Comment of the Day: JEC: The Uses of a University: "It's worth expanding on this a bit. Brad is advocating for a particular view of the purpose(s) of a university—a view I happen to share. But to understand the debate, we need to bear in mind that this view isn't the only one with a substantial following...
...I'd say that there are at least three distinct views of the function of universities with significant influence both inside and outside the academy. For convenience, I'll call them (1) Truth; (2) Justice; and (3) the American Way:
"Truth" is the view Brad articulates (and with which I agree): the university exists to provide a very specific kind of discourse community designed to be biased against many human cognitive biases. (Not to be free of human cognitive biases, of course: the first thing you notice about any university campus is that there seem to be humans everywhere but hardly any Transcendent Beings of Pure Reason. It's kind of appalling, really.) In any event, Brad lays out this view well, so I won't elaborate further here.
The "Justice" view is grounded in the notion that the exercise of power over one human being by another is either morally wrong in itself or, at minimum, is highly suspect (on the grounds that power corrupts, and, well, people suck). The function of the university, in this context, is to oppose or, at minimum, to lean against prevailing power relations. More specifically, the university's role is to "unmask" latent power relations and, by revealing them and laying out how they work, to undermine them. Justice advocates criticize the Truth folks for naiveté: nobody seeks all the truths, or even truths selected at random from some cosmic question bin. We make choices about what questions we ask, and those choices either reinforce or undermine the prevailing arrangement of power.
Finally, the "American Way" view holds that it's a mistake (and a self-serving one) to try to assign any "higher mission" whatsoever to the university. There's nothing special or distinctive about universities; they're just part of life, like McDonald's, auto body repair shops, book clubs, urgent care clinics, Facebook, and bowling alleys. In particular, universities shouldn't be some kind of exclusive "discourse community" (wince), and efforts to make them such should be interpreted as nothing more than heavy-handed rhetorical power plays.
One of the great frustrations of the "campus PC debate," such as it is, is that it is so often framed as a two-sided conflict between Team Justice and Team American Way, with both characterizing Team Truth as a mere stalking horse for their opponents. (Team Truth, for its part, has a bad habit of characterizing Team Justice and/or Team American Way as straw men; they're not.)...