chapter  5
9 Pages

University in the age of a transnational public sphere

BySlavko Splichal

One could persuasively argue that the idea of the public (sphere) has been modeled on the university: freedom of expression manifested in presumably rational (occasionally quasi-) scientific discourse – two main attributes of the public sphere – have always been more affirmed at universities than in society at large, despite censorial efforts by the Catholic Church and feudal authorities. Nevertheless, the university has never been given an important role in theorizations of publicness; from the late eighteenth century to the present, the discourse on “the public” and “public opinion” largely evaded the role of the university in creating “the public sphere.” In his seminal book on public opinion, Ferdinand Tönnies recognized university

professors as a class of social actors which substantiated the legitimate and effective social/political power of public opinion. Since public opinion has – in contrast to religion – “a stamp of science,” scientists and teachers are “the natural and actual leaders of public opinion both directly and, even more, indirectly, whenever their thinking, research and teaching refer to the wide-ranging questions of public importance, such as economy, politics, and morals.”1