system of value judgments that maps theoretical research and circumscribes what qualifies as knowledge.

Ranulf contrasts the positivism of Émile Durkheim with the spirit of Geisteswissenschaft and phenomenology found in, e.g., Karl Jaspers and Edmund Husserl. With or without intention, the German scholars had contributed to the devaluation of “honest and patient scientific production of evidence,” which is how Ranulf sums up the meaning of the term “positivism” (VS, 59). As he argues, the decay of true scientific virtues paved the way for political control of German universities after 1933. As a consequence of this control, all research and teaching should be consistent with the official anti-intellectual ideology, and courses of practical utility should be prioritized over courses of sheer theoretical interest. However, Ranulf also recognizes that in the 1930s, some German academics, and some among them even claiming to be national socialists, did argue for the necessary restoration of independency for universities, endorsing value freedom and ethical neutrality, thus trying to save the ideal of striving towards objectivity by adhering strictly to scientific methods (see VS, 87–88).

The Danish university situation was far better than in the big countries, but still not satisfying either, according to Ranulf. Danish universities were at that time basically independent in their appointment of professors, and research was practiced on a purely professional basis. The funding of research programs, however, he considered inadequate, and therefore the production of new knowledge was meager. Accordingly, teaching at universities seldom rose above school-level, placing too much emphasis on rote learning and being predominantly conducted by non-researchers. To achieve a proper academic level in university teaching, Ranulf suggested that even assistant lecturers should be required to give their courses a critical, scientific character, and that economic incentives to improve academic qualifications should be implemented. Firstly, however, all exams at university level should test students’ competences in using scientific methods, rather than merely testing the quality of their memory (see VS, 105–07). Ranulf thus refers approvingly to the classical Humboldt ideal of scientists educating university students to appreciate doubt and skepticism (see VS, 85), valuing discussion with the students about their essays and encouraging their independence of mind (see VS, 74). Important is thus the freedom for both professors and students to choose their own path (see VS, 68).

Ranulf’s second book, Methodology in Social Science presents his program for the mandatory philosophy course for all university students. The aim of the course was to restore the normative standards of classical university-produced knowledge, i.e. “objectivity” and ideological neutrality. Even if these norms were the scientific virtues of his program, Ranulf admitted that its overall political aim was to “strengthen democracy in the fight against imminent fascism.”19 Ranulf’s textbook provides a critical survey of a substantial number of contemporary theories of science and knowledge with the emphasis on sociology, and the idea was to supplement it with overviews of the history of philosophy, logic, and psychology (see VS, 112), as they were provided by the textbooks of other Danish positivist philosophers of that epoch, i.e. Harald Høffding and Jørgen Jørgensen from the University of Copenhagen.

In accordance with his idea of the university, Ranulf practiced the ideal of free discussion and relentless criticism in academia. In his books, as well as elsewhere, he incessantly advanced critique against suspicious university colleagues, most persistently against the phenomenological sociologist Theodor Geiger, who, as a refugee from Germany, had become employed at the University of Aarhus. The attack eventually provoked a cutting answer from Geiger that, to some degree, silenced Ranulf. Geiger admitted to having been under the influence of phenomenology in his younger days, inter alia to have employed the Husserlian term ‘Wesenschau,’ which, for Ranulf, signaled Geiger’s tribute to subjectivism and relativism. Geiger, however, claimed that he later abandoned phenomenology, and blamed Ranulf for not having noticed this due to his attention only to Geiger’s early texts, Ranulf thus having failed himself to live up to his own academic ideals. Geiger also blamed Ranulf for identifying objectivity with positivism, as if objectivity could only be reached empirically,20 just as he blamed him for naively believing that research can be done from sheer observation, i.e. without preceding concept formation and analysis.21 The dispute was later denominated “the Danish dispute on positivism.”22

1.3 The Student Revolt

Until the 1960s, in Denmark the ideal of scientific knowledge was backed up ideologically by positivism, first in the original French sociological version and later as it was understood by British empiricists and the neo-Kantian logical positivists of the Vienna circle.23 Like elsewhere, a critique of positivism developed, inspired by Popper, Kuhn, and Critical Theory. Marcuse’s major works were already available in Danish translations from the 1960s, and in the early 1970s, they were followed by Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Horkheimer & Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. Along the way, some of Popper’s and Habermas’ texts were translated, just as local textbooks and discussions inspired by these sources emerged.24

Rather than discussing the university in a constructive and positive manner, however, the critique of positivism in the 1960s and 70s often implied an ideology critique of the university as an elitist, ideological institution guarding the privileges of only its senior members, i.e. the full professors.25 This critique was typically conducted in the name of higher ideals of science, knowledge, and truth, which were developed in a discipline that became known as ‘videnskabs-teori’ (in German ‘Wissenschaftstheorie’ and in English ‘theory of science’), that eventually became a very important field in Denmark. Today, theory of science is thus taught in obligatory courses to all Danish BA students in both universities and vocational schools, having been introduced in 2004 with the explicit intent to regain the idea of the unity of knowledge that was lost in 1971 with the disappearance of the mandatory examination in philosophy.26

It was in this ideological climate of theory of science and ideology critique that the 1968 student revolt took place and ultimately changed the government structure of the Danish universities. Originally, the University of Copenhagen was constituted as an independent institution with its own legal authority, granted first by the pope and later by the monarch. From the outset, institutional autonomy and academic freedom were recognized institutionally as part of the idea of the university. As the story is told by the Danish philosopher and historian of ideas, Svend Erik Stybe, this privileged situation ended in 1771.27 However, even though the Danish state already during the 19th century had taken over almost all the university’s funding,28 still in the 1960s, i.e. after the establishment of universities in Aarhus and Odense, the Danish universities were somehow beyond the law, formally relying only on royal decrees.29 Hence, when a university act was passed in 1970, it was the very first law for universities in the state of Denmark. It was only then that the democratic state finally and formally – i.e. legally – took possession of the institution that it had generously financed for more than a century. From the 19th century onwards, universities in Denmark have thus all been public universities, first funded and finally also ruled by the state.

In the 1960s, Denmark had given priority to higher education, opening the third university in Odense in 1964, again with philosophers in a prominent position, and the country experienced the same substantial increase in university education as had many other countries. In Denmark, university higher education was provided without tuition fees (it still is), and if in possession of a degree from an upper secondary school (‘Gymnasium’ in Danish), admission was free for the students, which was not the case for some of the advanced vocational studies, for which the enrollment of students was restricted. Hence, what was an élite university rapidly transformed into a mass university, and Danish universities also experienced their ‘68, although much less violently than, for instance, Paris, Berkeley, or Mexico City. Negotiations were initiated almost immediately, and when the new university act was passed, in accordance with the intellectual climate of those years, it could in hindsight be recognized by Stybe as “one of the most radical and student friendly in the world,”30 thus granting the students significant influence over both the content of the study programs and university government.

Until 1968, the three Danish universities were thus governed exclusively by boards of full professors. This was immediately changed in practice, because of the rebellion of students and assistant professors, and later, in 1970, de jure, by the law just mentioned, which was the result of intense negotiations between the faculty, the students, and the government following the unrest. As the story is often told, the political result was a university reform that was supported by a broad consensus of Danish society. In other words, not only students and assistant professors but also the corporate and political establishment united in the wish to end the traditional professorial rule. The only real victims of the change of government were thus the full professors, who lost their exclusive power to define and rule university matters. And few were sorry about this. In fact, due to a strongly egalitarian ideology at what was back then still relatively autonomous universities in Denmark, full professors were until the late 1980s considered something of the past. Hence, in that period, the unanimous decision was not to appoint anybody at all above the level of associate professor.31

Despite its perceived radicality, after some minor adjustments of the university act in 1973, the new form of university governance gained stability that lasted until 2002. According to the law, university governance was structured around two hierarchies of elected representative councils. One hierarchy of councils took care of the scholarly and economic issues of the university at, respectively, university, faculty, and department level, i.e. budget, employment of professors, etc. In these councils, 50% of the seats were occupied by representatives of full-time professors, i.e. both associate and full professors, who now each counted equally for one. The other 50% of the seats were divided equally between the students and the technical-administrative staff, each of the groups being elected by their respective constituency. These representative councils also elected the heads of department, the deans and, for a time, even the rectors. Another hierarchy of councils was responsible for the content of the study programs, the particular courses and other matters of education at the faculty and department level; in these councils, 50% were professors and 50% students, again elected by their respective constituency.

In 1979, when the University of Copenhagen celebrated its 500th birthday, this structure had achieved normality, and Stybe, who had already been a full professor at the old university,32 expressed his overall satisfaction with the gains under this new form of government.33 Instead, his worries were directed at what he perceived as ideological tendencies towards wanting to govern science and scholarship according to political, economic, and technological agendas.34 His worries were thus related to two constitutive pillars of the idea of the university, i.e. academic freedom and university autonomy. Sadly, time has proven him right.

1.4 Restoration

In Denmark, like elsewhere, the 1980s gave rise to an ideological shift of focus in the discussion of scholarship, science, and the university. Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition from 1979 was translated into Danish and became a huge success.35 Richard Rorty, Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, post-structuralism, and deconstruction, etc. came into fashion. Although traditional philosophy – or theory – of science and Critical Theory remained ideologically influential up until the 90s, the postmodern perspective displaced the intellectual emphasis from science, knowledge, and truth to arts, culture, and taste, and the discourse about research was increasingly constructed in terms of economy and technology. Norms like truth and justice, objectivity, and neutrality were met with skepticism, or sometimes were even ridiculed, whereas practical utility and esthetic fascination came into fashion at the universities, as did freedom in all kinds of senses and the critique of power, authority, hierarchies, and hegemonies.

In the 1990s, Danish civil society saw a successful public campaign launched by business organizations such as the Confederation of the Danish Industry and the Danish Chamber of Commerce, claiming that university education was not up to date and that universities had to be more beneficial to society’s creation of wealth, by which they meant private business and enterprise. By the turn of the century, the common allegation was that university research was internally oriented, elitist, closed, and self-sufficient, and that something had to be done about it, i.e. politicians should make the universities assist private business and do away with the traditional collegial rule of the university.36

The philosophical contribution to the campaign was a deconstruction in 2001 of the idea of the university as just another “organization” with conflicting goals depending on the “actors involved,” in this case the “employees,” “business,” the state, and the students. Assuming tacitly the interests of all of those mentioned to be equally legitimate, the claim was that “it is generally not possible to reconcile all of these goals and demands,” although it was admitted that “it is not impossible in all cases.”37 Having thus contributed to destabilizing the ideological foundation of the classical autonomous university, the authoritative conclusion was, not surprisingly, that “the university finds itself in a fragmented situation,” and to address this situation, it was suggested to develop “new forms of management and organization.”38 This was probably already in the making, as a new university act was proposed and passed less than two years later.

In hindsight, it is obvious that the local political agenda concerning higher education and research was part of international trends in policymaking emphasizing the possibilities of university research to generate economic growth and social welfare. Already in 1963, we see the first policy recommendations from oecd regarding the potentials of universities, stressing particularly economic growth, health, nutrition, and general welfare,39 and this agenda was pursued consistently in the following decades.

Interestingly, in 1969 the United Nations (UN) launched the idea of a university dedicated to the main concerns of the UN Charter, i.e. peace and progress. In Denmark, a visitor from the UN advocated the idea of a “World University,”40 which gained a foothold in the northernmost part of Jutland, Thy, as the Nordenfjord World University. In 1970, the World University in Thy became famous across the world due to a visit to the newly established New Experimental College by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, for whom this was a way to “Give Peace a Chance.”41 In 1973, the initiative was further stimulated by the passage in the UN of a specific charter for a United Nations University (unu), specifying research to focus on “the pressing global problems of human survival, development, and welfare,” and the dissemination of knowledge to “increase the dynamic interaction in the world-wide community of learning and research.”42

For the next years, the Thy university housed projects concerning biogas technology, learning communities, and international understanding, emphasizing “local resources,” development, education, and “action research,” and the unity of “the local and the global.”43 Along the way, a proposal for the UN was developed in cooperation with the Danish ministry of education, specifying “the Thy Project” as a university operating in a “grass-roots context,” focusing on the acquisition of “knowledge and skills of direct use” and “the solution of concrete problems in the Thy region.”44 While Steffens encouraged speculation and Ranulf “theory,” the latter warning also against “narrow utilitarianism” (VS, 10, 23, 53), in Thy they combined “practical and theoretical dimensions” working on “actual problems” and their “solution.”45 The work in Thy continued for more than two decades, but eventually died out. Today, however, the unu has 14 institutes around the world apparently still pursuing the original ambitions, focusing mainly on technical issues and politics, and since 2012, the unu has awarded academic degrees.

In the 1980s, the practical concerns regarding the universities reached Danish policymaking, adding emphasis to more efficient utilization of the funds provided by the state. Already at that time, the oecd argued that universities needed structure and leadership to live up to their proposed function, but university autonomy was left unquestioned. In Denmark, however, policy documents drew a distinction between institutional autonomy and internal management of the institution, recommending in particular that the latter be strengthened.46 In addition, after the 1980s, an increasing divergence emerged between oecd and Danish university policy, Denmark following rather the neo-liberal agenda pursued in the UK,47 and this move radicalized the agenda for the university regarding economy and, especially, management.

Locally, the Danish campaign for a reformed university gained ideological ground in relation to science via arguments in Gibbons et al., The New Production of Knowledge,48 employing the now famous distinction between mode 1 and mode 2 knowledge to praise the importance and value of non-scholarly and cross-disciplinary problem-solving approaches to knowledge production.49 Continuing the philosophical contribution mentioned above, the mode 2 agenda was actively supported at an oecd seminar on knowledge management held in Denmark in 2001,50 and in this ideological climate, Donald Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner became almost a bestseller in Danish.51 From a more traditional scientific and epistemological perspective, Schön represented a simplified, technical, and apparently apolitical version of Dewey’s pragmatism, arguing that there was no real difference between applied and basic science, and that everyday practical trial-and-error experiments were equal to scientific inquiry.52

Ideologically and functionally, this anti-scientific and anti-intellectual ideology appealed especially to two parties, namely those in non-research-based vocational education who wanted to raise their educational legitimacy, and their funding, in relation to the universities, and those business lobbyists who wanted to enable economic exploitation of knowledge produced at universities. Hence, although from different standpoints, both acclaimed the critique of the elitist arrogance of academic research, its alleged closure, and the perceived privileges of universities.

1.5 The Danish University Act of 2003

In 2001, the liberal-conservative parties came back into power, and, together with the social democrats, they initiated a radical reform of university governance, where the crucial element was the new university act that was passed in 2003 with a massive parliamentary majority. The reform terminated almost all formal influence of professors and students over the scholarly, scientific, and economic management of the university. The elected councils dedicated to this task before the reform were simply dismantled.

Hence, instead of political leadership by elected representative councils at all levels of university government, Danish universities now have a hierarchy of appointed managers with a rector at the top, appointed by the new board. The governance model is the private corporation, and the rector is given the power of ceo, i.e. the chief executive officer, who is ultimately only responsible to the board for the managerial decisions. Hence, the board “hires and dismisses” the rector (§10.7),53 who then “hires and dismisses the leaders of the organizational scientific units” (§14.4). The majority of the board members are, according to the law, to be found outside the university, with experience in ”management” and ”accounting” (§12.3), and the chairman of the board, i.e. the president of the university, must be elected from among this non-academic majority (§12.1).

Moreover, at a contemporary Danish university, not only the economy and the general scholarly matters, but also the appointment of every new professor, is now fully in the hands of this hierarchy of managers. Before the reform, applicants for a faculty position would submit material for evaluation and a committee of professors would write a report evaluating the work submitted. The conclusion was a ranked list of candidates recommending the appointment of one specific candidate, and usually this recommendation would be followed by the faculty council and the dean. Now, the evaluation committees may only give a statement as to whether an applicant is qualified for the position or not; they are not allowed to make any priorities or ranking. The dean alone, though typically after consulting the relevant head of department, decides who to hire without having to give any specific reasons. And when new faculty members are employed, as researchers they are formally under the instruction of the relevant head of department, being only granted “freedom of research […] in the time when they are not instructed to do specific tasks” (§14.6).

Already a decade ago, in an empirical inquiry concerning academic freedom, the 2003 university act embarrassingly placed Denmark in the bottom group when compared with 23 European countries.54 Moreover, in Denmark there has never been any institutionalized tenure for university faculty. Until a few decades ago, university employees – both scholarly and administrative staff – were civil servants, who in Denmark back then had a very high level of job security. With this kind of job security now almost completely dismantled after successive waves of neo-liberal reforms, and with the present kind of university management, especially in the last decade, the result has been a series of large-scale dismissals of university professors and researchers. On a few occasions, this has made redundant hundreds of faculty staff at a time; on other occasions, the targets have been a selected group or individuals. Among the latter cases, there have been full professors doing high-profile international research, and in some instances, this has resulted in huge local scandals,55 which from time to time have made the headlines of national media.56

On a few occasions, the public have also witnessed acute conflicts between board, management, and faculty. As it has been pointed out, the key problem is that when the board majority by law have to be outsiders, they naturally know little about the university’s interior, and when they appoint the president and the rector, they may easily choose candidates with insufficient qualifications or credentials. Moreover, having appointed the rector, for the same reason, they have little possibility of checking how he or she is handling daily business.57 Finally, when university management is appointed from above by outsiders, and only refer to their superiors, they have little legitimacy in the eyes of the faculty.58 This can create a situation where the non-academic majority of the board appoints a rector who, as a result of the university act of 2003, has considerable power and professional assistance,59 but who nevertheless is unable to achieve the necessary compliance and loyalty among the faculty.60

At the Copenhagen Business School, a newly appointed rector apparently came into conflict with the basic ideal of academic autonomy at the university, both by trying to force faculty research into an overall institutional strategy,61 and by canceling, due to strategic reasons, the appointment of a professor who was highly respected in international circles chosen by the faculty evaluation committee.62 The resulting rebellion ultimately forced first the rector and later the president to resign. Even though the faculty no longer had any formal power, in 2010–11 they could still behave as if they were involved in collegial rule.63 In another famous case, a dean at the University of Copenhagen overruled the negative conclusion of a faculty evaluation committee for a doctorate and appointed a new committee that approved the doctoral thesis. Later, when the dean had been promoted to rector, it was discovered that the now doctor and full professor was a fraud.64 The fraud was ultimately stripped of the title and dismissed, but the rector remained in place. Despite such unfortunate cases in relation to university management and research integrity having surfaced continuously now for more than a decade,65 apparently nothing has made the parliamentary majority reconsider the radical 2003 reform of university government.66

1.6 Discussing the University

A radical university reform, and its possible consequences, of course makes it relevant to reflect on the idea of the university. In Denmark, however, only few took seriously this implication in 2003, and if they did, they thought faculty resistance would prove both resilient and robust.67 The union journal of Danish researchers, Research Forum – in Danish Forskerforum – was from the beginning very attentive of the reform, and so were various concerned intellectuals, especially those affiliated with Aarhus University.68 However, only very few philosophers engaged with the principal question of the idea of the university.

One of those was another Aarhus philosopher, namely Hans Fink. In 2003, he published a chapter in an edited textbook for undergraduate students about the university and science in general for the new mandatory BA course in theory in science. The aim of the book, he claimed, was to defend “what is valuable in the core of the idea of the university as it has been passed over to us, and in a situation where this idea is under a certain pressure from the outside as well as from the inside.”69 This was a very precise characterization, and a very brave stand, since the ideological climate at the universities during those years did not encourage any large-scale defense of the university as such; rather, the substitution of republican councils with authoritarian management was admitted by many faculty members to probably be more efficient.70 Moreover, as appreciated by the Danish Chamber of Commerce,71 even before the 2003 act, an experiment was conducted with a ministerially appointed rector at a new educational university, who argued, affirmatively and referring to Foucault et al., that the substitution of democratic “gossip” at the university with the new “strong leadership” was an example of a piece of well-functioning “communist decision technology,” namely “democratic centralism.”72

According to Fink, however, the classical idea of the university must imply something very different. This he summarizes under five headings: Intimate collaboration between science (in the broad German sense) and education, freedom of research, freedom of teaching and education, university autonomy, and the unity of science.73 He discusses each of these headings over a few pages, but being a rather short and introductory chapter in an undergraduate textbook, not very much is surprising or controversial, and Fink does not relate to other scholarly philosophical discussions on these matters.

Only in relation to university autonomy does Fink’s argument strike some notes that call for attention. He notices the implications of the 2003 act already mentioned, and like most others in those years, he interpreted the changes rather positively. He thus emphasizes the possibilities for the new university board to obtain legitimacy, namely as the university’s representation in the government, i.e. not as the government’s representation in the university. As he argues, if the board does not claim this independence, it cannot stimulate the desired independence of university scholars and students. Fink also recognizes that the specificities of the newly created managerial possibilities will be defined by the specific boards, but again he opts for the positive interpretation. Hence, even though he clearly recognizes the challenging context, i.e. that the universities suffer from a lack of confidence from the rest of Danish society, and that the state may do with the universities “as it pleases,”74 still he leaves the question open as to what good can come from these radical changes.

In general, Fink argues for the legitimacy of university autonomy with well-known statements about society’s long-term interests in education and enlightenment, stressing the importance of academic freedom when it comes to the possibilities of faculty and students to identify with the tasks of a university. His wording, however, has a rather defensive tone, thus indicating that he may in fact have been much more worried about the new university act than he would like to admit; as we know now, this would have been with good reason. Today, in his commentary included in this special issue, Fink is much more explicit in his normative commitment.

Since these first reactions, various university scholars and intellectuals have, from time to time and often rather cautiously, raised concerned voices about the situation for Danish universities. Historians of ideas have thus traced and discussed critically the ideas related to the university,75 political economists have placed the institutional development in its proper global context, i.e. neo-liberal capitalism,76 and distinguished scholars from the Royal Danish Society of Science and Letters have expressed concern about the diminished university autonomy and freedom of research.77 Some anthropologists have studied the deterioration of the psychological working conditions for the faculty under the new kind of university management,78 while others have focused on the changes in the academic formation of students.79 From Danish literature, we have one of the very few dedicated normative arguments explicitly and fundamentally defending the university, emphasizing in particular society’s need for conserving and testing knowledge.80 It is, however, addressed to the general public rather than the scholarly community, and it does not relate to the discussions in the latter. Also addressed to the general public is a collection of very short visions of the university by various intellectuals, a few of them philosophers.81 Finally, in 2017, the eminent Danish sociologist, professor emeritus Heine Andersen, published the first scholarly monograph on academic freedom ever written in Denmark, contrasting critically the ideals concerning freedom of research with the realities presently encountered at Danish universities.82 His sad conclusion is that at present, “Danish universities are among the most undemocratic and authoritarian in the democratic part of the world.”83

Among contemporary Danish university philosophers, some have related to the idea of the university implicitly through philosophical work under the heading ‘theory of science,’ criticizing thus the political regulation of science. In some cases this has lead to a criticism of New Public Management and the confusion of science policy with industrial policy, thus denouncing the exploitation of public universities by private businesses and the property claims of the latter with regard to scientific knowledge.84 Of the few philosophers who have discussed the university and its ideals more explicitly, some have restricted themselves to doing so in relation to performance management, thus downplaying, by implication of the rather empirical field, normative and conceptual issues,85 or they have limited themselves to relating the ideals of the university to instruction and teaching.86 So far, however, few contemporary Danish philosophers have taken up the principal challenge of defending the idea of the university per se in confrontation with the present societal and political realities, and neither have they done much to present their reflections in this regard to the international scholarly community. This special issue aims at changing both of these issues.

2 International Scholarship and the Danish Debate

Internationally, and in particular in the Anglosphere, there has been a continued philosophical discussion of the changing role and purpose of universities and higher education since, at least, the early 1990s. In the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, where we see many contributions to this growing literature, the neoliberal agendas hit the universities much earlier than in Denmark and Scandinavia. First, we present some milestones in the Anglophone debates within philosophy of education about the idea of the university (2.1); secondly, some contemporary Danish reverberations are presented, suggesting that, presently, a displacement of focus is taking place from science to education (2.2).

2.1 Milestones in the International Debate

From the United States and Canada, both works published in 1997, two books in particular were influential. Wesley Shumar’s book College for Sale discussed the erosion of the traditional university and the consumerist agendas and commodification connected to higher education institutions.87 Bill Reading’s book The University in Ruins links the discussion of the university as an institution and idea to the wider social and cultural fluctuations and the effects on the traditional ideals of truth, universalism, and communality.88

The early 2000s saw the beginning of change from the critical perspectives of the volumes published in the 1990s to more positive and forward-looking perspectives that argued for new possibilities for universities to become, once again, central contributors to the wider societal and cultural growth. In the present context, the influential books by Jon Nixon and Bruce Macfarlane are particularly relevant. Nixon’s books Towards the Virtuous University and Higher Education and the Public Good try to re-establish the profound link between academic practice and virtuous character, drawing on Aristotelean virtue ethics.89 In a similar vein, Macfarlane’s book The Academic Citizen tries to form a new contract between universities and society, which disrupts the neoliberal discourse that reduces universities to factors within the market economy, and resets universities as unique and dignified institutions that, still, have to understand their role as one of societal service and cultural contribution. In his recent book Freedom to Learn, Macfarlane engages with the discussion of academic freedom as seen from the student perspective.90

However, the most powerful voice in the philosophical debate about the role and purpose of universities today, and one of the most important founders of the research field ‘philosophy of higher education,’ is Ronald Barnett, who has published over 20 books on universities and higher education since his first influential book, The Idea of Higher Education, appeared in 1990, and up to his most recent book, The Ecological University, published in 2018.91 Barnett established his position internationally as the foremost philosopher of higher education with his trilogy of philosophical work on the university: Being a University, Imagining the University, and Understanding the University.92 Internationally, the philosophical debate on universities and higher education could be said to culminate with the recently published two-volume work on The Idea of the University, edited by Ronald Barnett and Michael Peters.93 The first volume compiles central texts on the university by philosophers from the German Enlightenment until the turn of the millennium, and the second volume contains contributions from the contemporary debate on the university from around the world.

2.2 Reverberations in Denmark

In an interesting way, the growing international interest in the philosophy of the university and higher education has reinvigorated and respawned the Danish debate. While the traditional philosophers have remained relatively silent, there is a noticeable contribution to the debate from philosophy of education. Today, an academic debate on the university in Denmark is therefore evolving more in relation to higher education than, for example, science and knowledge. Traces of this new interest in the philosophical debate about universities can be seen in a handful of seminal events. In autumn 2016, a new research center called the Centre for Higher Education Futures (chef) was formed at Aarhus University.94 The purpose of the center is to study the changing role and mandate of universities and higher education institutions in Denmark and internationally, and to experiment with new forms of academic practice and societal and political initiatives. chef co-hosted the world’s first ‘Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Conference’ (phec) at Aarhus University in autumn 2017.95 Around 100 academics from 17 different countries all over the world participated and gave a new boost to the philosophical debates of universities, nationally as well as internationally. The major and long-lasting effect of these institutional initiatives was the formation of an international academic association, ‘Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society’ (PaTHES). The aim of PaTHES is to form and promote an effective worldwide community of scholars and academics to develop philosophical and theoretical thinking, and engage in research, development, and professional work on higher education and the future of universities.

Central works from the new strand of the Danish-international collaboration around the philosophy of universities and higher education is the edited volume The Thinking University: A Philosophical Examination of Thought and Higher Education,96 and the book Knowledge and the University: Reclaiming Life.97 In this ‘educational turn’ of the Danish philosophical debate on the university, the focus has shifted, not only from science and scholarship but also from the political, constitutional, and cultural discussions on the university. Instead, philosophers have brought in studies on the ontology of the university,98 promoting a philosophy of university being and becoming. The university, and knowledge in the university, thus connects with life in a wider sense, and is invoked philosophically in the wake of the Anthropocene.99 Here, philosophers who are not typically linked to the philosophical discussion of the university, like Nietzsche, Bergson, and Levinas, are attributed crucial importance, and the understanding of the university has now moved into a realm that is defined not only socio-culturally, epistemologically, and morally, but also ontologically.

Currently, the educational discussion of the university is thus increasingly important in the Danish debate, implicitly and explicitly linking universities and higher education closely together. In contrast, the fundamental discussion of the idea of the university in relation to science, history, and epistemology is still relatively absent in research and research-based discussions, perhaps due to the strange lack of input from Danish philosophers to the discussion. This philosophical lack of interest in the idea of the university is interesting in itself, indicating that Danish universities as institutions and intellectual centers may have changed radically already and somehow moved away from the philosophical turf. We, as editors and philosophers, hope that this is not the case, and that we can rekindle the interest in this issue.

3 Introducing the Content

Of the seven main contributions, the first three commentaries are of course conceptual and normative but have the Danish setting as their immediate point of departure. In contrast, the four main articles assume perspectives that either relate to other specific contexts or, as classical philosophy, attempt to conduct the discussion according to the unsituated, universal view from nowhere.

In the first commentary titled ‘Classical Ideals in the Modern Research University,’ Hans Fink presents the four underlying principles of the classical university: that universities are autonomous, that research and teaching are inseparable, the demand for respect of research freedom, and that obtaining and sharing universal knowledge is the highest goal of the university. The classical ideals are discussed against the change in university management and leadership from the 1970s up until today, with a focus on the financial schemes and political reforms that have influenced Danish universities over the last decades, with severe implications for academic leadership and membership. Fink concludes his contribution with a call for action and encourages teachers and students at contemporary universities to take on the challenge of trying to defend the foundational principles of the university in a modern world.

In the second commentary titled ‘Imagine the University Without Condition,’ Steen Nepper Larsen argues that universities today, within the neo-liberal regime, often feel alienated and under perpetual pressure. With relevance for the situation today, Larsen reminds us of Abraham Flexner’s call for the ‘usefulness of useless knowledge,’ and altogether the abandonment of the term ‘use,’ instead foregrounding the purpose of the university as liberation of the human spirit. As an alternative, and with Jacques Derrida as his main source of inspiration, Larsen calls for a university ‘without condition.’ Being without condition means being radically open and critical with an unlimited commitment to truth, where nothing is beyond question. Larsen argues that the university of the future must resist the dependence on external assessment and political systems to exert its unrestrained critical power. Only then will the university be able to imagine new possible worlds.

In the third commentary titled ‘A new Contract is Required Between Science and Society,’ Finn Collin discusses the current state of academic freedom in Danish universities, including international perspectives. Collin argues that universities have negotiated their academic freedom throughout history, first with the Catholic Church, later with monarchic dynasties, and finally with secularized states and governments, developing a flexibility in institutional loyalty as one of their main survival strategies. However, Collin argues, the current tension between universities and the state, and perhaps society more broadly, threatens to undermine the very foundation of the university. In the time of the managerial university, the shift towards corporate influence and industrially oriented research threatens to derogate basic research and academic freedom. As a result, both the academic precariat and the faculty are regarded as hired hands by their national government, and even sometimes by their academic managers. Collin calls for a new contract between science and society, where academic freedom and public trust go hand in hand, and where collegiality forms the backbone of the organization of the university.

In the first of the articles, ‘The Concept of a University: Theory, Practice, and Society,’ Trystan Goetze argues that the current dispute over the role and purpose of the university is founded on a philosophical divide between theory and practice. The theoretical stance is often assumed by academics within the institutions themselves, while the practical stance is often assumed by external stakeholders such as politicians, people from the industry and private sector, and other wider societal organizations. Goetze argues that the unfortunate and widening gap between university and society rests on a limited perspective on both sides. To realize the deep meaning of the university, Goetze argues, ground-breaking research and high-quality teaching and learning must accommodate theoretical and practical goals at the same time. By drawing on classical pragmatist thinking, Goetze shows that we need to move beyond the sharp division between theory and practice that has come to characterize current discourses and debates about the future university. Goetze concludes that we need a new concept of the university that brings together theory and practice, pure and applied research, liberal and vocational education, and social impact through both a critical economic approach and promotion of social justice.

In the second article titled ‘L’Idée d’Université à l’heure des démocraties modernes: quel projet?,’ Christophe Point revisits the idea of the university as a democratic project through the lens of Dewey. Through his philosophy, the author aims to shift the focus from contemporary individualized and fragmented higher education towards a paradigm of collective intelligence and pursuit of knowledge. One of the main challenges for universities and higher education today is that students’ individual horizon of learning is not well connected to social communities and the wider societal context beyond the institution. Universities and higher education institutions and programs today need to reclaim their fundamentally democratic goals by integrating the personal meaning-making and learning trajectories of the individual with the collective societal and cultural aims and domains.

In the third article titled ‘Social Ethos and Political Mission. University on the Margins,’ Asger Sørensen moves the focus away from the central Anglophone and continental European classics and their discussions of the idea and purpose of the university. Sørensen argues that in order to be truly able to revisit and reclaim the idea of the university, the focus, perspective, and discussion must also take into account the periphery.100 The periphery is, in this paper, represented by the Spanish-speaking world, where the social and political ethos of the university is arguably particularly potent and tangible. Viewing and discussing the idea and purpose of the university from the margins, the essential societal function and obligation of the university becomes manifest, as do the general social and political aspects of the idea of the university. As the philosophical underpinning of his argument, Sørensen primarily invokes the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, who argues that the particular mission of the university is the cultural formation provided by higher education, which enables republican citizens to make enlightened decisions. Beyond desirable luxuries, such as pure scientific research and scholarship, and the individual character formation of the future societal and political elite, for Ortega the most fundamental idea of the university is to provide society at large with the knowledge necessary for its citizens to flourish in all their glory and splendor.

In the fourth and final article, ‘The College of Unconventional Applied Arts and Sciences: a Prospectus,’ Don Berkich emphasizes the business and industry oriented nature of higher education today and points out the resulting dilution of the core curriculum and the narrowness of the vocational programs tailored around these socio-economic drivers. Where higher education used to be approached for its own ‘intrinsic good,’ still more students pursue a higher degree to, instrumentally, secure a financially viable career path – thus reaffirming the consumerist take on higher education. As a response, Berkich uses satire as his method to extrapolate an imagined feasible, but frightening, higher education future. The satirical example is built around the fictional ‘College of Unconventional Applied Arts and Sciences,’ with its four departments, Applied Statistics, Markets and Gaming; Recreational Pharmacology and Applied Botany; Erotic Performing and Video Arts; and, finally, Management and Sex Worker Studies. Berkich thus therapeutically engages with, and critically discusses, some of the taboos of possible higher education futures, ridiculing with reason the way we presently preserve our academic heritage.

The present special theme owes a lot to the first Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Conference titled ‘The Purpose of the Future University’, which took place at Aarhus University in the autumn 2017. The idea for the theme and the call for papers were conceived of during the conference preparations, of which the main driving force was Søren Bengtsen. However, some elements now included in the first section of the present introduction, go back to May 2011, where they were presented at a session discussing the situation of the universities in various countries at the Conference on Philosophy and the Social Sciences in Prague. As such, they were published in June at the Campaign for the Public University ( as Asger Sørensen: “The changing university context and its implications for the future of critical approaches to society – the case of Denmark from the perspective of a philosopher.” Thanks to the participants for helpful comments and to John Holmwood for the invitation and for organizing everything. Thanks also to Jørgen Huggler for the reference to Kort Kortsen and to Carsten Fogh Nielsen for the reference to Jens Frøslev Christensen.


See, e.g., W. Rüegg, “Foreword,” in A History of the University in Europe. Volume 1. Universities in the Middle Ages, ed. W. Rüegg and H.D. Ridder-Symons (Cambridge University Press, 2003).


See, e.g., Quirin Schiermeier, “Sacking of Prominent Geoscientist Rocks Community,” Nature, December 5th 2016.


See, e.g., Editorial, “Corporate Culture Spreads to Scandinavian Institutes,” Nature, December 15th 2016.


See Sten Ebbesen and Carl Henrik Koch, Den danske filosofis historie, 5 vols. (København: Gyldendal, 2002–04).


See, e.g., Oliver Cauly, Les philosophies scandinaves (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1998), 49–71.


See, e.g., Ernst Anrich, ed., Die Idee der deutschen Universität. Die fünf Grundschriften aus der Zeit ihrer Neubegrundung durch klassischen Idealismus und romantischen Realismus (Darmstadt: Hermann Gentner Verlag, 1956); see also István M. Fehér, “Schelling und die Humboldt’sche Universitätsidee – im Kontext des Idealismus,” in Philosophie und Gestalt der europäischen Universität. Akten der internationalen Fachtagung Budapest, Vom 6. bis 9. November 2003, Schellingiana (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 2008) and Claude Piché, “Fichte, Schleiermacher and W. von Humboldt on the Foundation of the University of Berlin,” in Fichte, German Idealism, and Early Romanticism, ed. Daniel Breazeale and Tom Rockmore, Fichte-Studien, Supplementa (Brill, 2010).


See Svend Erik Stybe, Universitet og åndsliv i 500 år (København: G.E.C. Gad, 1979), 98–109; English: Copenhagen University. 500 Years of Science and Scholarship, ed. J.F.A. Holck Colding and Bent Rying, trans. Reginald Spink (København: The Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign ­Affairs, Dk Books & G.E.C. Gad, 1979), 110–121.


See Heinrich Steffens, “Vorlesungen über die Idee der Universitäten,” in Die Idee der deutschen Universität, ed. Anrich; page references are indicated in brackets in the text as viu, nn. See also Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, “Die Zukunft der Universität,” in Was ist eine Universität? Schlaglichter auf eine ruinierte Institution, ed. Ulrike Haß and N. Müller-Schöll (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009), 127–31, and Emilio Lledó, “La Mision de la universidad de Ortega: Entre las ­reformas alemanas y nuestra universidad (1984),” in Lledó, Sobre la educación: La necesidad de la literatura y la vigencia de la filosofía (Barcelona: Taurus, 2018), 134.


See, e.g., Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution (1909), trans. N. F. Dryhurst, Pb. ed. (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1989), 572.


See Wilhelm von Humboldt, “Über die innnere und äussere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten in Berlin (1809–10),” in Die Idee der deutschen Universität, ed. Anrich.


See, e.g., Carl Henrik Koch, Den danske idealisme, in Ebbesen and Koch, Den danske filosofis historie, vol. 4 (København: Gyldendal, 2004), 34–35.


See ibid., 565–68.


See, e.g., Carl Henrik Koch, Dansk filosofi i positivismens tidsalder, in Ebbesen and Koch, Den danske filosofis historie, vol. 5 (København: Gyldendal, 2004), 307–09.


See Kort K. Kortsen, “Hvad er filosofi? (1928),” in Kortsen, Essays (København: Universitetsforlaget i Aarhus & C.A. Reitzel, 1932), 402.


Ibid., 420.


See Svend Ranulf, Videnskabens stilling i moderne stater (København: Branner, 1939). Page references are indicated in brackets in the text as vs, nn.


See Svend Ranulf, Socialvidenskabelig Metodelære (Munksgaard, 1946).


See Koch, Dansk filosofi i positivismens tidsalder, 332.


Ranulf, Socialvidenskabelig Metodelære, 8.


See Theodor Geiger, Ranulf ctr. Geiger: Et Angreb og et offensivt Forsvar (København: Nyt Nordisk Forlag, 1946), 18.


See ibid., 37.


See Koch, Dansk filosofi i positivismens tidsalder; see also G.H. von Wright, “Introduction,” in Contemporary Philosophy in Scandinavia, ed. Raymond E. Olson and Anthony M. Paul (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Press, 1972), 1–12.


See, e.g., Uffe Juul Jensen, Videnskabsteori, vol. 1–2 (København: Berlingske, 1973); John Mortensen, Kritik af pragmatikken: 5 essays om filosofi og sprogvidenskab, Kritiske Studier (København: Medusa, 1978); Ingvar Johansson, Ragnvald Kalleberg, and Sven-Eric Leidman, Positivisme, marxisme, kritiske teori: Retninger inden for moderne videnskabsfilosofi (København: Gyldendal, 1974).


See, e.g., Jürgen Habermas, “Die deutschen Mandarine,” in Habermas, Philosophisch-­politische Profile (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1971).


See, e.g., Hanne Andersen, Tom Børsen, and David Budtz Pedersen, eds., Fagets videnskabsteori (Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur, 2018), in particular the contributions from Hanne Andersen and Asger Sørensen.


See Stybe, Universitet og åndsliv i 500 år, 108; English, 119.


See ibid., 138–39; English, 166–167.


See ibid., 202; English, 214.


See ibid., 203; English, 214.


See, e.g., the figures in ibid., 194; English, 210.


See Svend Erik Stybe, Filosofi, in Københavns Universitet 1479–1979, ed. Svend Ellehøj, Leif Grane et al., vol. X (København: [Københavns Universitet], 1980), 119.


See Stybe, Universitet og åndsliv i 500 år, 206; English, 217–218.


See ibid., 207–08; English, 218–219.


See Jean-François Lyotard, Viden og det postmoderne samfund, trans. Finn Frandsen, Sjakalens Ørkenserie (Aarhus: Sjakalen, 1982).


See, e.g., the contributions of Klavs Hornum and Birgit Bangskjær in Peter Maskell and Hans Siggaard Jensen, eds., Universiteter for fremtiden: Universiteterne og videnssamfundet (Frederiksberg: Rektorkollegiet & Samfundslitteratur, 2001), 184–85, 205–06.


Hans Siggaard Jensen, “Clio og universitas – universitetets nyere historie,” in Universiteter for fremtiden, ed. Maskell and Jensen, 29.


Ibid., 29–30.


See Lise Degn, “Idéers glidning og oversættelse i universitetssektoren,” in Glidninger – ‘usynlige’ forandringer inden for pædagogik og uddannelser, ed. Leif Moos (Aarhus University: dpu, 2019), 163.


UN document A/9149/ Add. 2 of 30 October, 1973; quoted from Roshan R. Billimoria, ed., The Thy Project: Final Report (Århus: Husets Forlag, 1978), 11.


See Villy Dahl, “Dengang Lennon og Ono boede i Thy,” in John Lennon på besøg, Arkivthy – lokalhistorien (


Billimoria, ed., The Thy Project, 10.


Ibid., 30, 41, 114.


Ibid., 48, 50–51.


Ibid., 48–49.


Degn, “Idéers glidning og oversættelse i universitetssektoren,” 166–68.


See, e.g., Asger Sørensen, “Visiting the Neo-Liberal University: New Public Management and Conflicting Normative Ideas. A Danish Case,” Journal of Educational Controversy 10, no. 1, art. 6 (2015).


Michael Gibbons, The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (Los Angeles & London: Sage, 1994).


See, e.g., Maskell and Jensen, eds., Universiteter for fremtiden, 45.


See, e.g., Pierre Milot, “La reconfiguration des universités Selon l’ocde. Économie du savoir et politique de l’innovation,” Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 29, no. 148 (2003), 72.


See Donald A. Schön, Den reflekterende praktiker: Hvordan professionelle tænker, når de arbejder (Århus: Klim, 2001). English original: The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, Pb. ed. (Aldershot Hants: Avebury, 1991).


For a critical discussion of Gibbons and Schön, see, e.g., Asger Sørensen, Om videnskabelig viden. Gier, ikker og ismer (Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur, 2010), Ch. 14.


The quotations are from the 2015 version of the law. Subsequently in 2017, it underwent some revisions regarding the election of the president that complicated matters considerably.


See Terence Karran, “Academic Freedom in Europe: A Preliminary Comparative Analysis,” Higher Education Policy 20, no. 3 (2007); “Academic Freedom in Europe: Reviewing unesco’s Recommendation,” British Journal of Educational Studies 57, no. 2 (2007).


Some of these cases are analyzed in Heine Andersen, Forskningsfrihed: Idealer og virkelighed (København: Hans Reitzel, 2017).


See, e.g., Linda Maria Koldau, Jante Universitet: Episoder fra livet bag murene, 3 vols. (Hamburg: Verlag Tredition, 2013); for an extensive review and discussion, see Asger Sørensen, “Koldau mellem Humboldt og Diderot – en kamp på, om og for universitetet,” Kritik 47, no. 212 (2014); for a principled analysis and discussion of the case, see Sørensen, “Visiting the Neo-Liberal University.”


See Jens Frøslev Christensen, Oprøret på cbs: Forandring, ledelse og modstand i en professionel organisation (Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur, 2016), 185.


See ibid., 206.


See ibid., 165.


See ibid., 176–77, 182–84.


See ibid., 77.


See ibid., 93, 108, 111, 140, 175.


See ibid., 206.


See, e.g., Andersen, Forskningsfrihed, 319–22.


For a recent spectacular case, see, e.g., Claus Baggersgaard, “Fyret international topforsker: Noget er råddent i Danmark,” Forskerforum, no. 325/26 (2019).


For an argument for republican government of the university, see Asger Sørensen, “Truth in Education and Science. The Central Idea of the University,” Eco-ethica 8 (2019 (forthcoming)).


See, e.g., Frøslev Christensen, Oprøret på cbs, 37.


See, e.g., Finn Horn, Claus Holm, and Henrik Kaare Nielsen, Universitet til tiden? Debatbog (Århus: Klim, 2003).


Hans Fink, “Hvad er et universitet?” in Universitet og videnskab. Universitetets Idéhistorie, videnskabsteori og etik (2003), ed. Hans Fink et al. (København: Hans Reitzel, 2007), 19.


See, e.g., Morten Kyndrup, “Den store kortslutning. Beretning fra en uproduktiv debat om universiteternes styring,” in Universitet til tiden?, ed. Horn, Holm and Nielsen, 118.


See Birgit Bangskjær, “Interaktive universiteter er markedsorienterede universiteter,” in Universiteter for fremtiden, ed. Maskell and Jensen, 205.


Lars-Henrik Schmidt and Claus Holm, “De sejrede, de så, de kom,” in Universitet til tiden?, ed. Horn, Holm and Nielsen, 166.


See Fink, “Hvad er et universitet?” 12.


Ibid., 27.


See, e.g., Peter C. Kjærgaard and Jens Erik Kristensen, “Universitetets Idéhistorie,” in Universitet og videnskab, ed. Fink et al., and Jens Erik Kristensen, ed., Ideer om et universitet: Det moderne universitets idehistorie Fra 1800 til i dag (Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2007).


See, e.g., Mogens Ove Madsen, Universitetets død: Kritik af den nyliberale tendens (København: Frydenlund, 2009).


See Niels Kærgård et al., Forsknings- og ytringsfriheden på universiteterne. Forskningspolitisk årsmøde 2007 (København: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2007).


See Susan Wright, “Universitetets performancekrav. Viden der tæller,” in Motivation og mismod. Effektivisering og stress på offentlige arbejdspladser, ed. Kirsten Marie Bovbjerg (Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2011).


See Gritt B. Nielsen, “Timing Students’ Freedom: On Paradoxes of Accountability and Efficiency,” in University Performance Management: The Silent Managerial Revolution at Danish Universities, ed. Jens Erik Kristensen, Hanne Nørreklit and Morten Raffnsøe-Møller (Copenhagen: djøf Publishing, 2011), and Gritt B. Nielsen, Figuration Work: Student Participation, Democracy and University Reform in a Global Knowledge Economy (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015).


See Sune Auken, Hjernedød: Til forsvar for det borgerlige universitet (København: Information, 2010).


See Steen Nepper Larsen and Stig Skov Mortensen, eds., Universitetsverdenen – Flerstemmige visioner (Brønderslev: sophia, 2014); for a review, see Sørensen, “Koldau mellem Humboldt og Diderot.”


See Andersen, Forskningsfrihed.


Heine Andersen, “Forskningsfrihed – status og refleksioner efter et projekt?,” Dansk Sociologi 29, no. 4 (2018), 81.


See, e.g., Claus Emmeche and Jan Faye, eds., Hvad er forskning? Normer, videnskab og samfund (Frederiksberg: Nyt fra Samfundsvidenskaberne, 2010), 21–22; for a review of this book, together with the ones mentioned above by Mogens Ove Jensen and Sune Auken, see Asger Sørensen, “‘Midt i sammenbruddet’ – bøger om universitet, forskning og videnskab,” Social Kritik 22, no. 122 (2010).


See Kristensen, Nørreklit and Raffnsøe-Møller, eds., University Performance Management.


See Jakob Egholm Feldt and Nina Bonderup Dohn, eds., Universitetsundervisning i det 21. århundrede. Læring, dannelse, marked (Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag, 2011), 7–10.


See Wesley Shumar, College for Sale. A Critique of the Commodification of Higher Education (New York: Routledge, 1997).


See Bill Reading, The University in Ruins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).


See Jon Nixon, Towards the Virtuous University. The Moral Bases of Academic Practice (London & New York: Routledge, 2008) and Higher Education and the Public Good. Imagining the University (London & New York: Continuum, 2012).


See Bruce Macfarlane, The Academic Citizen. The Virtue of Service in University Life ­(London & New York: Routledge, 2007) and Freedom to Learn. The Threat to Student Academic Freedom and Why it Needs to be Reclaimed (London & New York: Routledge, 2016).


See Ronald Barnett, The Idea of Higher Education (Berkshire: Open University Press, 1990) and The Ecological University. A Feasible Utopia (London & New York: Routledge, 2018)


See Barnett, Being a University (London & New York: Routledge, 2011), Imagining the University (London & New York: Routledge, 2013) and Understanding the University. Institution, Idea, Possibilities (London & New York: Routledge, 2015).


See Michael Peters and Ronald Barnett, eds., The Idea of the University. A Reader. Volume 1 (New York: Peter Lang, 2018) and Barnett and Peters, eds., The Idea of the University. Contemporary Perspectives. Volume 2 (New York: Peter Lang, 2018).


chef is organizationally anchored in the Danish School of Education in collaboration with the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, also at the Faculty of Arts, Aarhus University. Link to the center’s website: (


The phec 2018 Conference was held at Middlesex University in London. The 2019 conference is being held at KU Leuven in Belgium, and phec 2020 will be held at Uppsala University in Sweden.


See Søren Bengtsen and Ronald Barnett, eds., The Thinking University. A Philosophical ­Examination of Thought and Higher Education (Cham: Springer Publishing, 2018).


See Barnett and Bengtsen, Knowledge and the University. Reclaiming Life (London & New York: Routledge, 2019 – in press).


See, e.g., Bengtsen and Barnett, “Realism and Education. A philosophical examination of the ‘realness’ of the university,” in A Reader in Philosophy of Education, ed. Philip Higgs and Yusef Waghid (Cape Town: juta Publishing, 2017).


See Bengtsen and Barnett, “Higher Education and Alien Ecologies. Exploring the Dark Ontology of the University,” in a special issue of Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, ed. Ryan Gildersleeve and Katie Kleinhesselink (New York: Peter Lang, 2019).


For a discussion of the classical ideas of the center, see Sørensen, “Truth in Education and Science.”

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