What was the University?

Glory and Decay of an Idea

Interdisciplinary Honors Seminar

01:090:296:H2 [Index: 06721]; Tues 12:10–3:10PM, MU 208

Prof. Dominik Zechner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;

What is this strange institution that you enter after high school and to which you dedicate four-plus years of your adult life? What does it mean to be in college? What are the implicit disciplinary constraints at play in the university? What power mechanisms are at work in the subjectification of students? This course is designed as an exercise in introspection: we will discuss the very institution that enframes our daily lives, namely the university. As we shall see, the idea of the university has changed drastically in the course of its historical unfolding––from its classical humanist ideal to the neoliberal cash cows that structure today’s academic landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced yet another paradigm shift in that the event of teaching was banished to the Zoom screen and the transmission of knowledge morphed into a digital broadcasting enterprise.

This interdisciplinary seminar will offer students the possibility of interrogating their own position as subjects of educational institutions. We will examine a variety of concepts and critical traditions in order to reflect upon our own institutionally ascribed and determined roles as learners, scholars, teachers, professors, “intellectuals,” mentors & mentees. We will view the university as a site of emancipation where free research and the free expression and exchange of ideas are fostered and consolidated, while not losing sight of the university as a power-structure in which specific types of coercion are at play.

The seminar will be considering a transdisciplinary canon including philosophical and theoretical writings, literary texts, and visual media. Authors to be read include Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Wendy Brown, and Zadie Smith. The course trajectory will culminate in a discussion of Netflix’ The Chair (2021). All students with a penchant for critical self-reflection are welcome!

Fulfills SAS Core Goal: WCd (Writing and Communication in a Discipline)