In the context of the ideology established by the market economy, as well as the consequent primacy of material values, people increasingly support the commercialization of knowledge, attempting to transform what was once a public good into something they believe is more useful. The university as an institution, representing a beacon of collective consciousness and the hearth of personal autonomy and socio-political emancipation, appears to be collapsing. Many also argue that useful knowledge is mainly produced outside universities or that academic knowledge is of little interest to society because of its regional character. In fact, a large number of people foresee the end of universities as we know them today and herald its gradual replacement by the so-called “entrepreneurial university”. This will operate according to the principles of marketing and management, basically aiming towards a kind of “academic capitalism”.
The repeated suggestions to change the role and the function of universities in society are creating a new reality. This new reality does not only use the epistemological examples by choice –out of the historical background in which they were formed in particular, but they also obstruct the understanding of the aim of those who suggest or apply these changes- since they extract them from their general political, social and financial context, presenting them as scientifically negligible, in other words technocratic. In this light, one can justify the rise and the sharpness of the attacks against public institutions, which are being accused of having a bureaucratic structure, failing equating function which is ruining for financial growth, absorbing public resources, meager education etc. It is the infamous “Politics of Blame” which has reached alarming levels in many countries.
This “new policy” negatively primarily affects the Humanity Studies faculties, because allegedly they do not contribute to economic growth in a measurable way. However, the fact that modern people adapt to the current technological and financial state along with a lack of a well-founded pedagogical model is to blame for the prevailing moral decline, shallow social conscience, passive worldview, negative politicization and, by extension, for violence. This model will rely on the redefinition of values which will focus on people on the individual level as well as regarding their relation to other people and nature. Herein lies the social significance of the Humanities values adopted by the Faculty of Philosophy, provided that they are able to make this technocratic attitude seem more humane. They also act as a shield from the consumerist frenzy that up until recently deluded us into believing we will live in a constant present. Although this situation may at first not appear promising for our Faculty, the necessity of education remains unquestionable as anyone examining the Faculty’s long-term education practices will discover. After all, the benefits of education are many, but most importantly they contribute to the ability to think critically and form full-fledged personalities.
These are the features of a political and moral human, which are obviously not rejected by any educational policy. Besides, famous universities in foreign countries have for years now posed the question of cultivated scientists. So next to the high standard specification they try to instill in their students attributes such as critical thinking, interest in politics, culture and society. They focus on this, because they consider Human Science as an educational, political and social ideal that boosts democracy, diversity and creativity.
The human sciences, therefore, despite their devaluation in recent years in Greece, can greatly contribute to the interpretation of the modern world’s complexity, to the understanding of fragmented knowledge and to the meanings attached to it, to the development of a new epistemology for life with all its uncertainties. In this context, the oldest Faculty of our University, can with its eight Departments, offer its students significant learning experiences, help them develop their critical ability and build a deep social and political consciousness.
Certainly, the change into complex and complicated systems is never linear. On the contrary, it is subject to the decisions of various institutions and factors. This means that even though all parameters of the current complicated system are known, it doesn’t necessarily entail that this change can be utterly predictable. However, there are critical points for planning the future, including a turn towards strong moral, personal and social values, which require us toget motivated on individual and collective level. This should be our priority, because the way in which children are raised and educated in a society is an indicator for the quality of its future.
Under this perspective, the turning point among the past, present and future could be the humanitarian worldview. Nowadays, more than ever before, it is vital to combine individual achievements and societal effectiveness along with humanitarianism. This is probably our only chance to turn the economic crisis into an opportunity. These elements will help us question this excessive mindset of all sorts of so-called “one-way streets” and will thus enable us to discover strong relationships between culture and education, providing answers to the dialectical opposition both between generic education and the demand for an effective professional training. Reconstructing the future is, or at least should be, a systematic decision-making process among potential solutions to problems. This approach as a whole could be depicted in a circular form, the two main elements of which would be “prognosis” (foreknowledge, forethought, prearrangement), implying that we either prolong or dynamically overturn the current situation, and “utopia”, which bears the meaning of a critical confrontation with the present and the past, as a constructive social and political action. Building the future society is therefore a matter of utmost importance, which is the reason why it should not be entrusted exclusively to political or to economic circles, which misuse science and scientists, acting according to personal interests, forgetting even the academic staff.
In this context, the functional educational and professional training of students – the university’s almost exclusive link with the job market- cannot be considered sufficient for the planning of the future. Whether our children come to a personal, political, social or economic impasse, whether they will resort to destructive solutions, following various exploiters, whether they acquire the ability and willingness to fight to change and improve our society, in order to be part of changing our world, will largely depend on the kind of consciousness they will develop.
It is therefore necessary to set up a new learning dogmatism- a free environment, in which mutual respect between teachers and students will exist, so that young men and women will be able to develop the ability to communicate and think rationally, to develop research and communication skills and be prepared to deal with solemnity and responsibility regarding issues of the real world. After all, without these conditions they will not be able to “name the world, to change it”, as pointed out by Paulo Freire. However, this largely depends on them. It’s time for them to assume their responsibilities and for us, their teachers, to step aside and trust them. Courage is needed. When we awaken and think, the shadows disappear. Otherwise they will eat us alive, for we are delicious.”
Dimitris K. Mavroskoufis,
Professor of Teaching & Learning Methodology and of History of Education,
Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy AUTH