Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Governance of Universities: What Is the Role of the University in the Knowledge Society? (1). (Note on Society/Reflexion Sur la Societe)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Governance of Universities: What Is the Role of the University in the Knowledge Society? (1). (Note on Society/Reflexion Sur la Societe)

Article excerpt


The question of the governability of science cannot be posed in isolation from the question of the governance of the university. In recent times there has been a tremendous change in the nature of governance in society more generally and within the institution of the university the nature of governance has also undergone considerable transformation. The twin pillars of modernity, the university and parliament, today exist in very different circumstances. Governance has become increasingly more complex, multi-levelled and shared as more and more actors are drawn into the arenas of power. Along with these changes there has also occurred a tremendous transformation in the nature, status and function of knowledge in society. Knowledge is no longer incidental to the economy and state but has become an integral part of what is now in effect a scientized society. As science become more and more subject to demands for governance, the university as one of the principal knowledge producing institutions inevitably comes under the scrutiny of the state and its regulatory agencies. The governance of universities has thus become a topical issue today. In the UK the Dearing Report on the restructuring of British higher education speaks of a new 'social contract' between the university, the state, industry and families (Dearing, 1997). But more fundamental than this tendential crisis of legitimacy that comes with the societal question of how universities should be governed is the question of how universities govern themselves. What does the future hold for academic self-governance?

The western university, it should be recalled, was itself one of the most important innovators in self-governance. Universities have always been based on some degree of academic governance, which has been the institutional expression of the 'republican' principle of the autonomy of knowledge in modernity and which goes back to the medieval origins of the university as a corporate organization modelled on the medieval guilds. The two main models of academic governance were professorial self-governance and, from the 1960s as a result of student power, shared governance. Even in the very much changed circumstances of the present time, most universities are still run on some degree of academic self-governance in which professors and students have a dominant voice in the governance of the university. However, on the one side this is very much diminished as a result of neo-managerialism which has undermined academic self-governance and, on the other side, the external environment is imposing new demands on the univ ersity to be more accountable. The result is that academic self-governance is mostly ceremonial, lacking any real basis. The question of governance in fact arises in the context of a crisis of legitimacy for the university. For the first time academic freedom in the university is in question as is in society more generally the autonomy of science. To what extent is academic self-governance an anachronistic myth inappropriate to the knowledge society and mass democracies? Is the freedom of science an illusion that is better given up in view of the emergence of new cultures of knowledge which cannot be left to scientists and academics? Has the age of the university passed with the demise of the promises of universalistic conceptions of knowledge?

In the following I shall attempt to deal with some of these questions. Firstly, I look at the university as a site of governance. Secondly, I discuss the question of the alleged crisis of the university. The third section moves onto the question of the changing nature of governance of universities. In the fourth section I consider the possibility of a new model of governance for the university. By way of conclusion, some remarks are made on the idea of technological citizenship as a task for the university to realize.

University and Self-Governance

The university has always been linked to the governance of knowledge. …

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