Terry Eagleton has recently spoken on the idea of the ‘New University’ at Occupy Coleraine in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ulster. Eagleton argues for a new concept of the university, which will reinstate the importance of critical thinking and a humanistic education.
Traditionally, he argues, universities have been taken to cultivate and guard certain values, as ‘places of enquiry, free exploration, dispute, dialectic, investigation and above all critique’. However, that ‘long and honourable tradition’ of the university ‘is now almost dead at its feet’. He argues that we must set about the work of re-creating a space for the exploration of these values, as the space made for enquiry and critique is constantly being diminished in our society.
Eagleton criticizes what the university has become in contemporary society, arguing that ‘the production of knowledge’ has been fully incorporated into ‘the institutions of corporate capitalism’. These institutions have become incapable of valorizing ‘self-realisation’ or ‘self-development’ and education no longer serves a function of ‘critical dialogue’ but consists merely of the ‘production of mind factories which sell commodified bits of knowledge’ in the current ‘education system which is almost a complete technocracy’.
His idea for a “New University” is based on what he sees in occupations such as Occupy Coleraine. What the occupiers represent, he argues, is ‘the real university … the true idea of the university’. At the end of his talk, he extends his solidarity and tells the occupiers,
You are here to defend this space as symbolic of the very idea of education ... you are here to teach the philistines who run these institutions a vital lesson.