The theme which was proposed to me for today was specifically introduced to this university by the model and precedent of my predecessor, Karl Jaspers. So I will follow the suggestion to reflect upon how we today evaluate the university in terms of its idea and reality. In discussing this subject matter I would claim a double justification. One is the detachment of age which allows me to view the university of today from a distance of almost two decades during which I have not been an active member of this university. The other is that the universal concern of the philosopher is to seek distance, to preserve this as a basic value and, yes, even to recognize this as a fundamental human responsibility.
I wish to present my reflections as a free sequence of remarks and not as a commemorative speaker. I wish rather to express what affects me. When I chose the title, "The Idea of the University -- Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow," I did not intend to undertake a historical review or a prophetic prognosis. Rather I will try to order my thoughts from the perspective of today which always stands between yesterday and tomorrow. Although I repeat the title of Jaspers' three public statements concerning the idea of the university from the years 1923, 1945, and 1961, that also does not mean that I will follow this sequence nor hold the same position. Everyone must come to terms with reality in their own way and I believe that whoever wants to come to terms with reality has to recognize that ideas and reality always belong together and are always apart.
I would like to briefly remind you that the specific structure of the university which developed in our German culture has, in the meantime, become a model for universities in many countries around the world. Humboldt's founding of the University of Berlin expressed a PrussianProtestant critique of the more or less orthodox style of teaching and learning during the Enlightenment. We are conscious of this model as embodying this critique. That however implies that we are conscious of the critical situation in which this idea began to seek its reality. Knowing this, we may be convinced that it is not something completely new and perhaps also not something completely bad when a nation -- or even humanity -- knows itself to be in a critical situation. At any rate it was____________________