Are Universities Medieval Enclaves?

Some time ago, John Norvell posted this quote on his blog at anthroblogs.

A Jesuit theologian, Edward T. Oakes, reviewing Gary Wills’ latest book on the Catholic Church, chides him with this little gem:

As he should know from his own position as a Catholic professor at a secular university, the two great institutional legacies of the Middle Ages to modern civilization are the Catholic Church and the contemporary university, of which the latter is surely the more rigidly hierarchical: With its politically correct orthodoxies, its hegemonically imposed anti-hegemonic discourse, its salary-mongering, its freedom from taxation (how Constantinian!), its speech codes, its teacher evaluations conducted sub secreto pontificio, its heated debate over the minutest matters, its hair-splitting fights over teaching loads and research assistants (tenure as benefice!), the contemporary university makes the Catholic Church look like a Quaker meeting house.

I would like to take this a bit further by pointing out that although there were two great institutional legacies of the Middle Ages (the university and the church), there were actually two competing models of university (represented by the Universities of Paris and Bologna): Paris was run by faculty and Bologna was run by students (e.g., grad students had the power and responsibility to fire boring faculty). Imagine if the Bologna model had taken root in stead of the Paris model?


  1. The freedom from taxation note is interesting — are academic salaries tax free in the US and UK? In Canada they are not. I am wondering if the comment pertains to a particular time period, or a particular institution. Otherwise, I find myself agreeing with the description.

Leave a Reply to Maximilian Forte Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s