5.0846 Pelikan on the University and Technology (1/69)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 21 Apr 1992 20:47:36 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0846. Tuesday, 21 Apr 1992.

Date: Tue, 21 Apr 1992 17:53:22 -0400
From: mccarty@epas.utoronto.ca (W. McCarty)
Subject: the idea of the university

Let me recommend to all Humanists the following recently published book:

Jaroslav Pelikan. The Idea of the University: A Reexamination. New
Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1992.

This is, as the title suggests, an extended reflection on the
character and aims of the modern university in the light of John Henry
Cardinal Newman's famous treatise, The Idea of a University
(1852, 1858). Pelikan is most noted for his multivolume history, The
Christian Tradition; he is Stirling Professor of History at Yale and
in my opinion one of the great scholars of this century.

I do not intend here a full review; all I can manage is a strong
recommendation of it to anyone concerned with the intellectual
life and its institutional home -- and some idea of why it should be
of particular interest to computing humanists. For our crowd there are
two principal reasons: the brief remarks on the effects of technology
on scholarship, and the institutional role of "support services" as
Pelikan sees it. I'll quote two passages.

First on the technology. "The more recent evolution of technology in
the service of scholarship does carry the promise of instruments that
can, to repeat Whitehead's words about slaves, `perform services which
were unworthy to engage the activities of a fully civilized man.'
Among other benefits, the arrival of that technology, which Robert
Maynard Hutchins before the age of the computer described as `the
substitution of machines for slaves,' has raised with new force the
distinction between knowledge and information mentioned earlier, and
if properly handled it can assist the university in the evaluation of
knowledge as an end that has been attained by going through
information but beyond it." Pelikan goes on to say that he is
skeptical of such promises, "which often seem not to have factored
Original Sin and the Fall into their calculations. There is no
guarantee that the university will not, as it has all too often in the
past, permit itself to be corrupted also in its cultivation of this
technology." Note that Pelikan devotes an entire chapter to the topic,
"Initiating a Work of Self-Reformation".

Second, research support. "Just as the reexamination of the idea of
the university implies new attention to the university's definition of
itself as a community in its teaching, so the definition of the
university as a community of research requires significant
reconsideration in the light of the `sisterly disposition' of the
sciences toward one another. That applies in the first instance to
those departments, agencies, and personnel of the university who
usually stand outside the classroom but without whom research would
halt. Because of its unique position among these as the heart of the
university, the university library ... must be seen as a collegial
part of a total university network of support services for research,
and the network in turn must be seen as a free and responsible
community if it is to be equal to the complexities that are faced by
university-based research. Indeed, even such a term as `providers of
support services' is becoming far too limited to describe both the
skills and the knowledge required of those who hold such positions.
Scholars and scientists in all fields have found that the older
configurations of such services, according to which the principal
investigator has the questions and the staff person provides the
answers, are no longer valid, if they ever were; as both the
technological expertise and the scholarly range necessary for research
grow, it is also for the formulation and refinement of the questions
themselves that the principal investigators have turned to `staff',
whom it is increasingly necessary -- not a matter of courtesy, much
less as a matter of condescension, but as a matter of justice and
accuracy -- to identify instead as colleagues in the research

Willard McCarty