The times are serious and critical. The tools of analysis - historical and philosophical - have been used elsewhere but rarely on universities themselves. The larger culture wars being fought across the planet do suggest that universities need to be defended, often against themselves - and sometimes the explanation needs to be of an order above the instrumental and that of the normal policy wonk levels.
Universities can and ought to make a difference for us all. As the Magna Charta Universitatum for universities worldwide declared at Bologna University, 1988: “The future of mankind depends largely on cultural, scientific and technical development...as represented by true universities.”
But our interest should be focused on the other things universities do - the other communities and activities that work alongside the main business of teaching and research. What can these practices teach us about what a university is and needs to be?
This series of narratives on higher education tries to find out.