What is a University?

Daphne Plessner

The popular perception of the University today involves notions of hierarchies of knowledge distribution and centres of excellence. The University is also regarded as a space where the values of social equality and mobility allegedly are reproduced, carrying the traces of sentiments such as those in which education is seen as a social good, a preparation for public life and civic responsibility. However, despite this general conception, students may look to a University for material, that is, career advantages, lecturers believe that universities are for critical inquiry and self-development (at least in Europe and America), and managers see it as a business enterprise and replicate the economic strategies of neo-liberalism. None of these conceptions sit very well together. In fact, they conflict sharply. The pressing question then is, What is a University? This project investigates and responds to this problematic question by looking more carefully at how people imagine the idea of a University. What exactly are the assumptions of say, a group of research students? How do different universities instigate and enforce the boundaries of membership and participation? And exactly what kind of education is on offer when universities operate as a 'service' industry with a managerial rationale borrowed from the business models of corporate capitalism? These questions weave through a series of collaborative and interventionist art projects, some of which are still under development and others have yet to be realised. The point is not to arrive at an answer, but to capture the experience of the University in transition and to problematise its conditions.