Gregg Lambert


Left to itself, a spontaneous (technical) practice produces only the "theory" it needs as a means to produce the ends assigned to it; this theory is never more than a reflection of this end, uncriticized, unknown, in its means of realization, that is, it is a by-product of the reflection of the technical practice's end on its means. A "theory" which does not question the end whose by-product it is remains a prisoner of this end and of the "realities" which have imposed it as an end.

-Althusser, For Marx



Introduction: Who Speaks, Today, of and for the University?


The objectives of this discussion are twofold: first, to examine some examples of what I will call the "discourse of the university" in the United States; second, to interrogate in a very preliminary fashion the legitimacy and the authority of a subject who, today, has emerged within the public sphere to speak of and for the idea of the university and who assumes the task of "positioning" the modem university within the vast and conflicting field of ends that are imposed upon it by society, politics, culture and economy. Bruce Robbins has recently reminded us that the authority of the subject who assumes responsibility for this task recalls the Kantian argument in the Conflict of Faculties,' where the faculty of philosophy bears the following authority. 1) to "position" the idea of the university--although this does not mean necessarily the power to "institute" the idea of the university. This distinction between the two forms of power (juridical and executive, or administrative in the conception of "philosophical right" is often overlooked. even in Robbin's own account of Kantian "politics." 2) to "critique" any architectonic or institutional arrangement of the principles of "university on" according to those rationalisms that Kant defines as "private" historico-political, economic, religious).' If there is a thesis to my account-in fact, there will be no fewer than three-it is to underscore the sigificance of the fact that today such an "ideal" subject can no longer be recognized from within the disciplinary discourse of the faculties. I will argue that this has introduced a fundamental problem in the architecture of the temporary university, a failure in the discourse of sufficient grounds (or principles), perhaps a foundational weakness caused by the absence of a faculty whose juridical task was to protect the ends of the university from being reduced to purely finite, economic, politico-ideological, and culturally determined forms of interest. This problem of architecture, as Heidegger might have phrased it, evokes the weakness and inability of the current faculties (specifically, the faculty of philosophy which would include most of modem disciplines of the Humanities and Social Sciences) to protect the university from becoming an instrument of techne, a functional apparatus (a 1, or piece of equipment) for providing information, or generally charged "doing something with a view toward something else." (Thus, the university is completely determined within an ontic horizon, before which all edge must be referred to its "uses" in order to legitimate the value of which must offer a view to its "usefulness.") As we can see in the American university today, there is a danger that happens when this determination of university-reason becomes all-encompassing and is even charged with "instituting" and reorganizing the faculties within a common architecture, which in turn causes the faculties themselves to become evaluated and "funded" (grounded) along the criteria Lyotard had earlier defined by the term "performativity."'

What is more important than this somewhat obvious pronouncement the absence (perhaps "death"?) of a subject from within the faculties who be identified with the discourse of the university itself, is to notice, in the of this subject's disappearance, the persistence of a language which can associated with its earlier authority even though it is often reduced to the us clich6s and metaphors of a "common sense" understanding of the idea the university. In the first part of the argument, my discussion of this understanding and this language will be limited to how recent re-structuring efforts by university administrators and technical mangers have taken shape my former home institution, the University of California, particularly in the example of a report issued from a long-range planning and goals setting conference which took place in the summer of 1993. I believe that such an interrogation may have some relevance concerning what is taking place nationally, especially in "land-grant" and larger research universities in the United States. I will frame the implications drawn from the "local analysis," drawn in comparison with some passages from Kant's Conflict of the Faculties, n order to make certain general inferences with regard to the contemporary 'subject of the university." In the second part, I will return to read and interpret some of Derrida's earlier reflections on this subject delivered at Cornell University in 1983, published that year in diacritics under the title 'The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of its Pupils."' In the third part, I will return to frame some of the implications of the recent debates on the nature of "public," and to how recent constructions of publicity vis-a-vis the cultural mission of the university are themselves contributing to the re-structuring not only of the idea of the university, but of disciplinary knowledges themselves.


(This text is only a selection. For the complete essay please see our journal)