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The author reflects on the importance of civic engagement in the universities. Topics discussed include emergence of public intellectualism by the civic role of universities via academic programming and outreach activities, flourishing of corporate identity of universities and importance of questions and conversation for universities as the fundamental tools of intellectual trade. It also mentions the need of provision of information about civic structures in universities. Reference: Udas, Ken. “Would We Be Missed?” Social Alternatives 34, no. 2 (April 2015): 63-66.
Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No 2, 2015 63
Would We Be Missed?
ken udas
theMed CoMMentary
Practically, the unique purpose of the university is to
foster a culture of critical questioning, sharing it with
our next generation of students, and nurturing a critical
impulse in the broader society. If we do nothing else, we
ought to be a model of critical culture – holding ourselves
to the highest and most exacting standards, constantly
dialoguing, constantly challenging, and defending
the current and assumed state of knowledge. While
showing intellectual leadership publicly, we absolutely
value academic methods of questioning and engaging
in the logic of change and willingly submit to the scrutiny
of our peers, but never submit to illegitimate external
pressure or personal economic impact. We value
participation in the broader society, disseminating new
knowledge, taking inspiration from what happens outside
our campuses, asserting the values of the academy,
balancing the inherent tension between academic
objectivity and engaging in topics that are inherently
value laden. Although conservative in our governance
and methods, we are by denition progressive in spirit.
We strive to discover truth and meaning, while never
being completely satised with revealed truth. Well, this
is what we might aspire to in any event. It is to serve
these purposes that the rights and responsibilities of
academic freedom have evolved, and it may be through
the lack of exercise that they can be diminished.
Let’s move on with a simple question. Given the critical
and conversational nature of the university as described
above, what does it mean for a university to have a civic
role? Starting something, anything, everything, with a
question is a uniquely academic trait. It is a quality that
excites other academics, raises a cautious smile from
seasoned university administrators, and tends to bafe
and frustrate many others outside of the university
fellowship. It also points to the unique nature and
purpose of the university. Although there are others in all
types of organisations who ask questions, there perhaps
are no others who love questions so much as those who
inhabit universities.
Questions and conversation are important parts of
university life, serving not only as principal sources of
inspiration and the fundamental tools of intellectual
trade, but also as the university’s unique and dening
quality. As such, the purposes of the questions and
the ensuing conversation are tied to the fundamental
purpose of the university and are frequently implied in
university missions. The questions of highest quality lead
to conversations that are at times enjoyable and even
playful, sometimes uncomfortable and confronting, but
when posed in the university they are always purposeful.
And those within the academic community who are most
able to pose purposeful questions and lead the evolving
conversation, engage colleagues, students, and the
broader public, while using the methods of discovery
rened within the disciplines with delity, and are those
who full the fundamental university purpose most ably.
Arguments judged as well-reasoned and compelling by
peers are rewarded, while arguments that captivate the
imaginations of the public transcend the university.
And of course good questions often lead to more
questions, which is well illustrated in this issue of Social
Alternatives. If we are going to ask about the university’s
civic role, we really do need to eventually ask ourselves
about the nature of the university. What is it and what are
its purposes? These two questions are so closely related
that it is nearly impossible to meaningfully tease out one
from the other. I will start poking at what the university
is by referring to a story about Ernst Kantorowicz, a
scholar of some note, who in the early 1950s was at the
centre of a loyalty oath controversy at the University of
California where he served as a full professor.1 Through
Kantorowicz’s story we start framing what the university
is and can see how the university is perhaps something
different from many other organisations and how that
might shape the way we respond to our questions about
its purpose and civic roles.
While serving the University of California, Dr. Kantorowicz
was asked and subsequently refused to sign a loyalty oath.
He had at least two general reasons for refusing to sign.
First, but not foremost, oaths according to Kantorowicz,
have an insidious way of restraining inquiry and speech.
Second, although Kantorowicz acknowledged that the
State of California had the authority to demand oath
signing of its employees, including those at the University
of California, it did not have the authority to ask it of the
professoriate. To this second point Kantorowicz (1950)
asserts that:
There are three professions which are entitled to
wear a gown: the judge, the priest, the scholar.
This garment stands for its bearer's maturity of
64 Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No. 2, 2015
mind, his independence of judgment, and his direct
responsibility to his conscience and to his God.
It signies the inner sovereignty of those three
interrelated professions: they should be the very
last to allow themselves to act under duress and
yield to pressure. It is a shameful and undignied
action, it is an affront and a violation of both
human sovereignty and professional dignity that
the Regents of this University have dared to bully
the bearer of this gown into a situation in which
– under the pressure of a bewildering economic
coercion – he is compelled to give up either his
tenure or, together with his freedom of judgment,
his human dignity and his responsible sovereignty
as a scholar.
… Why is it so absurd to visualize the Supreme
Court justices picketing their court, bishops
picketing their churches, and professors picketing
their university?
The answer is very simple: because the judges are
the Court, the ministers together with the faithful
are the Church, and the professors together with
the students are the University. Unlike ushers,
sextons, and beadles, the judges, ministers, and
professors are not Court employees, Church
employees, and University employees. They are
those institutions themselves, and therefore they
have certain prerogative rights to and within their
institutions which ushers, sextons, and beadles or
janitors do not have.
The point here is that in the university, its professors and
students are fundamentally different from employees
working for, and contributing to, the university-corporate:
they are the thing itself. They stand outside of the
employer-employee relationship, and ultimately it is the
thing that must regulate itself. At least at some level, this
is to help ensure the existence of conditions necessary for
objectivity to pursue the truth and address controversial
topics. This is a very convenient way of framing what the
university is in accordance with its purpose, and what the
university is as a corporate entity. The former has always
been central. It captures the roles of the professoriate
and students, and denes the idea of the university. The
university-corporate has become increasingly important
in the contemporary university, and is dened by the
growing ranks of administrators, tradespeople, labourers,
professionals, and academic managers – of which I
am one – who are now required to run the university
corporation. To provide some clarity, I will refer to the
professoriate and the students as the university, while
referring to what remains as the university-corporate
in a manner not unlike the body-corporate. The term
professoriate, in its common use, describes both an
individual and a collective. As a collective, it refers to
a group of professors, frequently serving the same
university, college, or school, but it also describes a
collective identity extending beyond organisational
structures. It turns on age old notions of collegiality that
respect both the individual scholar’s autonomy as a
free thinker, and protects the integrity of the profession
and idea of community. As such it underpins the notion
of a self-regulating, critical, and reective community
of scholars committed to the growth of knowledge that
enjoy both the privileges and responsibilities of academic
freedom – once again, a concept that means little without
the notion of a professoriate.
The university-corporate is intended to serve the university
and its purposes. So, within the context of the university’s
purpose, the university is an organisation designed to
support the purpose of the professoriate and students.
And the purpose of the university is to learn, advance
our understandings of truth through critical questioning
and discovery, and in so doing, grow our knowledge
and improve our practice. When referring to the entity
more generally, the university is the combination of the
professoriate, students, and the university-corporate.
The purpose of the academic conversation according
to many international benchmark universities is to
discover and disseminate knowledge in the pursuit of
truth, while the purpose of the university-corporate is to
provide the conditions under which such a purpose can
be pursued and in which excellence can be achieved. In
our non-academic lives, truths and truth claims tend to
be relatively casual and are stated with ease. We expect
marketers to stretch the truth while trying to convince us
it is in our best interest to consume, and we expect mass
media corporations to simplify the truth to appeal to the
least common denominator, and we expect politicians,
special interest groups, corporations, and government
organisations to massage, spin, and selectively reveal
truths to promote their own objectives. We interpret
these truths, when we can, with a lter that accounts for
the agenda we believe is being promoted or the hidden
agenda that must be assumed.
In our academic life, on the other hand, we expect that
truth claims have no alternative or hidden agenda.
Although, it would be naïve to assert that this is always
the case it is something meaningful and valuable to
strive toward, something that generates excitement when
the norms are egregiously broken, and something that
virtually no other organisational type can claim as their
principal purpose.
This purpose that is unique to the university has inuenced
the creation of distinctive structures and practices that
have evolved to support the university’s special role as
Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No 2, 2015 65
trusted pursuer, discoverer, challenger, preserver, and
distributor of truth. We have created rules of exploration
designed to ensure that unwanted external and personal
inuence do not inuence our truth claims. To this end
we strive to ensure objectivity, methodological rigor, and
transparency. Our structures are based on the values of
meritocracy, in which ideas and truth claims are judged
by peer review, through patient, methodical, and layered
processes ensuring validity.
We assert that we can be trusted to make truth claims
because we are objective, but not necessarily value-
neutral in our purpose, and where our objectivity might
be questioned, we are obliged to make that clear. We are
bound by professional standards to make our assumptions
and our purposes transparent like few other professional
communities. This has resulted in the development of
commonly assumed practices of academic governance,
the institution of tenure, and the rights and responsibilities
of academic freedom.
Taken together, our serious purpose and principle-based
structures and norms make us different from other
types of organisations, leaving us with an other-worldly
aspect, ample opportunity for misunderstanding in the
general public, vulnerable to uninformed criticism, and
with an unfortunate tendency to become self-absorbed
and insular. At the end of our day though, we provide
something singular to civil society. We create a unique
culture designed to engender trust in the service of
progress, based on reason that works through the
patient and conservative processes in which universities
contribute to the common store of knowledge. And when
practised with delity, those values and structures confer
the professor with a special status in society – one that
Kantorowicz has already alluded to.
I have come the long way around to the rst point that I
wanted to make. Universities are fundamentally different
from other types of organisations, and these differences
are critical to our leading question. What does it mean for
a university to have a civic role? Because we are different
from other types of organisations, our roles will likely be
different from other organisations. Broadly speaking,
we can express our civic role through our academic
programming and outreach activities, which can be
interpreted as public intellectualism. All of our academic
programming can articulate our civic role through formal
instruction and the informal curriculum, both of which have
an expressive intellectual quality.
As previously suggested, the university’s civic role by
denition ought to be somewhat radical. I am using the
term to indicate a line of questioning intended to challenge
the fundamental nature of civic life, and the assumptions
and arrangements of public life. That is, I am suggesting
that we need to be active and we need to express values.
Although the civic role may be intensely value-laden, it
must also meet the standards that we hold for ourselves
and our peers as university scholars. This needs to
be reected in our teaching and learning as part of the
university’s public intellectual role.
So, what type of teaching do we want to provide in service
of our civic role? Stanley Aronowitz in The Knowledge
Factory indicated that there are three types of ends for
university teaching – occupational, assimilative, and
transformative. And according to Aronowitz (2000: 1; 143),
the curricular intent at many universities is shifting from
critical to conformist suggesting that:
It is becoming harder to nd a place where learning,
as opposed to ‘education’ and ‘training’, is the main
goal. Training prepares the student in knowledges
that constitute an occupation or a particular set of
skills. For the most part, graduate schools train
students to enter a profession. Education prepares
the student to take her place in society in a manner
consistent with its values and beliefs. Whatever
content the school delivers, the point is to help the
student adapt to the prevailing order, not assimilate
its values in terms of her own priorities and
interests. Education is successful when the student
identies with social and cultural authorities.
There is thus not much evidence of real learning
taking place at most postsecondary institutions, if
by that we mean the process by which a student
is motivated to participate in, even challenge,
established intellectual authority.
Obviously, the civic role of universities will include
provision of information about current civic structures and
norms, but must also embrace pedagogy that is designed
for engaging and initiating change through critical and
effective engagement. That is, we should be concerning
ourselves with higher education for learning. As such the
university should be uniquely suited to provide rigorous
and critical learning that includes a set of values, and also
rigor and authenticity. We should see evidence of this
through the exercise of academic freedom, expression
from the professoriate, and the enculturation of such
values and behaviours in learners. While it might be all
right for others in other types of organisations to ignore
facts as they emerge or ignore methodological rigor, this
ought not to be so for the university. This brings me to a
central point.
There are no other types of organisations available
to participate in the civic dialogue that are dedicated
66 Social Alternatives Vol. 34 No. 2, 2015
to growing knowledge, pursuing truth, and advancing
learning that are bound to take inquiry where it leads
based on disciplinary standards – an organisation that
values getting it right more than getting it done quickly,
one that is patient, and sometimes impractical, but always
reective and sceptical.
What happens when we remove ourselves from our civic
role? Will anybody notice? Will anybody else take our
place? Bart Giamatti, former president of Yale University
along with many others, has clearly stated that when we
become silent and withdraw from society, others will ll
the vacuum that we have left, and those from outside
the university will redefine the university for us and
communicate it with self-assumed authority in the eye
of the public. So who will ll the vacuum left when the
university is not present and fullling its civic role, when
academics fall silent, and the only questions students are
disposed to ask are about their compensation packages
upon leaving the university? Will it be Halliburton, the
National Rie Association, News Corporation, a political
party, an organised church, or any number of other
organisations with a vested interest in civic expression that
lls our role? Does the nature of the dialogue and public
life more generally suffer from our absence?
Removing ourselves from the dialogue is one way to
reduce our civic role, but perhaps more likely and less
noticeably is removing or compromising the university
while maintaining an active and present university-
corporate. What happens when the university adopts
a self-identity that is much more like a business or a
government agency than a community of scholars?
And this is what we need to understand and resist. By
abandoning our identity as a university, allowing the
university-corporate to change the character of the
university beyond meaningful recognition, we threaten
to remove an important part of the civic ecosystem, one
that is active, but intellectually rigorous – one whose voice
is ‘academic’ and is of the university, with the university-
corporate serving that voice. We must trust the university
and its culture to represent itself.
As public funding for higher education has contracted
for both teaching and research in many developed
countries there is no question that the university has
changed signicantly. The trend we refer to as the
corporatisation of the university has transposed the
relationship between the university and the university-
corporate. This is reected in growing reliance on adjunct
faculty, for whom academic freedom does not apply;
increased emphasis on occupational training and a
reduction in general or liberal learning; the empowerment
of the student as customer; and the assumption that a
university education is principally a private good, creating
a transactional relationship between students, teachers,
and the university-corporate that does not support either
learning or a discourse necessary for the university to
raise to its critical and reective civic role.
The principal opportunity that the university has to reclaim
its ability to ll its civic role is simply to be itself. More
accurately, at many post-secondary institutions it needs
to reassert itself. The university can do so through its
curriculum, pedagogy, and the shared understanding
between the professoriate and learners of what it means
to be university educated, critical, and engaged in public
life as part of a university community of scholars: in
short, what it means to exercise a civic role as a public
Aronowitz, S. 2000 The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling
the corporate university and creating true higher
learning, Beacon Press, Boston, MA.
Kantorowicz, E. [1950] 1999 The Fundamental Issue:
Documents and marginal notes on the University
of California Loyalty Oath [Reprint] http://sunsite.
symposium/kantorowicz.html (accessed 20/02/15).
University of California. 2006 ‘The Loyalty Oath
Controversy, University of California 1949-1951’ http://
loyaltyoath/index.html (accessed 20/02/15).
Ken Udas currently serves as the Deputy Vice Chancellor
of Academic Services and CIO of the University of
Southern Queensland, a role he began in 2013. From
2009-2012, Udas served as the CEO of UMass Online.
Prior to this, Udas spent three years as the Executive
Director of Penn State World Campus. Udas has also
held positions as the Director of the SUNY Learning
Network and as the Director of the eLearning Group
at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. He actively
promotes open culture and practice through a range of
professional activities.
End Notes
1. For more information about the Loyalty Oath scandals at the
University of California, see ‘The Loyalty Oath Controversy, University
of California 1949-1951’
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The Fundamental Issue: Documents and marginal notes on the University of California Loyalty Oath
  • E Kantorowicz
Kantorowicz, E. [1950] 1999 The Fundamental Issue: Documents and marginal notes on the University of California Loyalty Oath [Reprint] http://sunsite. symposium/kantorowicz.html (accessed 20/02/15).