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CollegeQandA asks: How do national politics and universities mix?

How do national politics and universities mix?

Into this rabbit hole we go since I’m late for a very important debate.  The complexity of this question is so deep that in this post I’ll just try to make an argument from the perspective one or two starting assumptions and see where this takes us.

Starting assumptions

Assumption 1 – universities are institutions of learning.

This assumption means that those of us at higher educational institutions are fundamentally there to learn.  This assumption captures both the ideas of research and education.

Assumption 2 – in a democratic society, national politics is about choosing representatives (by a form of majority selection) that will participate in the government systems of decisions that guides and runs a nation.

The  running a nation is far more complex than any one person can possibly understand, and therefore, most of our nations have created a system within which the economy, laws, social programs, and public infrastructure and services are created, administered, and funded.  Representatives in democratic governments modify, add, and delete parts of the system based on their decisions.

So where’s the intersection?

Not surprisingly the intersection itself is complex.  Many people at a university will study and participate in intersecting fields that relate to government such as political science, journalism, sociology, history, …  Universities will get funding, whether through grants, scholarships, or direct dollars that come from the government.  People at the institution (both students and staff) will be voters in the election.  Institutions will suggest policy ideas.  The intersection is massive and because of it the challenges are great on how to navigate changing politics of both institution and nation.

The real question

So, the real question is what is the role of higher education to the nation.  I pose two of many possibilities (with personal bias to 1):

  1. These institutions are places of inquiry and debate where all ideas are part of the open discussion and exploration.  Yes, ideas can be against your beliefs, but ideas should not be hidden just because they’re challenging to you.   This gets even trickier when ideas challenge a core value that many of us have for basic human rights (where human = all humans and rights = {I can’t define this well enough, but it’s related to the golden rule}).  Is there a limit on what ideas can be explored?
  2. These institutions are places of learning such that what is learned is, mainly, applicable to economic growth and older ideas, which includes students developing a better understanding of the world and being prepared to work within our national economies.

One more piece to the puzzle

Technology – Every new technology is a Pandora’s box that gives us benefits and costs, and each technology impacts the capabilities of us, our institutions, and our nation.  Computation, AI, DNA, nuclear energy, all-2-all communication on the internet, and so on allow us to do new things, but always come with some cost/change.

So, how should universities deal with politics while dealing with an ever changing technological world?  We should provide a space to discuss, debate, think, and question possibilities.  Where else is this going to happen?  Or, we can just ignore all of it – and read the next article in my feed.