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A Reaction Paper on the History of Universities

by Harold Perkin

A university (Latin: universitas, "a whole") is an institution of higher

(or tertiary) education and research which awards academic degrees in

various academic disciplines. ... The word "university" is derived from the

Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means

"community of teachers and scholars."

The paper is about a review on the study of every aspect of university

history development, structure, teaching, and research from the Middle Ages

to the modern period, as well as to the history of scholarship more generally.

All advanced civilizations have needed higher education to train their

ruling, priestly, military, and other service elites, but only in medieval

Europe did an institution recognizable as a university arise: a school of

higher learning combining teaching and scholarship and characterized by its

corporate autonomy and academic freedom. The Confucian schools for the

mandarin bureaucracy of imperial China, the Hindu gurukulas and

Buddhist vihares for the priests and monks of medieval India, the madrasas

for the mullahs and Quranic judges of Islam, the Aztec and Inca temple

schools for the priestly astronomers of pre-Columbian America, the

Tokugawa han schools for Japanese samurai—all taught the high culture,

received doctrine, literary and/or mathematical skills of their political or

religious masters, with little room for questioning or analysis.

The same might be said for the monastic schools of early medieval

Europe that kept alive biblical studies and classical learning in the Dark

Ages between the fall of Rome and the 12th century Renaissance. The

athenaeums and lyceums of ancient Greece had some of the characteristics

of the medieval European university, free speculative thought and the

challenge to authority, band for much the same reason, the fragmentation of

authority and possibility of escape for the dissident philosopher to another

city, but they never achieved the corporate form that gave the university its

permanence. Only in Europe from the 12th century onwards did an

autonomous, permanent, corporate institution of higher learning emerge

and survive, in varying forms, down to the present day.

The university was the accidental product of a uniquely fragmented

and decentralized civilization. The Europe that emerged out of the violence

and chaos of the Germanic and Viking invasions was fractured and divided

on every dimension: between church and state, and within them between

multiple layers of authority from emperor and pope through baron and

bishop. These demanded the allegiance of society and imposed two systems

of law, canon and civil, with equal jurisdiction over the faithful.

In the mutually destructive strife between empire and papacy, power

was “up for grabs” and fractionated out in a hierarchy of competing

authorities: king and archbishop, duke and abbot, free county and free city,

manorial lord and parish priest. In the interstices of power, the university

could find a modestly secure niche, and play off one authority against
another. Unintentionally, university evolved into an immensely flexible

institution, able to adapt to almost any political situation and form of

society. In this way, university was able to survive for eight centuries and

migrate, eventually, to every country and continent in the world. Designed

originally for a cosmopolitan world in which scholars from every part of the

Christian West could gather at key centers and communicate in Latin, it

outlived that world and adjusted itself to a succession of divergent social

and political systems. After helping to destroy the medieval world order at

the Reformation, the universities were “nationalized” by the emerging

nation-states in the religious wars between Catholic and Protestant, which

they served as instruments of propaganda warfare. During the 18th century

Enlightenment they declined to such an extent that they were bypassed by

the Scientific Revolution and the rise of new philosophies and social

sciences, and were in danger of disappearing altogether. Indeed, the French

Revolution abolished them in France and the conquered territories, but

resurrected them again in the form of the grandesecoles and the Napoleonic

University of France.

At the same time the old universities were revitalized in Scotland and,

above all, in Germany, where a new model of professorial organization

combining teaching and research emerged and came to be emulated all over

Europe and, eventually, in countries overseas, including the United States

and Japan. That form of university was especially suited to the needs of the

new society produced by the Industrial Revolution, to which it belatedly but

brilliantly adjusted.

Meanwhile, the expansion of Europe by conquest and colonization

spread the university to other continents, from the 16th century to the

Spanish empire, from the 17th to the English and French colonies in North

America, and later to other continents, including India, Australia and New

Zealand, Africa, and even to China, the Middle East, and Japan. It became

an instrument not only of modernization on the Western model but, in the

shape of nationalist ideology and student unrest, of the anticolonial reaction

against Western domination of Asia and Africa. Finally, in the worldwide

expansion of higher education that followed World War II, university

transformed itself once again, into the pivotal institution of a new kind of

society. In this new post-industrial or professional society, agriculture and

manufacturing became so efficient, partly with the help of the scientific

research produced by the university and its offshoots, the technical colleges

and research institutes, that most people came to work in service industries,

increasing numbers of whom would require specialized high-level training.

This entailed the transition from elite to mass higher education, from a

system catering to less than 5% of the student age group to one catering to

more than 15%, and even for as much as 30 to 50% in the most advanced

countries. Not all of these were in universities but in increasing numbers of

technical colleges, community colleges, short-cycle institutions, and the like,

which had first arisen to serve the needs of industrial society, and now came

to train the second tier below the university level.

In most countries, however, the university and its institutional

offspring became so large and expensive, so dependent on the state for

resources, and, like the state itself, so bureaucratized, that it was once more

dominated by superior authority. The cost of becoming the axial institution

of modern post-industrial society is that the university has become, or is in

danger of becoming, an integral organ of the state or the corporate.

It is not possible to fully describe the importance of the University

without mentioning its role in the social events of the first fifty years after

the World War II, when the country became liberated. The University was

the very center of resistance to retrograde and undemocratic policy of the

authorities, from the first student demonstrations in 1968 to the political

struggles in the last decade of the 20th century. This confirmed the fact that

the University remains the focal point of all social battles.

As students at a university, you are part of a great tradition. Consider

the words you use: campus, tuition, classes, courses, lectures, faculty,

students, administration, chancellor, dean, professor, sophomore,

junior, senior, fees, assignments, laboratory, dormitory, requirements,

prerequisites, examinations, texts, grades, convocation, graduation,

commencement, procession, diploma, alumni association, donations,

and so forth. These are the language of the university, and they are all

derived from Latin, almost unchanged from their medieval origins. The

organization of this university, its activities and its traditions, are

continuations that took place in Paris almost 800 years ago.

Some schools had been established, however, and continued through

the worst of the times that followed. Their object was to train priests, and
their curriculum was designed to do that and little more. The course of

study consisted of two parts, the grammar school in which the trivium

(the "three- part curriculum," from which our word "trivial" is derived),

consisting of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Grammar trained the student

to read, write, and speak Latin, the universal language of the European

educated classes; rhetoric taught the art of public speaking and served as

an introduction to literature; and logic provided means of demonstrating the

validity of propositions, as well as serving as an introduction to the

quadrivium (the "four-part curriculum") of arithmetic, geometry,

astronomy, and music.

Why graduation is called Commencement (and no, it's not because

it's the beginning of your "real life"). In the large halls where students and

faculty ate, the faculty used to eat at table on a raised platform at one end of

the long line of tables at which the students sat. When the students finished

their course of study and graduated, they became fully-fledged members of

the University and equals of the faculty. Consequently, at the grand banquet

with which they celebrated their graduation, faculty and former students

(both the newly-graduated and alumni) ate together as equals. They shared

tables, or, in the Latin of the time, they ate at a commensa, a common table

for all. This is why, not so long ago, Commencement and Reunion took place

at the same time and why the University Dinner was the high point of the

graduation events.
Barangay Carmen, Cagayan de Oro City

Reaction Paper


Development and Education and History of Universities

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Course

Economics and Education

Submitted by:

Nelia E. Grafe
Ph.D. Student

Submitted to

Reynaldo Manuel, Ph.D.


October 21, 2017