The University is a wonderful thing, but as we saw on Monday, there are many students were not prepared for the rigors of academic life that accompanies this level of education. Consequently, the students become overwhelmed when they realize that perhaps they are not as prepared as they ought to be.
Abraham Kuyper is about the closest thing to a true renaissance man you are ever going to find. Not only was he an eminent theologian, but he was also a statesman and university president. He had his hand in just about everything in the Netherlands, and as a university president, he was charged with speaking to his students before each academic year. I recently read two of these addresses, and I think they tie into the issue we were talking about on Monday about being appropriately prepared for the University.
He spoke about how higher education began with a particular motive.
“A university was a universitas docentium et discentium, a community of teachers and learners united in a single corporate body.”
This is what we would ideally like to believe the University still remains. The University ought to be a type of place where teachers and students come together as a single unit to continue pursuing knowledge. It was a journey that people went on for the love of knowledge.
Kuyper, even over 100 years ago, saw that this mission was being perverted by people with ulterior motives.
“Young men whose object was not the study itself nevertheless coveted the privileges attached to the order of the learned and began to penetrate our sacred garden like veritable parasites.”
Rather than pursuing knowledge regardless of the honor it brought with it, people began to look towards the University as a type of hierarchy.
This is where that pressure I spoke about on Monday comes from. These students believe that they have to be perfect, and they have to graduate from a top-tier university because in order to have a wide variety of privileges in our current society, you need to have a university degree.
I am not blaming the students for going to college or trying to attend the best universities. I am still attending college, and I probably always will to be quite frank with you. I am not trying to sound anti-intellectual or demean the value of college whatsoever.
Rather, I am lamenting the transition of the focus of the University. I am sure that so many people feel pressured to go to college to earn a piece of paper because they simply need it for professional purposes. That is not what that University is supposed to be about. The University is supposed to be a place where people go because they want to learn. Practical matters such as job placement really ought to be secondary in reality.
Don’t get me wrong. I specifically studied business administration as an undergraduate because it was practical. I knew I would be able to find a job with that degree. I understand how our system works, and I understand that if you want to get a good job, you have to choose the right course of study.
However, I would simply reiterate my point that it is a shame that the system is currently that way. For many people, they might not enjoy the process of learning as much as I do. I did love to learn about business, and right now, I love to learn about humanities. I love the process of learning, and I love the pursuit of knowledge.
I would have wanted to attend college regardless of the additional privileges bestows because I love the process of learning in and of itself. However, this pressure is perhaps the reason that so many people have such a hard time with failure. There is a perception and perhaps reality that the only way to get any type of job of value is to go to college, and that causes the problem that Kuyper is alluding to. You end up with colleges full of people who don’t really want to be there for the true pursuit of knowledge but rather chasing a credential.
It may be a useful way to train professionals, but it clearly has deviated away from the ultimate purpose of the University.
 Abraham Kuyper, Scholarship: Two Convocation Addresses on University Life (Grand Rapids: Christian's Library Press, 2014), 5, Kindle Edition.