Sunday 10 October 2010

University in the wild

I'm thinking about a 'wild' university, as opposed to the 'cultivated' (and genetically-engineered) variety that we are so familiar with. Following yesterdays thoughts about custodianship, the implications of a wild university are interesting. The value systems of governments which determine 'fairness', 'fitness', 'rigour', 'value for money' and whose value is transferred to students through qualification is a centrally-controlled value system which privileges normative value and truth-statements: "Joe bloggs is worthy of the award of a degree in Botany from Oxford"; "he is competent in botany". Why does Joe Bloggs need a qualification to make assertions about his ability at botany?

Understanding truth is pretty central this. Bhaskar's truth tetrapolity is useful here. He has four dimensions to it:
1. Normative fiduciary
2. adequating
3. expressive-referential
4. alethic
The qualification is a warrant, making a statement about his botany ability a 'warranted assertion' (adequating). But does the warrant have to come from an institution? Could it come directly from other botanists? This might equate to the 'referential expressive' dimension of truth. Then there is the 'alethic' truth of Joe himself as a botanist in convincing others of his botany ability: maybe this is the 'tacit' botanist in him which other botanists may detect. He needs no institution to have that, although the institution may have helped him develop it. How could Joe's botany ability become normative? How could a statement about Joe's botany be trusted?

It is partly to address these aspects of truth that I think we institutionalise quality in the way we do. If we can think of alternative answers to these questions, then a university in the wild might be a possibility...

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