Saturday, May 16, 2009

University or Institute?

Across the pages of human history we find a trail of cries like: think like us or we will stone you, think like us or die at swords point, think like us or burn at the stake, think like us or be excommunicated, think like us or be exiled, think like us or be treated at an asylum for the mentally ill.

In the gentler climate of modern America it is more usual to hear: think like us or we will shout you down, think like us or we will not listen.

There seems to be a genetic inclination toward intellectual insecurity and intellectual bullying and groupthink and following the payed pipers of conformity which is inimical to civil dialog and social progress. It is a phenomenon that may be summarily described as a strong form of "ideology." Thinking inside an ideological box is frequently described by ideologues as "principled."

Ideologues may actually believe that their "principles" are sacred and that "principled" behavior is always correct behavior and they will not accept contrary views, however well founded. This attitude may suffice to delay change for considerable periods of time, sometimes for millenia. Long term, it has always failed. In the field of science, which has a better record of achievement than most other human activities, it has been superseded by the scientific method, which depends upon fact and reason and skeptical review.

However, we are what we are and inflexible ideologues have always been with us. The question now is whether ideologues shall be permitted to dominate a university, because universities are claimed to be places where fact and reason are learned and respected. I have a modest suggestion which might relieve the tension.

Let's just agree that ideologues have a right to dominate here and there but that the places they dominate shall not be called "universities." That is a small price to pay for amicable coexistence. For example, instead of the "University of Notre Dame" we might wind up with the "Catholic Institute of Notre Dame" - if circumstances should justify that change.

. . . . . . . . . .

5/17/09 I have now witnessed the graduation ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame. There is nothing so revealing as actually "being there" even if only by electronic media. To my delight, I am now convinced that Notre Dame is and will continue to be a great university.


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