The true purpose of university

One thing the university of the future will teach is that universities of today fail at teaching is the art of self-discovery.

To me, there is nothing more fundamental in education.

We churn out students graduating from our “fog factories” who are ready and willing to give answers, but who fail at knowing how to ask questions.
They leave our universities with skills applicable to employment for the government, industries and businesses, but have little or no knowledge of how to live or what living is ultimately for.

Our students are not taught how to see, how to listen or how fundamental these skills are to all personal and/or work relations.  They are not taught those supremely important arts of obedience and restraint and how they always precede self-mastery. They are not taught that true art of reading. Engaged reading is a creative art; it means first seeing, then comes the act of the imagination.

All our innovations, our discoveries, our creativity come from one source: being able to see what is there and not there, to hear what is said and what is not said and to think clearly and critically.

Then there is the death of that central vestige of psychology — intuition, some think the sublime value in our lives; those intuitive leaps from physics to metaphysics; those quantum leaps of the imagination which have transformed sciences and the arts of humanity.

Discipline, effortful work and rational approaches to our lives can take us only so far; in time, such will become the norms. With these qualities we will create competent, efficient, but only mediocre human citizens.

They are tools and, as such, it is far easier to create a chemist than it is to create a sensitive citizenry.

Intuition — that mysterious spark that separates great discoverers, great philosophers and great artists from the nearly great — will one day have to be studied and used for the common good.

All of our students must come to be aware that they are the true spark of the transformation of the known world. Our students must become “practical dreamers,” (Ben Okri’s term used in an address to the European Conference on the Future of European Universities) those people who can enrich the life of this planet.

We are much more than what we do; we are more than the functions we pursue and jobs that we do.  We and our students are co-makers of this world we live in; the moral force of our citizens is too little used in the greater enrichment of the world.

Professors take the living potential that is young minds and turn them, reduce them, into job-fillers and economy providers. We have regressed from the wonderful project of the academy of Plato’s dream. Every student is a light, a creative spark, waiting to be of use in dispelling the darkness.

Every day the crisis of purpose grows larger in the lives of people, and prosperity or poverty does not diminish the paralysis it brings if not addressed.  

A society can die from a lack of understanding of why it exists or an awareness of its larger purpose in the greater scheme of things.

The universe grows more mysterious around us even as we find out more and more about it.  The true reason is this: we are more than we suspect we are, but are taught to see less into ourselves and to ask no questions about our true natures. So the great mystery that we are peers out into the great mystery that is out there.

We ought to substitute the faith in evidence with the knowledge of self-discovery. Only by knowing ourselves can we begin to undo the madness we unleash on the world in our ways, our divisions, our desire to dominate others, the poverty we create and then exploit and the damage we do with all the knowledge we have. It all may be  merely a higher or more sophisticated ignorance.

The true purpose of the university ought to be to unleash the bright and sublime possibilities of the human being.  There we will learn to avert what evils we ourselves create and then start again the project of humanity with humility and a new light.