Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The University and Its Discontents: Egyptian and Global Perspectives

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The University and Its Discontents: Egyptian and Global Perspectives

Article excerpt

Universities have been, and remain, places of questioning and contestation. This is true also of the role and status of the university itself. Particularly in recent years, the "very idea" of a university has been open to radical re-examination from all sides; it is variously pictured as "under attack" or in crisis or inner discord or, in Bill Readings' influential analysis from 1997, as already in "ruins." Is there, can there still be, "unity" in the multiverse of contending aims and agendas that is the university today? More specifically, how do the university's institutions and ideals, born in medieval cultures inspired by classical learning, fare in a world more and more technologically mediated, virtualized, globalized? How do universities preserve their capacity for social critique and independent thought when their campuses and research facilities have been both literally and figuratively infiltrated by corporate, government and military interests and "support"? How do universities resolve the tensions between scholarly detachment and various contending demands and avenues of engagement? How, and to what extent, can "liberal education" stand up to the increasing dominance of corporate-industrial models of 'excellence,' practicality, and productivity, and the overwhelmingly vocational preoccupations of students and other 'stake-holders'?

This issue of Alif addresses the state of the university today, both globally and with a special emphasis on Egypt and its cultural and historical specificities. The articles here re-examine the contending ideas of academic life and the mission of the university in terms of their historical development and their continuing viability. They highlight the special place of universities as centers of academic freedom and open, critical dialogue and dissent, and the precariousness of these ideals in the face of mounting political, religious, nationalistic, and militaristic pressures and forces. …

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