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La Educación
Número: (114) I
Año: 1993

Adelantos de Investigación / Research in Progress*
Mónica G. Luque

This study has a threefold purpose. First, it analyzes in depth the idea of the university through the rational reconstruction of three works: The Idea of a University by Cardinal John Henry Newman, published in 1852; Misión de la Universidad (Mission of the University) by José Ortega y Gasset, published in 1945, and The Idea of the University, published by Karl Jaspers, updated in May 1945 in connection with a project of the same name published in 1923. Second, the conceptual categories employed by those authors are abstracted and their possible relationships determined, so as to arrive at deductive conclusions that link these three thinkers’ views of the university model. Lastly, an appraisal is made of the capacity offered by the proposed model to capture and include the problems that present-day scientific literature poses for the university in Latin America. The choice of the proposed objectives is justified by a number of factors. It should be understood at the outset that this is a theoretical study whose purpose is to vindicate pedagogic reflection in the context of the current debate,  since it is from this  perspective that one can  simultaneously renew the theory and praxis of the Latin American university. The authors selected are justified by the structural character of their theoretical propositions and the historical impact that these propositions have had on reality.

When John Henry Newman was commissioned by the Bishopric of Dublin to found the first English-speaking catholic university, he found it necessary to conceptualize a new institution that would be capable of combining the ideal of the universality of knowledge with the spiritual philosophical training that this ideal called for. While this approach was highly theoretical rather than empirical, it was widely acclaimed as an incontrovertible background to the conceptualization of liberal education and university right across the United Kingdom and the United States throughout the present century. Ortega y Gasset and Jaspers had a similar impact. Their greatest originality lay in the fact that they both recognized the risks of professionalization and decline of the university at a time marked by profound social and political changes. Ortega produced his “mission,” achieving a pendular movement with which he succeeded in combining the ideas of nature and the function of the university. Although at the beginning, for political reasons, his work was known only in Spain, it was later the object of renewed interest in North American circles, and took its place in the debate and the definition of the era of most extensive expansion of higher education in that region in the 1950s and 1960s. In Germany, Jaspers published his first work in 1923 with the intention of contributing to the reorganization of the German universities in the aftermath of the First World War. He published a revised and updated second edition in 1945. But both versions have one major focus: a concern with rebuilding the spirit of the institution and, in that spirit, to establish its direction as an ideal atmosphere in which to seek truth, scientific achievement, and freedom.

In addition to the recognition and validity that these authors have achieved and still enjoy, it is still possible to propose other perspectives for justifying this task. First of all, it must be borne in mind that although the three thinkers are of such different cultural and historical provenance, they all share one identical postulate: that the spiritual movement that inspires a university would depend on the aim it sets itself. Then, if we take this expression to its ultimate conclusion, it means that the University’s mission, aim, and activities must be ordered according to an idea-direction, without which it would be totally meaningless. And this is the starting-point for the second validation which can explain the theoretical leitmotif of the thinking of the proponent of this thesis. Consequently, in its last part, although it is present from the beginning, it tends to be diluted: what can be the idea—direction—that informs the Latin American university, when one finds that its objectives derive from the scientific-professional model?

The conceptual terms or axes that inform the revision and reconstruction of these three writers, which are later confronted with the current problems of the university, assume different directions. They start by analyzing the nature and mission of the university. In the forefront is the definition of the scope and limitations of the meaning of the university, its essence and vital impulse, followed by consideration of its aspirations: the quest for truth and the realization of its ideal. In second place, they address the aspects that link the university to the world:  the idea of scientific progress; the link between power and the role of the intellectuals.  It is interesting to note that all the methodological support rests on argumentative formulations, seen from a critical and dialogic perspective.

Preliminary Conclusions

The literature on the university in the Region all addresses the following problems: lack of an organic policy which would contribute to its development and consolidation; quantitative expansion of access and low graduation rate; deficient quality and equity of the system; scant representation and generation of new knowledge; lack of links with the society and culture; and paltry financial resources, inter alia. Myriad strategies are formulated and implemented every day. However, the problems raised are heightened and deepened, highlighting the need to debate on something which has hitherto remained absent from contemporary thinking: reflection on the foundations and meaning of the university. For this reason, the idea of the university, considered in terms of its most notable conceptions, assumes outstanding significance.

This importance stems from the reopening of the central issue of the university: that of its nature and mission, of the clarification of its meaning. The task to be undertaken cannot, then, be restricted to making a more or less complete evaluation of the university, nor to structuring a network of possible sociopolitical analyses, nor to concealing the fundamental with partial visions—such as those to which positivist circles are prone. On the contrary, the historic nobility of the university obliges it to assume a dual commitment: first, to adhere on a personal basis to the idea that the university is not a tool for attaining any utilitarian end, e.g. a profession; second, that its very essence escapes disciplinary perspectives since what lies at the very heart of its nature from which it gains its living force remains inaccessible to the positive experience.

This paper has been devoted to elucidating this direction for the university. And the distinctive notes contained in it stem from three considerations: a) The rupture being experienced by the university in the face of the current crisis finds expression in a historic and temporary perplexity. And this is the situation and circumstance in which the university appears to be entrapped in our time. b) The idea of the university can be defined from very different views as to its significance, but they must all be the point of departure for achievement in realistic terms. Without a clear idea of what is considered essential in the university institution, the objectives and activities defined would be much more likely to bring about its decline than its progress. c) The fundamental object of the design and criticism of the university is man and his praxis. And it is precisely for this reason that there is an evident need for a pedagogic-philosophical approach to the university.

Only when it is understood that the problems of the university’s existence are no other than immediate difficulties that distract our capacity to approach it, will it be possible to elevate thinking and look with new eyes at its essence and aim for the modern era. The debate on the idea of the university will then set a standard and context for judging all the problems and the particular forms that its existence assumes. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that the crisis can always be addressed in an even more profound manner, but nothing will fan it more effectively than continued attention to problems and solutions that are not central to an essential approach.

* La Universidad Católica de Córdoba en Argentina está desarrollando un Curso Multinacional de Doctorado en Educación con los auspicios del Programa Regional de Desarrollo Educativo de la OEA desde 1990. Los presentes Adelantos de Investigación corresponden a tesis de doctorado que se encuentran actualmente en proceso. Para información complementaria sobre el referido curso o estas investigaciones dirigir la correspondencia a Dra. Luisa Margarita Schweizer, Decana de la Facultad de Filosofía y Humanidades, Universidad Católica de Córdoba, Obispo Trejo 323, 5000 Córdoba, Argentina.

The Universidad Católica de Córdoba in Argentina is developing a Multinational Program for a Doctorate in Education under the auspices of the Regional Program for Educational Development of the OAS since 1990. The following Research in Progess pertain to doctoral theses currently being undertaken. For more information regarding the above-mentioned program or the following articles, contact Dr. Luisa Margarita Schweizer, Decana de la Facultad de Filosofía y Humanidades, Universidad Católica de Córdoba, Obispo Trejo 323, 5000 Córdoba, Argentina.