Read a bit more about this last night, in a 2005 article by Barnett. He does seem to assume that the term “university” refers to a sense of universality that surrounds the university, and has always surrounded the University. I’m not so sure. I’m inclined to agree with Olaf Pedersen’s rather more mundane explanation, which is that the term probably originates from the Latin phrases used in papal bulls that referred to the “universality of the teachers and students” in a studium generale. I’m no Latin scholar, so I’ll dig out the quote Pedersen uses if I’ve time.

That’s not to say that some in the University have not appropriated the meaning of universality for themselves over the centuries. I’m pretty sure they have. But I think Barnett’s claim really can’t be given more than the status of an assertion unless of course you include his own appropriation of it as evidence. Which it is, I suppose.

Then again, I’m just nit-picking here. I think Barnett is largely right to draw attention to the multiplicity of “knowledges” and the university’s role in their expansion. From my point of view the consequences are that there cannot be one single “idea of the university”. (Whatever Cardinal Newman might have thought!) I think I’m beginning to disagree with my supervisor’s idea of a changing “idea of the University” over time. I suspect that there have always been multiple and competing “knowledges” (Church, State, Town, Gown etc. in medieval times.)

For the EDU of course, the issue is which “knowledge” has the most power. And what are the consequences of the exercise (or not) of that power?