values of a university

Leszek Kolakowski wrote “How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist” in 1978. His short essay is a model of pluralism, in the sense that he intentionally combines values that are necessarily in tension.

Institutions can also be pluralist in that sense. Indeed, the best universities may be conservative liberal socialistic republican democratic anarchistic utilitarian communities. Yet they can also fall short on each or all of these criteria. Here is a framework for assessment:

Values espoused by a universityCharacteristic failures
Conservative: Preserving wisdom and excellence from the past and conveying it to young people.Arbitrary adherence to the past–or faddish novelty.
Liberal: Developing people’s capacity to be free individuals by allowing them to speak and think on their own.Group-think; social pressure to conform. Or irresponsible individualism.
Republican: Preventing individuals from dominating others by using arbitrary power.Domination, especially by senior faculty and administrators.
Democratic: Making decisions collectively and teaching that skill.Bureaucracy and hierarchy–or incoherent decisions by individuals.
Utilitarian: Producing knowledge and applications that increase human (or animal) welfare.Outcomes distorted by money or fame–or useless work.
Socialistic: Adjusting costs by income, pooling resources and distributing them equitably, and belonging–as a corporate body–to the state (in the case of public institutions).Social stratification; competition for admission and employment; specifically bourgeois values.
Communitarian: Serving as a supportive, affective groupLeaving some students and employees out of the community–or becoming an exclusive community that sees itself as superior to outsiders.
Anarchistic: The knowledge created by free people within the university is unowned and belongs to a global commons.Corporate enclosure and/or close affiliation with governments.
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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.