Why your university experience matters

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

Being a Brock student in 2022 means that you are a global exception, most people on Earth do not go to university. Historically, the university has facilitated the best aspects of our humanity and you are now a part of that legacy. 

The university in the sense that we understand it today, that of being a degree-awarding community of scholars and teachers without any necessary ecclesiastical ties, emerged in the year 1088 AD in medieval Europe in the form of the University of Bologna in Italy. A document formed at this particular university that set it apart from its more church-bound antecedents called the Constitutio Habita. The document was a charter that allowed scholars from different societies to travel freely into the Italian border in search of the University’s educational services. 

In 1988, 900 years later, roughly 400 universities signed a document called the Magna Charta Universitatum in Bologna which is still being signed by educational institutions to this day around the globe. The document ensures the principles of educational freedom that were foundational to the development of the first university.

Now, it would be nice if said notions of educational freedom warranted a crack down on the pernicious for-profit practices that have come into play with the corporatization of the university in the last few decades in North America. Practices, by the way, that see students swimming in debt which creates residual class barriers to higher education. But I digress.

The main point is that you are now a part of this global community of scholars who have been a part of upholding the commitments of educational freedom for nearly a millennium. 

Another consequence of the corporatization of the university mentioned above is that corporate atomization — the divide and conquer attitude that the international, profit-maximizing, private sector is known for — becomes reflected in educational practices and aspirations. The clock-in clock-out attitude that gets students to their degrees so they can hopefully find a stable job, while understandable from a practical standpoint, erodes a lot of what makes the university magic. 

Getting lost in curiosity, exploring different interests, rebuilding the self; these are things that are sorely missed when university becomes a chore or simply a means to an end. It’s a tragedy that young people are dropping out of university at record rates. Especially when a lot of my own anecdotal evidence suggests that it has to do with not feeling like you have “your thing” when everyone else does.

Many people are probably familiar with a phenomenon specific to those who are in university but who don’t have an occupational end goal in sight. I’m speaking of the proverbial “I have no idea” that’s often enunciated with an ideologically instantiatied wince or nervous chuckle in response to the question of what said person is planning to do after their time at university is up. Anything tantamount to an “I don’t know” in response to that question should be said with glee and would be understood as a celebratory exclamation at the thrill of unhindered intellectual exploration.

So my challenge for you, incoming Brock students of 2022, is to not forget about getting lost on purpose. Embrace the university as an end in itself to the best of your ability and you will be in step with the spirit that has preserved these institutions as integral sites to the development of our collective humanity for the last nine centuries.

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