The modern university is commendable for fostering an atmosphere of learning, research and education. Texas State University supports this with the Albert B. Alkek Library, a collection of more than 1.5 million printed volumes, 99,700 electronic journals and 625 databases. Furthermore, it is an open space that favors the promotion of learning and research.
Evidently, the purpose of seeking a university education is to develop a career and to secure eventual employment. In a universe that seems to dedicate attention on the economic question, that is, the gross production of wealth, it appears that the human person is at the mercy of a system in which the competition for gainful employment is impersonal and unforgiving. In the end, it is a question of economics and the human element disappears behind numbers.
Humanism forms the tradition of the modern university and traces its origin to the Renaissance during the 14th century in Italy. Humanism is an intellectual movement that focuses on the re-discovery of humane letters from the classical Greeks and Romans, giving way for a rebirth of the classical patrimony of Europe after centuries of absence during the Middle Ages.
The vision of humanism was founded on an educational movement to teach people the elegance of diction and of writing. The Renaissance marked a progression from the studium generale of the Middle Ages with its emphasis on law, medicine and theology to the studia humanitatis, the humanities as known today of grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history and moral philosophy. Petrarch is regarded as the father of humanism and coined the phrase, “It is better to will the good than to know the truth.”
Secular higher education is an efficient mechanism that serves to educate the minds of thousands of students yearly. It distributes its limitless opportunity in the provision of a curriculum that focuses on the liberal arts of arts, philosophy, religion, social science, mathematics and natural science. There exists, in fact, a simply utilitarian pressure driven by the economic need to educate as many impressionable minds on the cusp of adulthood seeking to contribute to society as possible.
The matter to be resolved is whether as a result of the democratization of education, higher education actually succeeds in its humanism. Indeed, it is certain the contemporary concern of higher education is eminently focused on the performance of knowledge as a response to the standardization of tests, as opposed to fostering habits that teach the human person to think logically, speak well, write beautifully and develop civic virtues that contribute to the common good and to social life.
Universities offer four-year programs with a degree rewarded upon the verification of passing grades, with a greater emphasis from the university for efficiency and an elicited need for performance. This creates an environment of stress and an atmosphere of competition, as opposed to enhancing a setting that serves for mastery of the subject matter and the fostering of virtues of humanity and well-being.
A university education ought to promote the cause of humanism: a tradition that formed the patrimony of Europe for centuries, and created common ways of doing and thinking. It is a common intellectual culture, rich in meaning and powerful in symbolism. The modern library serves as a reminder of that cultural achievement, for a book is a cultural artifact sowing the seeds of knowledge in the mind that is inquisitive and receptive to its reward.
– Patrick Tchakounte is a biochemistry junior