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Plenary: Universities as Civic Actors or Institutions


Marco Santambrogio, University of Parma, Italy

Colin Maclay, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Maarten Simons, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Jan Masschelein, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Session leader: Juan Carlos De Martin

In recent years society has been asking universities to do more than simply - albeit crucially - educate young students and produce new academic knowledge. The list of new demands include life-long education, open access to scientific papers and educational resources, and encouragement and support for spin-offs and start-ups. But is that it? Of course not. Public education, at all levels, was born with a clear mandate to educate citizens and to increase social mobility, not simply provide students with marketable skills and bookshelves with new scientific journals. Moreover, in our age the increasingly complex problems that we are facing as society, from global warming to water supplies, from the environment to energy issues, from the challenges (and opportunities) presented by bio-genetics and nanotechnology, don't call for a renewal of the concept of University as Public Institution? In other words, don't universities - as institutions as well as through their individual researchers - have a duty to engage more frequently in the public sphere, offering their super partes skills and knowledge at the service of citizens - and their representative - to allow them to properly deliberate? If so, how? What would be appropriate and what would, instead, constitute a deontological breach of professorial decorum and integrity? If it is indeed important, shouldn't universities allow/favor internal organizational changes to better implement such social role? How is that social role linked to freedom of research ? Is the growing need of universities in many countries to court potential private investors (or governments) affecting it? If so, what could the consequences be for our societies? Doesn't the Internet offer extraordinary tools to empower the public sphere presence of universities, professors and students, and to help to reduce social and cultural divides?

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