Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Thursday, July 23, 2009

THE IDEAL UNIVERSITY PART TWO

Here is the second instalment of my lengthy essay on the Ideal University. Those who have not read Part One may do so by paging down in this blog, or by clicking on this link: http://people.umass.edu/rwolff/archiveidealuniversity.pdf



Everyone reading this blog is intimately familiar with one or more of the four thousand college and university campuses – tertiary institutions, as the jargon has it – that now operate in the United States. They vary enormously, from 50,000 student behemoths like Michigan State and Ohio State to tiny liberal arts colleges with no more than 600 students. Some award a full spectrum of undergraduate and graduate degrees, both academic and professional; others offer no more than a two-year Associate’s Degree. The large state university campuses resemble corporations a good deal more than they do the itinerant bands of scholars and students out of which the medieval university evolved. On modern state university campuses, the life of the mind is often not even so much as honored in the breach. As Clark Kerr, then the President of the vast University of California system, famously observed forty-five years ago, “I find that the three major administrative problems on a campus are sex for the students, athletics for the alumni and parking for the faculty.”


Rather than suggest a suite of practical reforms that might marginally improve America’s tertiary education sector – which I suppose would be the realistic and responsible thing to do – I should like to try instead to flesh out an image I have long had in my mind of the ideal college. I am sure it will never be instantiated, for to accomplish that would require many millions of dollars in today’s world. But by thinking through the principal features of such an ideal, their relationship to one another, and the principles that ground them, I may at least be able to offer what Max Weber, in another context, called an Ideal Type of the college, and this in turn may serve as a standard against which to judge and also to understand our actual colleges and universities.


I unashamedly and unapologetically begin with the conception of a college as a community whose members are individually and collectively committed to the life of the mind. I have in mind men and women who are in love with ideas, who embrace them, caress them, probe them, celebrate them, and admire their beauty. [And yes, I do really intend the erotic overtones and implications of that language.] All my life, I have sought to understand profound and difficult ideas, to clarify them, to enjoy their beauty, and to share that beauty with others. My enjoyment of ideas is as much aesthetic as intellectual or ideological. A personal story will perhaps help to explain what I mean.


In 1985, when my long marriage to Cynthia Griffin was coming to an end, I spent time in therapy with a wise psychiatrist, Dr. Lenore Boling, whose offices were in the famous MacLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. This was in fact not the first, but rather the last, of many courses of therapy that I had sought out in my life to handle a variety of emotional problems. A good deal of each weekly session was, of course, taken up with my descriptions of what was happening as Cynthia and I tried unsuccessfully to reconcile. [There was nothing so dramatic as a Republican style affair at the root of our incompatibility – simply a growing apart of two people who had been deeply committed to one another for twenty-eight years.] Despite the fact that I was tremendously upset by what was happening to me and to our family, my monologues were utterly free of tears. Then, one day, I happened to be talking about my work, my writing and teaching. I explained to Dr. Boling that what I tried to do when I was struggling with the central passages of Kant’s CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON or Marx’s CAPITAL or Hume’s TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE was to turn the ideas over in my mind, slowly making them clearer and clearer to myself, telling the story of the ideas to an imaginary audience in my head, until I reached a point at which I could present the ideas to my readers or my students in their complete simplicity and profundity, so that they could see, as I could, how beautiful they are. As I said this, quite unexpectedly, my eyes filled with tears and I choked up, so that I could barely continue to speak. I think it was truly not until that very moment that I fully understood what my life had really been about.


Quite simply, my vision of the ideal college is a community of students and scholars who are capable of experiencing the beauty, the power, and the joy of great ideas. What might such a community look like, in today’s world?


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